Jonathan Sanchez has been so very up and down for the San Francisco Giants in his six seasons with the team. His career to date reminds me of the little girl with the little curl in the middle of her forehead, literally: When he is good he is oh so good, and when he is bad, look out because horrid doesn't begin to describe it.
Giants fans will always hold a special place in their hearts for the talented and aloof left-handed pitcher—he threw the first no-hitter in a generation of Giants fans on July 10, 2009. That game was proof positive that when he puts both his arm and head together, he is one of the best pitchers in both leagues—it just rarely happens.
Followers of the Giants also remember how he pretty much anchored a shaky staff in August 2010 and ended up with the best ERA of all of the World Champion's starters. When hearkening to the end of the 2010 season, recalling good "Sanchy" memories, they all end at Game 6 of the NLCS; Sanchez chose that critical game to melt down.
The feel-good story that ended up being the 2010 Giants masked a problem that Brian Sabean should have addressed after the World Series. Although Sanchez fell apart in that huge game, he easily had his best overall year that season and held his highest trade value.
I don't blame Sabean for not trading him; when you have a talent like Sanchez, you hope and hope that he gets it together and makes your decision easy. What he did in 2010 looked an awful lot like he had figured it out. But that was far from the case.
Sanchez battled injuries in 2011 and pitched only 101 innings. His numbers were underwhelming: 4.26 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 7.1 H/9, 5.9 BB/9, 9.1 BB/9.
Jonathan Sanchez has proven that he can strike hitters out, and even in a difficult season he still managed to strike out more than one batter per inning. The Giants as an organization wish that he would grab the bull by the horns and claim the fifth spot in the rotation as his own—he just won't do it.
Sanchez made $4.8 million in 2011 and is arbitration eligible for the last time this winter; he'll be an unrestricted free agent after the 2012 season. He will likely command between $5.5 million and $6.5 million in arbitration, but history suggests that the Giants will agree to terms with him before a hearing. The question is, will he go to spring training as a Giant—or as a member of some other team?
One year ago, a trade of Sanchez would have most certainly brought back a decent prospect or a proven skill player at the big league level. Today, it's anyone's guess what the Giants would get in exchange.
I have a hard time believing that the Giants will be satisfied with Barry Zito and Sanchez competing for the fifth spot in the rotation, as the winner of the competition will likely merely be the one who struggles least.
If trading Zito were an option, the Giants would do it in an instant and settle on an erratic Sanchez at the back-end of the rotation. Since Zito likely isn't going anywhere, that leaves Sanchez.
This is only a guess, but I feel like at his salary point for 2012 and his eligibility for free agency after only one season, Sanchez would bring the Giants maybe a mid-level prospect who is still a couple of years from breaking into the big leagues.
Don't expect Sabean to rush to anything—especially since the market will likely be soft. The Giants are a team who claim to be at the very limits of their payroll; if that is the case, they will not want to have to juggle Zito and Sanchez all season so—something will have to give.
This is just one of those many things that is going to make the San Francisco Giants winter very interesting.