Would you pay good money to see a movie with the same title as the headline of this post? Probably not, since the costs involved sound like they’d outweigh the potential benefits of seeing a film that, by its very title, sounds mediocre. The Giants are facing a similar decison when it comes to Jonathan Sanchez.
He’s serviceable when healthy, and his 2011 “arm injury” didn’t seem too serious. But he’s arbitration-eligible going into next season, and tendering Sanchez after he was awarded $4.8MM in arbitration for 2011 would mean the Giants would be on the hook for a significant chunk of change — especially for a pitcher who has an extraordinarily difficult time finding the strike zone.
I was inspired to write about this after reading an excellent post on Giants Nirvana called “Maybe it’s time for Barry Zito and the Giants to part ways.” You might find this difficult to believe, but the author of said post listed several reasons why Zito isn’t even an average end-of-the-rotation starter anymore, with statistical backing from the kinds of charts and graphs that have been sorely lacking on this site because, while I don’t mind looking at charts and graphs, I don’t particularly like creating them.
Part of Giants Nirvana’s argument is that Zito’s fastball velocity and strikeout rate have sunk to embarrassingly low levels. At this point, to give the Giants any chance of winning during one of his starts, Zito needs all these things to fall into place:
1. Command and snap on his curveball
2. A sympathetic home plate umpire
3. An opposing lineup that fails to hit one or more of Zito’s mistakes out of the park
If Zito lacks just one of those things, the chances of even a traditional quality start vanish. But we all know that if Zito’s contract didn’t still have $46MM remaining, the Giants would have said good-bye to him long ago. They still may, as they’ve been a bit on the ambiguous side when discussing his future as of late, but chances are they’ll keep squeezing the Zito avocado until no more California scrambles can possibly be made.
Compared to Captain Yoga, there hasn’t been anywhere near as much talk about Sanchez, but the Giants are no less frustrated with the guy. With his well known habits of slumping his shoulders, staring into the sky and kicking the dirt between wayward pitches, Sanchez has infuriated fans and management alike. And unlike Zito, the Giants could tell Sanchez to hit the road and not pay him another penny.
However, he’s a left-handed starter who led all starters in hits allowed per nine innings last year. Sanchez also led the way in walks, but while his velocity has dropped a little bit as his career has gone along, he’s still consistently in the low 90s with his fastball as opposed to the low-to-mid 80s that Zito’s “fast”ball travels.
Wendy Thurm, the writer of Hanging Sliders, recently tweeted this interesting yet depressing page on Baseball Prospectus that shows the money allocated for each team in future years. In 2012, the Giants so far are slotted to pay over $66MM to six players.
As you can see (even if you just glanced once before covering your eyes in horror), those six players consist of one fading starting pitcher, one stellar starting pitcher, one released outfielder, one infielder/outfielder who in 2011 was worth one less win than a replacement player according to Fangraphs, a possibly-overworked closer battling elbow inflammation and a reliever who may not return to the Giants once he recovers from stabbing his right hand with a paring knife.
This doesn’t mean the Giants are without a team next year, because many of the guys currently on the roster are under team control and will be back. What this does mean is it’s a good thing the Giants will surpass 3.2 million tickets sold this season, because creating a (decent) roster of 25 players won’t be cheap. And with management’s distrust of almost every position player in their system, they’re certainly going to dip into the free agent abyss (let’s be honest, most free agents the Giants really covet end up sucking) to sign a bat or four.
With the logistical and financial qualifiers at least somewhat in mind, what are the pros and cons of letting Jonathan Sanchez walk?
1. $6MM or so saved next year on starting pitching, which with Lincecum’s arbitration agreement is going to cost around $50MM for three guys.
2. With the now-dominant Madison Bumgarner and the emergence of Ryan Vogelsong, the Giants already have four starters. Why not let Zito, Eric Surkamp and a Spring Training invitee (a Wellemeyer/Suppan type) fight for the fifth spot and spend Sanchez’s money on a hitter?
3. Sanchez’s walk rate has always been pretty bad (between 4.27 and 4.85 BB/9 in three seasons since becoming a full-time starter), and in 2011, when he was expected to pitch like a No. 2 starter, it became laughably awful (5.86 BB/9 in 2011).
4. Sanchez’s whole aura is maddening, and drives some people absolutely insane. And after defending him for so long on this blog, I’ve at least come around to admit that I can see how his personality (extremely poor body language) and pitching (wildness that tends to escalate in the worst possible moments both in terms of walks and hitting batters; an inability to limit the damage when things get difficult) can lead one to either turn the TV off during one of his starts or binge drink while venting on social media.
5. After walking 25 people in 25 2/3 innings in June, Sanchez left due to “biceps tendonitis.” In a related story, nearly every time I pretended to be sick so I could miss school as a kid, I ended up getting legitimately sick a week or so later.
1. Sanchez has better stuff than Zito or Surkamp. Surkamp barely hits 88 mph with his fastball, meaning his ceiling is Kirk Reuter with a better curveball. Zito and Surkamp both throw a much better hook than Sanchez, who’s a fastball/changeup/slurve guy (you’re damn right I just pulled the slurve card on a Saturday night). However, even lefties could use a fastball that tips past 90 mph — that’s why the Giants are thanking their lucky stars Madison Bumgarner’s brief velocity loss was just a mechanical issue.
2. The Giants thought they had too many starting pitchers this season, but once they thought they might have to shoehorn a guy like Sanchez or Zito into the bullpen, one or the other (or both!) had an ankle that essploded. And with all the silliness that happened this season in regards to injuries, the Giants are only over .500 (for now) because Lincecum/Cain/Bumgarner/Vogelsong stayed healthy and a bunch of fluky Nate Schierholtz plays. Depth in the rotation might not be a bad thing.
3. Sanchez isn’t even 29 yet.
4. While the phrase “sunk cost” is almost looked at as a positive lately since releasing Aaron Rowand made everyone feel so much better, there’s something sad about dumping a guy like Sanchez with whom they’ve gone through the lowest lows and the highest highs over the past few years … for nothing. Just as painful: admitting a guy’s trade value is less than 1 yr/$6MM, just a year after he could have been traded for either two decent prospects or a proven bat.
5. He’s only six no-hitters behind Nolan Ryan!
Sanchez’s entire Giants career has been on the dramatic side. After the no-no, the 5 shutout innings and triple off Mat Latos in the NL West-clinching game, 8 incredible innings in Atlanta in the NLDS and all those times he hit Chase Utley, Sanchez is a guy who’ll always be remembered by Giants fans — more than most even realize. But Sanchez upsets people about as much as Zito. And unlike Zito, ridding themselves of Sanchez wouldn’t come along with a pricetag that matches this 24.78 Carat pink diamond.
Will the Giants want to keep watching this movie?
I say they will. Not because they love Sanchez or think he’ll blossom into a star, but for two reasons (because there haven’t been enough numbered lists in this post):
1. Zack Wheeler is gone, along with any realistic options in the minors besides Surkamp (who they had to call up much earlier than they planned).
2. Sanchez is a lot more bullpen-moldable than Zito, and both of the Giants’ left-handed relievers are free agents (Javier Lopez is going to be in demand, and Affeldt has a $5MM option).
Do you think Sanchy will return? Do you want him to? Feel free to vent away in the comments. And if you want to vent about the Giants getting carved up by Dana Eveland that’s cool, too.