**Since posting this article, the Marlins have become front runners in the CJ Wilson sweepstakes, while all but pulling out of talks with Fielder and Pujols. Sanchez appears likely to stay in Miami, but still worth a look at his present trade value.. **
Despite dishing out $190M the last three days in contracts to All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes, closer Heath Bell and recently starter Mark Buehrle, word from the Winter Meetings in Dallas this week has been that the Marlins could add one final mammoth contract to the payroll before this week is over: a 10-year, $220M deal with all-world 1B Albert Pujols, that is reportedly still on the table or possibly a lesser agreement with fellow 1B free agent Prince Fielder.
While this type of spending activity by the Marlins seemed far fetched just a week ago, the front office has certainly made it clear that they expect to be serious contenders this season.
As of this afternoon, deals with Pujols or Fielder are looking increasingly unlikely, however until either signs elsewhere, the Marlins should not be ruled out.
Regardless, as fans continue to salivate over a potential lineup featuring Reyes, Pujols/Fielder and Hanley, others have begun to question how the team will look to bolster their pedestrian starting rotation in the coming months. The Marlins made an initial step in that direction early today, inking Buehrle to a four-year, $58M deal, however management has indicated that the Marlins may not be done.
—Allow us to get ahead of ourselves—
If Pujols or Fielder do wind up landing in Miami, 28-year-old 1B Gaby Sanchez is a likely bet to be on the train out of town, according to Atlanta-Journal Constitution writer David O’Brien. Sanchez, the Marlins everyday 1B since 2010, would easily become the next best available 1B on the market this winter, behind Pujols and Fielder. And with numerous teams looking to improve at 1B, Sanchez gives the Marlins a prime trade piece that should look into moving, NOW, regardless of the Buehrle acquisition.
Despite Sanchez’s recent breakout success, he isn’t your standard up-and-coming prospect, already 28 years old.
In Sanchez, teams will be getting a solid-to-average big-league 1B with limited upside. He doesn’t project for a ton of power (19 HR in each of his first two full seasons) but has shown a knack for driving in runs, finishing second on the team in RBI both seasons. His struggles at the plate (.270 career average) are counterbalanced by terrific plate discipline (11.2% BB rate in ’11), making him a solid five-six hitter in most lineups. While he may not be a star, Sanchez adds Gold Glove-caliber defense and should be, at the very least, an everyday regular for a couple seasons, perhaps while a prospect develops.
I went back through transaction records over the last decade, looking for offseason trades that resembled what we could see in a deal for Sanchez based on his age, recent performance and projectability.
2005: MIL sends 1B Lyle Overbay to TOR for SP Dave Bush and Gabe Gross
Overbay, 28, had just come off his second full season, posting numbers very similar to Sanchez’s: .276 with 19 HR and 72 RBI. Toronto, who considered themselves AL East contenders after signing pitchers BJ Ryan and AJ Burnett, added Overbay to improve a mediocre 1B platoon of Eric Hinske and Shea Hillenband. In return, the Brewers received Bush, a 26 year old middle-of-the rotation starter who had shown some promise (2.0 WAR in 2004) the previous season, and fourth outfielder Gross.
2003: NYY sends 1B Nick Johnson and OF Juan Rivera to MON for SP Javier Vazquez
Looking to plug holes during the 2003 offseason after Roger Clemens “retired” and Andy Pettitte left for free agency, the Yankees packaged 25-year-old Nick Johnson, coming off an impressive season (.284, 14 HR in 96 G) filling in for the injured Jason Giambi, with extra outfielder Juan Rivera and bullpen arm Randy Choate to acquire the talented 27-year-old Javier Vazquez. While Sanchez’s production matches Johnson’s, the latter was once considered one of baseball’s top prospects and a potential All-Star 1B.
2007: ATL sends 1B Andy LaRoche to PIT for RP Mike Gonzalez and SS Brett Lillibridge
2007: LAA sends SS Orlando Cabrera to CWS for SP Jon Garland
While the Cubs have not been legitimate contenders for Pujols or Prince Fielder, they are certainly in the market for a 1B this winter as 2011 starter Carlos Pena is increasingly unlikely to return next season. As the Cubs look to rebuild with younger pieces, a deal for Gaby Sanchez makes a ton of sense.
According to Wittenmyer, talks would likely revolve around starters Matt Garza, who the Cubs are actively shopping or Carlos Zambrano. While Garza is certainly the better pitcher, the Marlins have reportedly inquired on Zambrano’s price multiple times this offseason, making him the more likely target.
A 1-1, Sanchez for Zambrano trade would almost certainly work out for both sides should the Cubs be willing to eat the bulk of Big-Z’s $18M salary in 2012. Zambrano, a close friend of new Miami manager Ozzie Guillen, would provide a substantial upgrade to the team’s rotation, while Sanchez would become a focal point of the Cubs’ rebuilding process.
With six quality starters fighting for rotation spots in 2012, the Tampa Bay Rays are likely candidates to move an arm or two this offseason. Unless a team comes in and tries to blow them out of the water, right-handers Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann look to be the popular options.
Like the Cubs, the Rays are also unlikely to return their starting 1B from last season (Casey Kotchman) and are certainly in the market for Sanchez with their surplus starting pitching.
From the Rays' perspective, Sanchez makes a sense. He fills a substantial hole both in the lineup and on the diamond, he’ll be cost-controlled (arb-eligible in 2013), and wouldn’t cost the Rays any of their top starters in Shields, Price, Hellickson and Moore.
The 26-year old Davis regressed a bit in 2011, but would make for a solid No. 3 or No. 4 starter in most rotations, especially Miami’s. A one for one deal would work as well with both sides improving.
While Oakland is rumored to be looking for a top prospect haul for Gonzalez (see: DET’s Jacob Turner, NYY’s Jesus Montero), the Marlins could assemble an enticing trade package with Sanchez, a big-league ready 1B and an additional young asset like 3B Matt Dominguez, who clearly no longer fits into Miami’s immediate plans.
After struggling at 1B with Daric Barton and Conor Jackson the last couple seasons, Sanchez would be a significant upgrade while still providing tremendous defense and above-average plate discipline. Meanwhile Dominguez, just 22, would give Oakland an above-average third baseman for the future, capable of hitting .270 with 20 HR consistently.
Early this offseason, Chicago White Sox GM Kenny Williams made it clear that he would be willing to move veteran pitchers Gavin Floyd and John Danks for the right price this winter, as the team looks to enter 2012 in full rebuilding mode.
With longtime White Sox 1B Paul Konerko getting up in age (35) and DH/1B Adam Dunn looking like a failure, Williams could look to Miami as a place to turn excess pitching into young talent.
Based on his rumored asking price for Danks earlier this month (NYY: Jesus Montero and Manny Banuelos), Williams could feasibly turn Floyd into Sanchez and a lesser prospect. Sanchez could become a long-term answer at 1B for the White Sox, who lack a legitimate 1B prospect, allowing Konerko to move permanently to DH.
Lastly, a dark-horse candidate to trade for Sanchez would be the Cleveland Indians, who are seemingly loaded with back of the rotation starters. With the top four slots essentially set (Ubaldo, Masterson, Carmona, Lowe) and prospects Jeanmar Gomez and Zach McAllister pressing, breakout 27-year-old righty Josh Tomlin, who led the majors in walk rate last season (1.1 BB/9), could be expendable sooner rather than later, making right now a prime time to deal him. He is exactly what Miami would be looking for.
Sanchez would be a perfect fit for a rebuilding Cleveland organization, under control for four more seasons and even more importantly, right-handed (currently six of Cleveland’s projected starters bat lefty, the other two switch).
Unless the Indians plan to move Carlos Santana to 1B full-time soon, the Indians have a legitimate hole there as former top prospect Matt LaPorta struggled to hit yet again in 2011, his third season in the bigs. Sanchez would be a great fill.