Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Yankees didn't like Jonathan Sanchez

At least, that's what the New York Daily News is blogging. The Yanks are desperate for pitching so I'd say this shows how far the reputation of Jonathan Sanchez has declined.

He just couldn't get the ball over the plate this year. And it felt like he bugged much more than the other starters by the lack of run support. By the time he made his last start, he had become pretty damn lousy -- capped by a 9-2 buttkick on August 10 at home by the Pirates, for heavens sake. The loss left the Gmen half a game out first. That left him with a 4-7 record. I'm not sure that he pitched after that due to an ankle injury. Scouts for other teams must have realized that Sanchez was going to be available for trade. By August 27, Eric Surkamp was starting despite the fact that he's a marginal MLB pitcher.
Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Merc-News had a long post about Sanchez on Monday (bondface is mine):

If you listened to GM Brian Sabean’s comments carefully today, he said he began shopping Sanchez immediately after the season ended. He lamented that Sanchez’s inability (or unwillingness) to pitch again after spraining his ankle in August “probably dampened other opportunities.”

In other words, the Giants long ago determined that they didn’t want Sanchez back at his $5-6 million price point for next season. When you trade a guy you no longer want, that isn’t breaking up the rotation. That’s using your resources.

Sure, it’s a bit scary to think of Barry Zito or Eric Surkamp as the No.5 starter behind Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong. But I do think the Giants will find another pitcher or two, at least to provide competition in the spring.

Who knows? Maybe the Giants discover that Roy Oswalt really, really wants to spend a season in San Francisco. When you play half your games at AT&T Park, it’s always easier to attract a veteran starter looking to get a short-term bounce into a better position to make money a year from now. (Even a few weeks can do the trick, in Brad Penny’s case.)

Anyway, Sanchez’s time with the Giants had passed. He’ll be 29 soon and he remained as frustrating as ever with his lackadaisical attitude and high walks totals. I know he received a lecture from coaches in July after telling me he felt “unappreciated here” and that he didn’t expect to come off the disabled list till September.

Sure, Sanchez’s strikeout rate and OBA remain among the best in baseball. The statistical set love his FIP. But ask his fielders if they’re impressed with his FIP while they’re standing around as he walks hitters on a cold night.

Numbers by themselves don’t win games, and if you watched Sanchez pitch, he didn’t always compete so well. When he was struggling earlier in the season, he was asked about possibly getting skipped in the rotation. Hs response? “I’m the No.2 starter. I don’t feel any pressure about it.”

When I asked him last spring about leading the NL in walks, and whether he felt motivated to cut down the free passes — a softball question if ever one existed — Sanchez surprised reporters by saying no, he was fine pitching the way he’s pitched in the past.

“If I walk two guys and get a ground-ball double play, hey, the inning is over,” he said.

Sanchez’s attitude was understandable in one respect: He pitched away from contact because he had to. With a continual lack of run support, he simply couldn’t afford to give in. And in a few very important games, he didn’t. When the Giants needed Sanchez to step up in Game 162 a year ago, he faced down the same Padres team who frustrated him all season. Yep, he walked six batters. But he beared down and pitched the Giants to a division-clinching victory over Mat Latos. He made his own brash prediction come through.

It’s a reminder that Sanchez’s best moments as a Giant weren’t merely good. They were historic. You could argue that his no-hitter in 2009 — the first by a Giant in 35 years — was the first glint of hope that brought them out of nearly four seasons of darkness.

But he went the other direction in 2011. He needed a change of scenery as much as the Giants needed a hitter. If he hasn’t put it together by now, under Dave Righetti’s constant tutelage, it’s not a very good bet that he’ll be a better pitcher in 2012. And with his salary only going up and up, that bet involves putting a lot more chips in the middle — chips better saved for Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum.

Sanchez remains an interesting upside play for a team like the Royals, who are starved for pitching. They have top prospect Lorenzo Cain to plug into center, and they probably weren’t going to re-sign Cabrera beyond this season. So it’s a trade of players who, because of the time and place, had become imperfect fits. It’s a trade that could help both teams.

One thing is for sure: Whenever Sanchez finds himself back at AT&T Park again, the applause will be strong and sustained. And deservedly so.


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