Marlins Offseason Success Plan: Extend Anibal Sanchez?

Earlier this morning, we discussed the successful season that was for Anibal Sanchez. One of the two bright spots for the Marlins rotation in 2011 was Sanchez, who posted his second straight successful campaign and helped himself a lot for his goal of a hefty free agent payday in 2013.

This brings an interested question for the Marlins in 2012: should they consider an extension for Anibal Sanchez?

The Marlins have already completed two extensions for pitchers whom they still had under team control; both Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco received team-friendly deals that bought out free agent seasons for the Marlins. Earlier this offseason, I discussed the plan for offseason success for the Miami Marlins, and in it I included the possibility of a three-year extension for Sanchez. Right now, that would be a very amicable deal for the Marlins and one that they would likely swoop up in a second.

Unfortunately, I am of the opinion now that Sanchez would never accept a three-year extension with the Fish.

I once discussed the extension game with Johnson's agent Matt Sosnick, who was in the midst of negotiations with the Marlins front office regarding Johnson's eventual four-year extension. He mentioned to me that it was critical that the Marlins complete this extension this season, as an extension in Johnson's final year of free agency would essentially merit a long-term, free agent-like contract rather than a shorter-term, team-friendly extension. The same situation could be applied to Sanchez, who is in his final season of arbitration. Any extension he decides to sign this season would have to be on the order of something he would receive in free agency; there is no reason why he would willingly accept a bit less money to only guarantee a two- or three-year commitment from the Marlins or any other signing team.

With that in mind, what kind of contract would Sanchez expect in free agency, and is that kind of deal something that the Marlins could afford to sign?

Comparisons

First, let us examine the Sanchez that we know right now.

Sanchez, Year IP K% BB% ERA FIP Avg WAR
2011 196 1/3 24.3 7.7 3.67 3.35 3.4
2010 195 18.7 8.3 3.55 3.32 3.7
2009 86 18.5 12.0 3.87 4.60 0.9
2009-2011 477 1/3 20.9 8.8 3.66 3.56 8.0

Over the last three seasons, his ERA and FIP have agreed pretty well, and he has performed at the level of a 3.5-win pitcher over the last two seasons. If we were just to take that information alone, we would project a 3.5-win pitcher to earn something like $16 million for that type of season. Sanchez is no spring chicken at age 28 in 2012, but I would not be surprised to see him maintain this sort of performance level at least for the next three or so seasons. Even if he begins to drop off by age 32, a signing team would still be getting good production from Sanchez in a long-term deal.

But it is always nice to look at comparisons to help you determine what a similar player might receive in the free agent market. Two pitchers recently signed five-year pacts with their respective teams .One signed a deal following his first two successful seasons as a starter, while the other signed an extension at a point in his career very similar to Sanchez's. Let's take a look at those two pitchers' numbers in their appropriate time spans.

Pitcher IP K% BB% ERA FIP Avg WAR
Pitcher 1* 479 2/3 21.0 9.8 3.32 3.65 8.9
Pitcher 2** 583 2/3 18.2 7.7 3.92 4.04 9.8

* Pitcher 1 numbers only from 2010 to 2011, when he was a starter. All stats except for WAR include playoff numbers
** Pitcher 2 numbers from 2009 to 2011

Pitcher 1 has the worse walk rate with a similar strikeout rate, but he suppressed enough home runs to make up for the difference between him and Sanchez. He appears to be slightly better than Sanchez, even if you looked at Sanchez over the 2010 to 2011 time period. Pitcher 2 pitched more over the three-year span, but he was less effective. He walked fewer guys but struck out significantly fewer as well, and he did not perform as well in terms of home run suppression compared to either Sanchez or Pitcher 1. It would be safe to say that Pitcher 2 was slightly worse than Sanchez over the three-year period.

Who were these guys? Pitcher 1 is Los Angeles Angels starter C.J. Wilson, who signed a five-year, $77.5 million contract this offseason. Pitcher 2 is Chicago White Sox starter John Danks, who recently signed a five-year, $65 million extension that bought out his final arbitration season and four free agent years. Sanchez is closer to being Wilson's level than Danks's, but his situation mirrors Danks's best.

Contract Matching

How do those contracts stack up? Let's start with Danks, who will be earning $13 million annually under this deal. However, not all of those seasons are free agent years; his first season is his final arbitration season, and he was expected to earn $7.6 million in 2012 based on MLB Trade Rumors's projected arbitration salaries. Take away that part of the deal and you are looking at a four-year, $57 million contract akin to the one the Marlins gave to Mark Buehrle. We are fairly certain that Sanchez is better than Danks, so we would expect him to earn more than $14.4 million annually during his free agent years.

Wilson is earning $15.5 million annually in his contract, but it is fairly obvious that he took a discount to play in his home state of California. Let us assume he would have made $17 million annually if he had signed on for full price (and this seems appropriate given that it sounded like the Marlins offered six years and at least $100 million to Wilson). A five-year deal for Wilson would have earned him $85 million in that case.

If we presume Sanchez is in the middle of Wilson and Danks in terms of skill level, than we can approximate what an extension should look like. MLB Trade Rumors projected Sanchez to make $6 million in arbitration, so that value is already in the books for the first year of an extension. Assuming he receives five free agent seasons, an average between $17 million and $14.4 million is $15.65 million annually, which would make the five seasons worth about $78 million. The total deal, including the first year at $6 million, would be worth six years and $84 million. An alternative would be a five-year extension (the same length as Danks's) worth $69 million.

A Good Move for the Marlins?

Would these be smart contracts for the Fish? They certainly seem fair market value, and the commitment the Marlins would make to Sanchez may even convince him to bump down the price a tad to around $67 million on the five-year deal or $81 million on the six-year contract. But would either of these contracts make sense for the Fish?

This would be a difficult decision. On the one hand, the Marlins would basically be committing money that the team would have otherwise spent on Wilson, and such a commitment would be comparable for a player who is noticeably worse, but not by too large a margin, than Wilson. Had the Fish committed money to Wilson this season, there is no guarantee that they would have been able to keep Anibal Sanchez long-term, so perhaps this opens up the ability to retain one of their own players long-term.

On the other hand, the Marlins will likely have some other long-term pitching decisions to make in the coming years, and perhaps the team does not want to preclude itself from a future extension by making a current one. While Nolasco is likely on his way out whether he performs well or not, Josh Johnson's possible extension still looms. If Johnson remains healthy for the next two seasons, it is likely that he will be effective enough to earn himself a major payday at or before his free agent offseason. If the Marlins are interested in retaining him, it likely would cost the team at least $18 million annually, and a Sanchez extension for major money may preclude the Fish from making that future Johnson signing. Of course, there is no guarantee that Johnson will be effective enough to earn an extension, and right now the Marlins know Sanchez has been effective for two straight seasons.

The other aspect that looms is the Marlins' insistence on passing on long-term deals with pitchers. This idea would not preclude the Marlins from making the five-year extension (that was essentially a four-year deal with an arbitration season the team would have already purchased), but if Sanchez was looking for more seasons, it may prevent the Marlins from completing a contract. Then again, the club recently attempted to commit six years to Wilson, so maybe that old policy is out the window now.

I am in favor of an extension, as the Marlins would be receiving fair value and getting a pitcher that would only just be exiting his prime by the end years of the deal. The Marlins would be set with two solid pitchers for the next three or four seasons, and it's unlikely that Sanchez's deal would preclude the Fish from making further moves, though it would lock them into more future money past the 2014 window of payroll freedom. What do you Fish Stripers think? Would either of these two extensions be acceptable for Sanchez?

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