San Francisco Giants: 6 Options for Jonathan Sanchez's Return from Disabled List
On June 25, Jonathan Sanchez was placed on the 15-day disabled list with what was referred to as “bicep tendinitis” by Bruce Bochy. His trip to the disabled list not only roughly coincided with Barry Zito’s return from the disabled list, but also came after his second consecutive start wherein he failed to complete five innings.
Whether or not the decision to place Sanchez on the disabled list was a result of a legitimate injury was called into question after a press conference wherein Jonathan Sanchez claimed, “There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m fine. I’m healthy. I’m just having a hard time.”
Despite his solid season statistics, in the five starts Jonathan Sanchez made prior to landing on the DL, his record was 2-2 with a 4.91 ERA and an alarming 25 BB in only 25.2 innings.
What to do with Jonathan Sanchez, however, is a legitimate question that has yet to be definitively answered. While Sanchez issued a statement claiming that he felt no pressure due to the fact he is the “number two starter,” Barry Zito’s recent resurgence has given the Giants a surplus of starters. So what are the Giants' options when Jonathan Sanchez returns from the DL? Let's take a look.
Rumors circling Jonathan Sanchez as trade bait have been swirling since before he first stepped onto a major league pitcher’s mound. Six seasons later, Jonathan Sanchez is still a San Francisco Giant.
His performance has been erratic, with strikeout numbers that would rival league leaders if Sanchez could record more innings. Part of the trouble with Sanchez is that he is unable to log the requisite innings due to his astonishing walk totals. His walk totals have progressively risen: 75 in 2008, 88 in 2009, a league leading 96 in 2010 and 59 walks in 2011 through only 16 starts.
These walk totals would be disastrous for almost any pitcher, although Sanchez’s ERA has managed to get consistently lower over the three seasons prior to 2011 and even led the staff in 2010. Sanchez is a contradiction, and this is a liability for teams considering a trade.
As numerous writers have pointed out, Sanchez’s trade value is questionable. His potential would be attractive to numerous teams such as the Mets, Yankees, Cubs, Tigers and more. His wildness, however, makes it very unlikely that he alone would be able to secure a powerful outfielder or a dynamic shortstop.
Even so, trading Jonathan Sanchez may be the best option both for Sanchez’s career and for the Giants' long-term plans. Sanchez is arbitration-eligible at the end of this season and will be a free agent after next season.
Demote Barry Zito
This scenario might have been far more likely had Barry Zito not shown such a vast improvement in his three starts back from the disabled list. Since his return, Barry Zito has gone 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA, including a dominating start against the Padres on July 7. Zito has earned a spot in the rotation. Ryan Vogelsong, meanwhile, has continued his renaissance, making it virtually impossible to conceive of a five-man rotation with Jonathan Sanchez
Sanchez’s performance prior to landing on the DL does not match the performance level of any of the Giants’ current rotation of Lincecum/Cain/Bumgarner/Zito/Vogelsong. It would require, at the very least, several excellent rehab starts to merit insertion in the rotation.
A six-man rotation is extremely unconventional, but it could be an option in the event that Sanchez’s “rehabilitation” goes well and the current rotation continues to perform at an acceptable level. The downside of going with a six-man rotation is that, over the course of 60 games, it ultimately robs the other starting pitchers of two starts each. If the other starting pitchers are performing at a level higher than Sanchez, sacrificing a combined 10 starts for the privilege of having a six-man rotation seems a bit foolhardy.
This prospect is fairly unrealistic, however, due to roster size. Carrying a six-man starting rotation ultimately means demoting someone like Guillermo Mota or Santiago Casilla. Not only that, however, it also means that the bullpen would be one down, making the close games that the Giants frequently play substantially tougher to win.
Demote Sanchez to Bullpen
There is some merit to this option. Prior to Jonathan Sanchez’s no-hitter in 2009, the left-hander had struggled mightily and had been demoted to the bullpen. Filling in for an injured Randy Johnson, Sanchez threw a no-hitter and continued to perform well in his stead, ultimately securing his place in the Giants starting rotation.
While no fans hope for a Giants starting pitcher to suffer an injury, it is nice to have the knowledge that a capable long relief man such as Sanchez could be called upon at any time to make a spot start in place of any starter, should the need arise.
Statistically, however, Sanchez is better than Guillermo Mota. The downside to such a decision is that Sanchez’s “injury” may well be a ruse to disguise his unchecked mental and composure issues. A demotion to the bullpen could cause any improvement upon these issues to be undone.
This option is fairly similar to the bullpen demotion, except that you use Sanchez to give starters a break by filling in for them. Tim Lincecum's statistical decline may be due to the extended work load of the postseason. Ryan Vogelsong has not pitched this deeply into a Major League Season since starting 26 games for Pittsburgh in 2004 and may fatigue down the stretch. Barry Zito should be durable down the stretch having recently rehabilitated his foot, although another injury could flare up.
This option, though not the most practical, would enable Sanchez to assume “mop-up” roles a la Guillermo Mota while simultaneously keeping the front of the rotation fresh for a playoff run.
Keep on DL
Here’s a novel idea: If you can’t trade Jonathan Sanchez for a worthwhile addition, and you can’t figure out a way to insert him into the rotation, and you don’t want to risk instability in long relief, there’s no reason his “bicep tendinitis” can’t suffer “rehabilitation setbacks” lasting until, say, the end of the season.
Granted, the Giants would have to eat the money that they gave him in arbitration last year, but it would essentially serve as a stay of execution for Bruce Bochy and the front office.
Of the six options presented, options one and four seem to be the most tenable. While Jonathan Sanchez will likely not fetch a big bat, a fresh start elsewhere could be good for his career and the Giants would likely receive some adequate prospects for him.
Demoting Sanchez to long relief also seems like it might be a good idea. Granted, it would require demoting, trading, or releasing a member of the bullpen (likely Mota), but there don’t seem to be too many other options available besides trading or bullpen.