After Tanner Roark was traded last week, the Nationals were in need of a fourth starter and today inked the right-handed Anibal Sanchez after he put up a fantastic year for the Braves. Prices firmed up for starting pitchers last week putting Sanchez near the top end of his range. Sanchez’s agent Gene Mato and Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo had some preliminary talks during the Winter Meetings and completed the deal today. The contract is for two years plus a third year option in an incentives-laden deal for a base salary covering 2 years and $19 million.
Anibal Sanchez with #Nationals, per source: 2019-$8M (of which $2M payable 1/15/21). 2020- $9M (of which $2M payable 1/15/21). Club option 2021 for $12M or $2M buyout. Plus: $500,000 each for 18gs; 22gs; 26gs; 30gs.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 21, 2018
In Sanchez’s career he had “ownage” on the Nats. Even in seasons when Sanchez struggled, he had success against the Nats with a 10-1 record with a Cy-worthy 2.08 ERA in 25 career starts.
Last year, Sanchez figured out his mechanics and a new grip on his cut-fastball and worked that to a very successful season which the Nats hope was not an outlier. Sanchez was not a workhorse as the Braves manager Brian Snitker generally pulled Sanchez by the 6th inning and the formula worked. Sanchez will have half of his 2018 battery with him now as Kurt Suzuki was signed earlier this off-season as a free agent from the Braves. Sanchez had a slightly better ERA when Suzuki caught him so that is a plus if they can match up in 2019 as battery mates.
Sanchez turns 35 years old during Spring Training and while his contract comes with some financial risk, the market for starters is tight right now in free agency. The righty led the Majors in weakest contact based on exit velocity due in part to a cutter that was more effective than prior years in which Sanchez changed the grip slightly. In 136 2/3 innings, he posted a stingy 2.83 ERA with 8.9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 0.99 HR/9 and a high groundball rate of 45%, leaving the only question — can he repeat that in 2019 and 2020 for the Nationals?
While the concerns with Sanchez start with his ability to show that his 2018 season was not a fluke, he hopefully will also get to redeem himself in the postseason after a lackluster 2018 NLDS with a 4 2/3 innings performance giving up 3 earn runs which gave him a 5.79 ERA. Add to that Sanchez’s effectiveness going through the batting order for the third time where he only got past the 6th inning in 5 of his 26 starts in 2018 and averaged 5.4 innings per appearance last year. Can Nationals manager Dave Martinez work with Sanchez similar to his handling of Jeremy Hellickson last year? If so, Sanchez could be as good as 2018. Fangraphs projects Sanchez at a WAR of +1.7 for the 2019 season with a 4.28 ERA which shows they have their doubts on Sanchez repeating his 2018 mastery which then becomes his challenge to show that the Nationals made a wise choice in signing him.
For the Braves, Sanchez was usually their second or third starter, and for the Nationals, he can be seeded as the fourth starter which should give him at times some very favorable match-ups. The Nationals are looking more likely to split the #5 spot in the rotation between Joe Ross and Erick Fedde with the first four spots going to Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Sanchez. The Nationals also signed former All-Star Henderson Alvarez to a minor league deal for depth and will add a couple of additional starting pitchers to the mix to go with Kyle McGowin and Austin Voth who will both compete for starts with the Nats.
In fact if you go through the NL Leaders in ERA in 2018, you will notice that Scherzer (3), Sanchez (7), Corbin (13) and Strasburg (25) all ranked in the Top 25 of starting pitchers where many analysts gauge a pitcher by their ERA first and foremost before going to WHIP of FIP. That combination beats all other teams in staff ERA for starting pitchers and is a great sign for what Mike Rizzo has put together for 2019 and beyond.