There's been some debate about whether the Cubs should have pursued Anibal Sanchez. While I think it would have been an overpay, I do understand why the Cubs would pursue Sanchez, even if it wasn't going to be the type of bargain signing we've seen early in this rebuilding process...
- He's 28 and in the prime of his career
- He has the kind of peripheral numbers the Cubs like. He throws strikes and misses bats. His fielding independent numbers show that he can get a lot better results with a strong defense behind him.
- The Cubs have a familiarity with him and the kind of person he is.
One other reason may be a 2014 starting pitching class that's looking a little thin. At first glance there doesn't seem to be a pitcher that fits as well as Sanchez could have, so that may be yet another reason the Cubs were willing to pay a bit more.
The Cubs missed out on their top target in 2013, so who are the potential Anibal Sanchez's of next year's class? Here's a few candiates. Ages are what they will be at time of their potential free agency.
- Phil Hughes RHP (27): Hughes won 16 games in 2012 and finished with a 4.23 ERA. He showed some ability to miss bats (7.76 Ks/9IP) and throw strikes (2.16). In a weak class, it's hard to envision him being anything but overvalued. He has always outpitched his peripherals and he is a well-known name from a major market. If he has a good season, he figures to be in line for a big contract.
- Josh Johnson, RHP (29): Johnson is a power pitcher who has front line stuff and solid control (3.02 W/9IP) and good strikeout numbers (8.17 Ks/9 IP). Although he came back strong, he still wasn't the same pitcher he was before his injury. The big question with Johnson is that he will be 30 by the time the year starts. Are his best years behind him or can he still improve in a way that fits the Cubs timeline?
- Jon Lester, LHP (29): Lester is almost exactly the same age as Johnson but has averaged over 200 innings over the past 5 years. He appears to be healthy but the Cubs will have to analyze whether they are comfortable with the miles on his arm. Like Johnson, it's possible that his best years are behind him. There has been some significant decline in his numbers the past two years and his strikeout numbers have dropped in each of the last 4 years. He's still at least a solid mid-rotation starter at this point, however. There are no questions about his mental makeup and nobody would know that better than this particular front office. One hangup is that Lester has a club option next year and may not become a free agent at all.And then, of course, he's a rare commodity in that he's a lefty in the prime of his career. He's a potential fit, but he'll be costly.
- Tim Lincecum, RHP (29): The thought of Lincecum making it to free agency seemed impossible just 2-3 years ago but it seems likely as of today. While he was perhaps the best pitcher in baseball in 2008-09, he has been in decline ever since and last year represented the biggest drop of all. Lincecum has never had great control and last season he walked more hitters than ever (4.35/9IP), while also seeing his velocity drop into the low 90s. There are concerns about the wear and tear because of the high pitch counts early in his career. It's a high risk gamble. It's likely that we may never see the Lincecum of 08 and 09 again, but it's reasonable to expect the return of the 2011 version -- which would still make an impact. Unfortunately, it's also possible he could continue his decline.
- Matt Garza, RHP (29): The best fit may be the guy they already have. His strikeout numbers have risen as a Cub (8.95/9 IP in 2011, 8.33 last season) while the walk rates have improved and dropped into the 2.8/9 IP range. Garza has improved his approach on the mound and has answered questions about his makeup. He loves it here in Chicago and would be willing to re-sign. Garza is coming off his first major injury, though he seems to be recovering well. Perhaps the biggest negative is that keeping Garza could mean a lost opportunity to bring in young players as he is the Cubs most valuable trade piece, but there's also no guarantee any players they acquire will be as good as Garza has been.
Taking a look at the pros and cons of next year's class gives us some more insight as to why the Cubs bid big on Sanchez this year. There are some possibilities for next year but perhaps none outside the organization fit the Cubs long term plan quite as well as Sanchez did.
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