Will the Tigers regret Anibal Sanchez's five-year contract?
Previously, Sanchez seemed like more of a luxury for Detroit. If he could be re-signed, great. But if the money got crazy on the open market, the Tigers and general manager Dave Dombrowski were going to pass and wish Sanchez the best with his new team.
Obviously, something changed for the Tigers on the way to awarding Sanchez with a five-year, $80 million contract, as reported by USA Today's Bob Nightengale. That surpasses the $77.5 million package offered by the Chicago Cubs, one that looked to be enough to sign Sanchez until his agent went back to the Tigers to see if they would counter.
However, the decision to give Sanchez that kind of contract—more likely made by owner Mike Ilitch than Dombrowski—is one the Tigers will come to regret. Nor does it mean Detroit is overpaying for a fourth starter in their rotation, but this could very well affect the team's ability to keep its other top pitchers.
Paying Sanchez like a No. 1 starter arguably made more sense for the Cubs because they have a need for a pitcher like that in their rotation. He would be the ace over Jeff Samardzija and Matt Garza on the starting staff.
But would paying so much for a top starter really have made that much sense for the Cubs? Theo Epstein is in going into the second year of his rebuilding project on Chicago's North Side. They're in a position to trade veterans like Garza and outfielder Alfonso Soriano for prospects, rather than add significant payroll to a team that's not ready to contend.
Yet, that's the thing about Sanchez's contract and the current market for starting pitching. When Zack Greinke gets nearly $25 million per season to raise the bar for ace starters, $16 million a year is now the going rate for a second-tier starter.
Still, the Tigers didn't have to be the team to pay out that sort of money.
How much will Max Scherzer get through the arbitration process for the next two seasons? (It should be noted that Dombrowski has not gone to an arbitration hearing with a player during his 11 years in the Tigers front office.) What about Doug Fister over the next three years?
Then, of course, there's the big one: Justin Verlander.
He'll be a free agent after the 2014 season. Perhaps he should already be penciled in for a contract averaging $30 million per year. But contracts like Sanchez's (and Greinke's, naturally) make that a near-certainty.
For this decision to be worth it for the Tigers, they have to win the World Series—preferably during the next two years, while Verlander, Scherzer, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are still under contract.
That's what the Sanchez contract is ultimately about. The Tigers are a better club with him as their fourth starter. How many teams will feature someone of Sanchez's talents at the back end of its rotation? Ilitch wants a World Series championship. If re-signing Sanchez gives the Tigers a stronger chance to win, then he'll sign off on that move.
Also, had the Tigers not re-signed Sanchez, they would have ended up Jacob Turner—their top pitching prospect—and a good, young catcher in Rob Brantly for Omar Infante. And three months of Sanchez. Detroit needed more of a return and could only get it if Sanchez remained with the Tigers.
CBS Sports' Danny Knobler let us know just how important bringing Sanchez back was to Ilitch. While reporting on the Tigers signing free-agent outfielder Torii Hunter, Knobler led his story with the Tigers owner asking his baseball people where they stood with Sanchez. Obviously, this was a huge priority for him.
The importance of re-signing Sanchez was further indicated by the Tigers increasing their contract offer to beat the Cubs' proposal. If it had been entirely up to Dombrowski, the guess here is that the Tigers would have drawn the line at four years and $60 million. But Ilitch hated the idea of losing Sanchez and escalated the bidding.
It wouldn't be the first time Ilitch went over his general manager's head to get the player he wanted. Cabrera and Prince Fielder likely wouldn't be Tigers today if he hadn't gotten involved in the process. Nor would Magglio Ordonez or Pudge Rodriguez in past years.
Suddenly, the Angels overtook the Tigers as favorites to win the World Series next year. Detroit certainly has a better chance in a series against the Halos with a strong starting rotation, the same one that shut down the New York Yankees in this year's ALCS.
Re-signing Sanchez also gives the Tigers an opportunity to better their team, whether it's the current major league product or the minor league system, by creating a surplus on their pitching staff.
One opening remains in Detroit's starting rotation, with Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly competing for that fifth spot.
Personally, I believe the Tigers should hold on to both pitchers. A team can never have enough pitching. (OK, maybe the Los Angeles Dodgers have enough right now.) Starters get tired out and hurt. Depth is necessary to get through the grind of a 162-game season.
But if Porcello is a marketable commodity who can help get the outfielder, defensive shortstop or late-inning reliever that the Tigers need, then he will be traded.
Porcello is about to turn 24 years old and has four major league seasons on his résumé. Though he regressed this year—giving up 226 hits, the most in MLB—plenty of teams will be interested in a pitcher under club control for two more seasons with major potential that could still be tapped.
Losing out on Sanchez might still get the Cubs a starting pitcher. The Cubs and Porcello have been attached in trade rumors and speculation throughout the offseason (h/t Danny Knobler). My fellow B/R MLB lead writer, Zach Rymer, thinks Porcello would be a nice fit with the Texas Rangers.
Trading a 24-year-old former phenom who once looked liked a vital part of the future is yet another sacrifice the Tigers will make in hopes of returning to the World Series and winning it. These moves could cost Detroit down the line, raising the stakes for a championship victory.
If Ilitch, Dombrowski and the Tigers get to raise a trophy overhead while taking a champagne shower, this will all be worth the effort. That's the only acceptable outcome at this point.
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