Talking baseball while hoping Alshon Jeffery learns to use his size:
1. Yes, the Cubs came close to landing a big fish last week. But now that Anibal Sanchez has re-enlisted with the Tigers, thanks to Mike Ilitch finding a spare $32 million during the last 12 hours of those negotiations, Theo Epstein is faced with a harsh reality: There’s not another one like Sanchez on the free-agent market.
Kyle Lohse and Edwin Jackson? They might help somebody win this year but they aren’t fits for the Cubs. Nor are guys like Francisco Liriano, Shaun Marcum, Joe Saunders or Daisuke Matsuzaka, at least not in the same way that Sanchez was a fit.
At 28, Sanchez was the youngest free-agent starter on the market. He had just impressed scouts with his three strong postseason starts for the Tigers (1.77 ERA, 0.98 WHIP).
For the Cubs, the thing that made Sanchez worthy of a five-year investment was that you could project he’d still be a solid starter – say a No. 2 or 3 – three or four years down the road, when the Cubs hope to compete. In the meantime, he’d give guys like Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro a reason to look forward to the days he pitched, and he probably wouldn’t hurt you too much in the 2014 and ’15 drafts.
Over the last three years, mostly with the Marlins, Sanchez has had an average WAR just under 2.6. Round it up to three wins per year and it could be the difference between 61 and 64 wins next year and – total guess here – maybe 74 and 77 in two years. No big deal, right?
But when guys like Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Albertico Almora and Dan Vogelbach reach the point where they’re either contributing in the big leagues or can be traded for front-line pitching, which should trigger Epstein to tell Ricketts it’s time to start spending heavily in free agency, the +3 from Sanchez could become the difference between 87 and 90 wins or 92 and 95 wins. That’s huge.
2. So what should the Cubs do with Sanchez off the market? The best thing would be to find a way to trade for the Tigers’ Rick Porcello, who seems available. But landing him won’t be easy, not with rival general managers flooding Dave Dombrowski’s phone since the Sanchez signing. The Angels, Pirates, Padres, Rangers, Phillies, Twins and Royals are among the teams that mlbtraderumors.com reports having interest in Porcello, and it has been widely speculated that the Pirates would send closer Joel Hanrahan there for him. The Cubs could package Carlos Marmol, Alfonso Soriano and a lot of cash ($30 million?) for Porcello and prospects (maybe outfielder Avisail Garcia), but would the Tigers want Soriano to play left when they are locked into Victor Martinez as the DH? It never hurts to ask, I guess, but landing Porcello would not be easy. You can come up with other trade scenarios for the Cubs to pursue – guys like Bud Norris, J.A. Happ, Chris Capuano and John Ely – but the impact-move train left the station when they were left empty handed after a smart run at Sanchez.
3. For some, it’s hard to believe how expendable Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey became for the Mets after they signed David Wright. But the deal that could send Dickey to the Blue Jays – pending Dickey’s agreement on a contract extension – would land the Mets a real stud in catcher Travis d’Arnaud. I think Mets’ GM Sandy Alderson handled this situation exactly right. He figured out what he felt Dickey was worth long term and made him that offer. When it was rejected, he swallowed hard and decided to make him available at a high price. The Blue Jays agreed to meet that price in the package that includes D’Arnaud and pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard, so Alderson committed to trading Dickey while he has maximum value. It’s unfortunate – but not that surprising – that things got uncomfortable between the team and the player over the last week but this was all business. It can’t be easy for the Mets to trade a Cy Young winner but one year of Dickey wouldn’t have done much for the organization and they didn’t trust him as much long term as other teams, the Blue Jays’ especially. This is the kind of move second-division teams have to make all the time.