If there’s an evergreen status update for the Orioles’ offseason, it’s the need for starting pitching. You can never have enough, they say, and...well, when you have names like Kohl Stewart and Asher Wojciechowski currently holding down spots in your starting rotation, you can really never have enough.
Of course, when it’s Feb. 11 and spring training is mere days away, the pitching that’s available starts to read like a collection of lukewarm names at best. Andrew Cashner, Jason Vargas, pitchers in their mid-30s without a ton to offer a suitor.
One of the names out there, however, does raise an eyebrow. Aaron Sanchez is on the market, and at least one outlet out there is suggesting that it could make sense for Sanchez to wind up in Baltimore.
Is this a path worth exploring for GM Mike Elias? It’s a tricky question. There are reasons to be excited about rolling the dice with Sanchez. And there are equally compelling reasons to want to stay far, far, far away.
So let’s take a look. Consider it a Camden Chat version of the “that’s good/that’s bad” joke from The Simpsons:
That’s good: Sanchez is kind of a rare pitcher you can get at this point that isn’t either on the tail end of his career or a failed prospect. There’s considerable upside here. Four years ago he went 15-2, finished seventh in the Cy Young voting and was leading the American League in ERA before winding up with a 3.00 mark.
That season was four years ago, but he’s only 27. Were he 31 or 32 it’d be hard to imagine him winding the clock back, but given the chance to properly recover from his injuries without rushing the rehab, it’s plenty conceivable that he could find a form similar to what he had going in 2016. It’s a high water mark, and there’s reason to believe the Orioles could come away with a steal.
That’s bad: Ah, right. Those injuries. There are big-time red health flags with Sanchez. The most obvious is the shoulder injury that knocked him out of the Astros’ rotation on Aug. 20 and forced him to miss the rest of the season due to surgery. The perception is that the injury will cause him to miss some time early this season as well.
Is that a deal-breaker? It would seem to make more sense for a contender to be interested in a pitcher for half or two-thirds of the season, since that team would have hopes of staying in the race until Sanchez would be healthy enough to help. For a team like the Orioles that expects to be out of it early, what would be the value of adding Sanchez late? What stretch run or second-half surge could he hope to assist in Baltimore?
The injuries also aren’t limited to the shoulder woes. In 2017, Sanchez made only eight starts while dealing with chronic fingernail and blister issues. Those shouldn’t be casually dismissed. Plenty of pitchers (Josh Beckett, for one) were plagued by blisters throughout their careers, and when it’s an injury stemming from your delivery or grip, it doesn’t just go away.
That’s good: Sanchez has a good repertoire for Camden Yards. He has a decent strikeout arsenal with a sharp curveball and hard sinker and has stayed between 7.5 and 8 K/9 when healthy, and that sinker allows him to keep the ball out of trouble and on the ground. He had a ground ball percentage of 46.9 percent compared to 30.3 for fly balls in 2019, and he’s been able to maintain a considerable distance between the two throughout his career.
Oriole Park can inflate any pitcher’s numbers, but Sanchez has been solid in Baltimore over the course of his career. He’s allowed a .234 batting average with a 3.13 ERA, while going 4-2 in eight starts. Those numbers may seem questionable considering how the Orioles have played of late, but considering the Orioles were still a heavy-hitting team in 2016 and ’17, the numbers are legitimate enough.
That’s bad: Sanchez hasn’t exactly blown away batters when he has been healthy to pitch since his breakout season. His ERA hasn’t dropped below 4 in that time, and instead, the marks have been pretty off-putting: 4.25 (in the injury-plagued 2017 season), 4.89, and then 5.89 between Toronto and Houston, where he had ERAs of 6.07 and 4.82, respectively.
His WHIP, a sparkling 1.167 in 2016, has regressed to 1.722, 1.562 and 1.622 (1.686 and 1.232 at Toronto and Houston). If you consider records, he’s gone 10-23 since that season, although the Blue Jays have regressed too (he went 2-0 in Houston last year).
The verdict: One person’s opinion, but I would like to see the Orioles take the chance, provided it wasn’t a deal that put too much stress on the team. Sanchez, by all indications, needs time to fully recover from his surgery last season, and provided he gets that opportunity, it’d be interesting to see if he never really got the chance to catch up with his health in previous seasons, and if his stats suffered as a result.
Sanchez could be a hard signing, considering he experienced a playoff run in Houston last year and may be interested only in teams that give him another shot, but if his injuries and lackluster performance lower his demands considerably, it would be the kind of move that makes sense for a rebuilding team to make. He’s young enough to prove an asset down the road if he returns to form, and he could be a trade asset if the Orioles go that route. He’d give Baltimore options, as well as an experienced pitcher with a higher-than-usual ceiling, and he would seem a good addition for a team looking for a find.
There are enough red flags to argue the other way, of course. But at the very least, there’d be some intrigue.