Free-agent matchmaker: Anibal Sanchez

Doug Pensinger

Where will the right-hander go? Where should he go?

Zack Greinke is the pitcher of this free-agent class. There was a chance he was going to be joined by Matt Cain and Cole Hamels … nope. Just Greinke. He's the guy, if you're the GM of a rich team looking to make a rich-team splash. That leads to stuff like this:

Well. If you were looking for your team to swoop in and nab Greinke to a one-year deal with seven team options, that might not be especially likely these days. There will be at least a couple of teams involved at the very end of the Greinke derby, and they'll both be offering silly money. One of those teams will lose out. They'll take the silly money and look to the next-best option.

Anibal Sanchez will suddenly be the pitcher of this free-agent class. Maybe there's a way that a team blows Sanchez away before Greinke decides where he's going, but it seems like Sanchez has more to gain from being the best consolation prize on the market than he does from being the second-best pitcher on the market.

The drop-off from Greinke to Sanchez is at least a full story, though, whereas the drop-off from Sanchez to someone like Edwin Jackson is like missing the last step of a staircase. So let's not play this up too much.

But Sanchez will get paid a lot of money by someone, and he'll get paid because of the siren song of "stuff." There's never a good time to slather a Darren Dreifort comp on a pitcher, but maybe Gil Meche isn't out of the question. Whatever contract Sanchez gets will be a partially speculative deal, with his new team paying for more than past production. There will be a premium paid for potential, too.

You can see why. When he looks right, he's an intimidating, filthy pitcher, and there's a hope that he can do that more frequently with more innings and experience. It's not like this is the typical maybe-he'll-magically-get-better-at-age-30-or-so fluff -- looking at you, Royals and Luke Hochevar -- because Sanchez really might be an unfinished project. He's thrown 869 innings in the majors, which isn't that much different from what Clayton Kershaw or Trevor Cahill have done. Sanchez lost three straight seasons to injury in his mid-20s, so it's probably not fair to think of him like a normal 28-year-old pitcher. There might be an untouched ceiling yet.

To appropriate a Mitch Hedberg joke, the eventual contract Sanchez gets will either be a disaster or a brilliant move, unless it's just okay.

A guess at the favorite for his services, as well as a dark-horse team that makes some sense:

The Favorites

Has to be the Tigers, right? It's not like they're hurting at the top of their rotation -- Verlander, Fister, and Scherzer turn any rotation into something filled with a majority of good-to-great pitchers -- but the rotation looked different with Sanchez in it. It was the kind of four-deep rotation that wins pennants.

Along with that, though, the Tigers gave up a chunk of their pitching future to get Sanchez. They probably figured they'd have Jacob Turner in some capacity for the next five or six years, and there aren't a lot of upper-level prospects threatening to make a difference in the next two seasons. The move to get Sanchez was likely predicated on the idea that the team would make a substantial push to retain him, or at least for free-agent help somewhere in the rotation.

The Ideal

I don't feel like flogging the Orioles' luck horse again-- which sounds really, really dirty -- but I don't think it's nuts to think the rotation could use a little more stability. They'll have options for the back of the rotation, like Tommy Hunter, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman, and they'll have options for the front of the rotation, like Wei-Yin Chen and Jason Hammel. But the addition of one more solid pitcher, especially one who has the potential to break out, would do wonders for a quest to get back to the playoffs.

The Orioles will pay almost a quarter of their payroll to Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts next year, but they're not leaden with long-term mistakes after this year. The only player signed to a guaranteed contract past 2014 is Adam Jones. If there were ever a time to take a risk on a free agent, it would be the offseason following a surprising postseason run.

Remember when the Orioles used to be one of the teams that made the offseason rumor mill go 'round? There aren't any more Albert Belles out there, but they could complement their newfound divisional relevance with some hot-stove relevance at the same time.

Begrudging Prediction

Tigers, four years, $68 million. That's the kind of contract that could look bad, but it isn't the kind of deal that will prevent a team from competing.

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