TODAY: Marlins general manager Kim Ng provided some more detail on Sanchez’s timeline, telling MLB.com’s Christina De Nicola and other reporters that the team is hopeful Sanchez will be able to resume throwing in three months. Pitching in winter ball, however, is “probably not in his cards,” Ng said.
JULY 5: The Marlins announced Monday that right-hander Sixto Sanchez will undergo season-ending surgery after an MRI revealed a small tear in the posterior capsule of his right shoulder. The hope is that he’ll be ready for Spring Training 2022.
It’s an awful development for the Marlins and for Sanchez himself, who has long been touted as one of the game’s most promising young arms. That potential was on full display in 2020, when the Fish called Sanchez up for his MLB debut and he turned in a 3.46 ERA through his first seven big league starts — despite having just turned 22 years of age.
Sanchez averaged 98.8 mph on his power sinker, and while he didn’t rack up strikeouts at the level some might’ve hoped (20.9 percent), he showed above-average control (seven percent walk rate) and ranked seventh among 158 MLB starting pitchers (min. 30 innings) with a 58 percent ground-ball rate. There was certainly some hope for more missed bats down the line, too. Sanchez’s 12.8 percent swinging-strike rate was quite sound for a starting pitcher, and his 38.7 percent chase rate on pitches outside the strike zone ranked fourth in that same set of 158 starters.
Unfortunately, Sanchez won’t end up throwing a single pitch for the Marlins in 2021. His start this spring was delayed due to Covid protocols, and the Marlins optioned him late in camp after he threw just 8 1/3 innings in Spring Training. While many immediately jumped to the service time argument, it was clear that wasn’t the case. Sanchez would’ve needed to be held down until the end of this month in order to push back his free agency, and there’s no chance that’d have happened had he been healthy. (They also had no qualms about top prospect Jazz Chisholm breaking camp as the everyday second baseman, even though it’d have been far easier to delay his free agency than that of Sanchez.)
The target for Sanchez was a mid-April 2021 debut, but he cut a workout at the team’s alternate site short in early April after complaining of shoulder discomfort. His throwing program was paused for more than a month. Upon restarting, Sanchez again quickly pushed pause, although this time general manager Kim Ng (in retrospect, somewhat ominously) indicated that the new discomfort Sanchez had felt was unrelated to the initial inflammation with which he was diagnosed back in April.
The end result of the entire sequence, unfortunately for Sanchez, is that he won’t accrue big league service time in 2021. If he indeed sustained his injury while throwing on the minor league side, that would seem to boil down to little more than awful timing. The Miami Herald’s Craig Mish tweets, however, now suggests that a tear was discovered in Sanchez back in March, but rehab was recommended. Sanchez was optioned to the team’s alternate site on March 29. If there’s some form of documentation indicating that a tear was discovered prior to being optioned, that sort of situation is the type that will often result in a service-time grievance.
It should be noted that it’s still possible for Sanchez to reach a full year of MLB service in 2021, however. He entered the season with 103 days of service time, meaning he’d only need 69 days on the MLB roster in order to pass one full year of service and remain on track for free agency after the 2026 campaign. If the Marlins were to call Sanchez to the MLB roster and place him on the 60-day IL in order to open a 40-man roster spot, he’d receive service time for any days spent on the Major League injured list. Were such a move to happen on or before July 26, he’d still end up with a year-plus of service time (though his camp could conceivably still push for retroactive service to secure MLB pay for the season’s first few months).
To be clear, none of this is to imply any nefarious plot on the Marlins’ part. The team, after all, called Sanchez up in the first place last year when it could’ve at least defensibly kept him at the alternate site. The aforementioned Chisholm promotion is another example of forgoing service time manipulation when an opportunity otherwise presented itself.
The timing of the tear’s discovery, relative to the timing of Sanchez being optioned out of big league camp, will prove crucial. So, too, will the timing of a theoretical placement on the MLB 60-day IL — if the Marlins go that route at all. Opting not to do so would be tantamount to finishing out the season with a 39-man roster, however, so it’s in their interest to make such a move at some point. The question is just whether it’s made in time for Sanchez to reach one-plus years of service in 2021.