Reactions to the Failed Anibal Sanchez Pursuit, and the Cubs' Next Pitching Targets

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Reactions to the Failed Anibal Sanchez Pursuit, and the Cubs’ Next Pitching Targets

Chicago Cubs

I keep wanting to say “in the wake of the Cubs’ failed Anibal Sanchez pursuit,” but that phraseology doesn’t seem particularly appropriate just yet.

A day after Anibal Sanchez chose to return to the Detroit Tigers for five years and $80 million, each of the major media outlets has a version of the events of Thursday and Friday, which read essentially the same as I’d pieced together yesterday in my immediate reactions.

In short, here’s what happened: the Cubs had been pursuing Sanchez, quietly, for about a month. The Tigers were stuck on a four-year, $48 million offer, and the Cubs had identified Sanchez as a good near-and-long-term fit for where the organization is trying to go. So, eventually, they went to five years and $75 million for Sanchez, and sent Theo Epstein and Tom Ricketts to Miami on Thursday to persuade him to sign. From there, Sanchez’s agent – armed with a five-year offer, supported by media reports – went back to the Tigers to jolt them loose from their weak offer. The Tigers then went to five years, and the Cubs countered (the time-line on that part is a little fuzzy, and it may not have been quite this back-and-forth-y – but you’re getting the gist) by upping their five-year offer to $77.5 million – which was their ceiling. The Tigers then upped the ante to $80 million, and the deal was done.

In the aftermath, the narrative developing in each of those Chicago media write-ups (ESPNChicago, Tribune, Sun-Times, CSNChicago) generally follows the same track:

  • The Cubs are clearly willing to spend on the “right” players.
  • The Cubs aren’t content to sit back and suck for the next several years.
  • The Cubs deserve credit for stepping up with a big offer, but knowing where to draw the line.
  • The Cubs might be surprisingly competitive as soon as 2014.
  • There isn’t another Anibal Sanchez on the market this offseason, though.

I probably wouldn’t put all of that exactly the same way, but it’s close enough. I’d probably add that the sales pitch will always be slightly more difficult for the Cubs until they’re not coming off a terrible season. Wrigley and Chicago are great, and so is the chance to end the drought. But many players will only sign with a winner, and it’s hard to blame them.

The truth is, I think most of the media – and maybe many of you – were surprised that the Cubs were actually going after a big-time free agent like Sanchez, and they are now slightly encouraged about the prospect of covering the Cubs over the next few years (whereas, previously, it looked like it was going to be another two years of losses, “flippable assets,” prospects, and hope). I always thought Sanchez made sense for the Cubs, and always thought they were going to be trying to have a competitive team by 2014, so I guess that’s the primary reason I don’t share their enthusiasm. That is to say: I was already at their level of enthusiasm. So, for me, the Sanchez story is mostly just disappointing.

In any event, the Cubs are clearly going to try and pick up at least one more starter this offseason, even if there isn’t another Sanchez floating out there. Still, because of that pursuit, it’s an extremely plausible possibility that the Cubs will look at some of the “better” starting pitchers left on the market, including Edwin Jackson and Shaun Marcum. I also think they will remain attached to Carlos Villanueva, but his market will be a tough one to figure – he wants to start, but the late-inning relief market has developed so robustly that he’ll probably get some attractive offers from teams looking for a swing-type. Francisco Liriano remains a possibility, but, like Villanueva, he’s more of an upside buy than a sure thing.

Short-term now figures to be the focus.

In the above Sanchez articles, Bruce Levine says the Cubs will now focus on a “a quality short term starting solution like RHP Edwin Jackson or LHP Francisco Liriano.”

Paul Sullivan also thinks short-term will be the ticket: “There aren’t any difference-making, top-shelf starters remaining on the market, but the Cubs may look at Shaun Marcum or Edwin Jackson, both of whom can be had for a shorter term deal at far less money.”

And Gordon Wittenmyer joins the chorus: “Someday these guys might be ready to overpay to win now. But don’t expect any other big multi-year offers this winter. Plan B could be Edwin Jackson on a short deal or Carlos Villanueva.”

While I do think they’ve got the range of targets right, I’m not so sure I’d agree that Edwin Jackson, for example, can be had on a “short-term” deal. There are still a great many teams looking to add a starter (the Red Sox, the Pirates, the Padres, the Brewers, and the Rangers, among them), and I could see Jackson landing a three or four-year deal in excess of $10 to $12 million per year. It’s just the way the market is.

That may be the next question for the front office: is Edwin Jackson, who, like Sanchez, will be 29 next season, but who has never consistently been an over-100 ERA+ guy, worth a four-year, $48 million commitment? Can he be had for less?

Or would the Cubs be better off stick with someone like Villanueva or Liriano on a one or two-year deal? If so, you can expect to keep hearing “flippable assets” for a while.

Which, even after coming up short on Sanchez, isn’t necessarily the wrong way to go.

(Note: You won’t hear about lefty John Lannan as a target, because he reportedly just signed with the Phillies on a one-year, $2.5 million deal, with another $2.5 million in incentives possible. That’s a cheap deal right there.)

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.