You’ve heard this ad nauseum by this point, but the Yankees need pitching depth. A couple of top tier starters would be ideal, but it seems like the team isn’t heavily pursuing the likes of Trevor Bauer and they didn’t make much of a push for Charlie Morton. Even re-signing their own pitcher in Masahiro Tanaka is looking like it’s up in the air at this point.
They may deviate from this plan later in the offseason, but for the moment it looks like the most likely additions to the rotation will come from a mix of young talent graduating from the minors and veteran buy-low candidates. If that is the case, then they’ll be looking at several free agent pitchers that are on the market right now who could sign relatively cheap and short-term deals. One of the pitchers worth kicking the tires on in that category is Aníbal Sánchez.
Sánchez has had an atypical career arch, posting excellent numbers in his early years with the Marlins and Tigers, even leading the AL in ERA with a 2.57 mark back in 2013. Injuries began to mount in 2014, however, and Sánchez quickly went from a member of an elite rotation to one of the worst pitchers in baseball. The Tigers were done with him by the end of 2017, and he had trouble finding a new team, signing with the Twins before spring training before ending up on the Braves by the end of spring. From there Sánchez had a career revival, posting a 2.83 ERA in 136.2 innings for Atlanta before signing with Washington in 2019 and pitching to a 3.85 ERA in 166 innings.
If the story ended there, Sánchez would be a decently sought-after starter for next year, even entering his age-37 season. Unfortunately for Sánchez, 2020 was not kind to him — he pitched to a 6.62 ERA in 53 innings, giving up a league-worst 39 earned runs. There’s plenty of fluctuation in 2020 stat lines compared to previous seasons, and his FIP was over a full run lower at 5.46 so there’s reason to believe he got unlucky to some degree, but it’s also not unreasonable to think that he’s declining from the sudden peak he found over the past couple of season.
Sánchez dealt with home run problems this season, giving up 1.87 HR/9. That’s a big jump from the numbers he put up from 2018-19, and more in line with what he produced near the end of his run with the Tigers. His average fastball velocity fell below 90 mph for the first time in his career in 2020, and it’s been on a slow but steady decline for the last seven years.
So it’s highly unlikely that Sánchez finds the form he was in when he helped Washington win a World Series, but it’s a decent gamble that he’s serviceable for another year or two. Baseball-Reference projects him to pitch to a 4.53 ERA over 147 innings, though Steamer is less optimistic predicting he earns a 5.51 ERA in 143 innings.
Is that worth taking a flyer on? Probably not at the going rate that other starting pitchers have gotten on one-year deals so far, but if Sánchez takes something along the $2-4 million range or lower, then the Yankees could be a realistic landing point. The team needs depth to ensure that they aren’t just relying on prospects succeeding and injured players returning to form immediately, and Sánchez can be that type of insurance. It’s far from a flashy move, but it can be a sensible one.