After two consecutive seasons as a below-replacement level arm with just 78.1 MLB innings combined, it’s clear that whatever path Jonathan Sanchez takes next in his professional baseball career, it’ll begin with baby steps.
Fortunately for the southpaw, that hasn’t stopped teams from being in interested in his services, and there are few rumored suitors that would be better equipped to facilitate his need for small beginning than the Chicago Cubs. In this case, reports suggest that would means getting the 31-year old out of the comfort zone he has known throughout his career as a starter, and preparing him for the next phase of his career as a reliever.
If Chicago’s rumored interest ends up culminating in a deal, would it be a good fit for both sides?
Though Sanchez would essentially be throwing in the towel on any leftover aspirations as a starter, the Cubs would be one of the better destinations for him in 2014 if only for one thing: opportunity. That’s not something he found with either the Kansas City Royals or Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012 and 2013 respectively, as both of those teams were operating with aspirations of contention.
Though the Cubs would certainly like to be in a similar spot, that’s not what the team has to look forward to in 2014. In what should be considered a transitional year for the franchise as they await the arrivals of their top prospects, Chicago will harbor no false ideas of even reaching for the second Wild Card spot, which means that talent evaluation for future seasons should take precedent over wins and (more likely) losses.
So while Sanchez might end up being mired in another team’s minor league system all season after facing stiff odds in Spring Training, he could conceivably break camp with Cubs as part of the bullpen with even a so-so performance.
For the Cubs, it would be a no-risk move to potentially find a diamond in the rough for their pitching staff, even though it’ll be in a less valuable role as a reliever. Then again, considering the bullpen troubles that they went through in 2013, any potential solution to fortify it would be a good one at this point.
There are some hopeful signs that a make-good deal could actually work out for both Sanchez and the Cubs this time around. Yes, the lefty still has his weaknesses with walks and homers, but it’s worth noting that his average fastball velocity increased for the first time in years this past season (90.0 mph vs. 89.1 in 2012), even topping 95 in Triple-A according to Mark Gonzalez of the Chicago Tribune.
That kind of stuff from the left side is nothing to scoff at, and while he’d have to worry about pacing himself in a starting role, moving to relief should allow him to rely more on his natural abilities.
What does that mean? Well, homers should hurt him less in smaller samples as long as he keeps it relatively under control, and the walks won’t matter so much if he’s only asked to get a few outs at a time. The team can expect him to throw harder as he amps up the effort, and as long as he’s utilized in ideal situations, he should have a chance to succeed.
For starters, given his .215 BAA and 2.66 K/BB against lefties (compared to .245 and 1.64) over his career, he’d be an ideal fit as a LOOGY, which the Cubs should have some use for. Where he goes from there is anyone’s guess, though if one were to look at the success of pitchers like Brett Cecil, who was a failed lefty starter with diminished velocity that turned in an All-Star season as a reliever in 2013, there is some hope that such a turnaround could be accomplished.
Sanchez will still have to earn his way there, of course, but a rebuilding team like Chicago is as good of a first stop as there is on his road to redemption. And who knows? Maybe it could blossom into something else altogether.