First off, I consider myself to be a big Jonathan Sanchez fan. I've been a fan of him since he burst on the scene in 2006, appearing in 27 games with the Giants his rookie season. Sanchez strikes me as a special player. On stuff alone, he is surprisingly good. Sure, he doesn't rock it up in the high 90's, but his K/9 has been over eight since 2007. The man knows how strike guys out.
However, like most pitchers with great strikeout stuff, Sanchez has been haunted by control issues. In fact, saying he has control issues is an understatement. That's like saying Lady Gaga doesn't know how to dress "properly" at a baseball game.
Sanchez's career BB/9 is 4.59 and his career K/BB ratio accordingly is 2.01. Those aren't exactly impressive, and aren't necessarily indicators of future dominance. Sure, the strikeouts are nice, but in order to really be something special at the Major League, a pitcher has to be able to throw strikes. Ask Omar Minaya and Mets fans about taking risks and giving a lot of money to a high strikeout pitcher with control issues (cough...Oliver Perez...cough).
So, much like last season, Sanchez's name suddenly has become a hot topic in terms of trade talks. After all, the Giants do have Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner is finally learning the Major League ropes at the end of the rotation. Sanchez could develop into a solid pitcher, but he has been too inconsistent in his career for Giants fans and management to be certain.
Furthermore, Sanchez's value has never really been higher.
If you look at the standard numbers, Sanchez blows away his first half stats from a year ago. By the All-Star break in 2009, Sanchez had a 3-8 record, a 4.69 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP (and that was INCLUDING the No-Hitter against the Padres). This year, Sanchez sports a 6-6 record, a 3.26 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. That's a vast improvement from where he was at this point last season (or at least according to the standard numbers).
The dilemma last year was trying to sell Sanchez despite his stats looking awful. This year, the Giants don't have that dilemma. The Giants can dish Sanchez, and I'm sure many teams will be happy to take the hook. However, before Giants fans and management are ready to trade away the Puerto Rican lefty, they have to ask themselves three things before making such a deal:
1.) What can we get in return for Sanchez?
2.) How will Sanchez perform for the rest of the season?
3.) How much do we trust Madison Bumgarner?
The first question is the most obvious one. Rumors have circulated that there could be a possible Sanchez and Thomas Neal (who's tearing it up now in Richmond after a slow start) for Prince Fielder deal. ESPN's Buster Olney has shut down such speculations, saying that Sanchez simply wouldn't be enough and that Matt Cain would have to be a centerpiece in the deal (which isn't or at least shouldn't happen).
With Fielder out of the way then, the most likely scenario in a trade involving Sanchez would either involve David DeJesus or Jose Guillen, both names that have been linked to possible trades involving the Giants. Though the outfield is crowded, DeJesus would be a solid fit (as Fangraphs writer Dave Cameron points out). Guillen on the other hand, wouldn't (too much of a fluke year this season, and he's starting to decline too).
In terms of the second point, right now it's tough to tell. Sanchez's success this year has been dependent on his April, which was very good. In April, Sanchez posted a 12.21 K/9, a 2.54 K/BB ratio and had a 2.14 FIP in 24.1 IP. However, in May and June, he has sported FIP totals of 4.27 and 4.63, respectively, and his K/BB ratios have been under two the past two months as well.
Then again, Sanchez did bounce back in the second half, so Giants fans can expect the same, right? Well, Sanchez right now is on pace for setting a career high in terms of innings (ZiPS has him finishing at 177 IP; his previous high was last year when he threw 163 IP), so it's tough to tell whether or not he can return to that second half for from a year ago. We just don't know how he'll hold up as he pitches more innings (though 177 isn't THAT bad of a load).
Furthermore, Sanchez's contact rates at are a higher total than last season (77.3 percent in comparison to 73.8 percent last year) and his swinging strike percentage is down as well (from 10.9 percent to 9.4 percent). This would be okay if he was throwing strikes, but unfortunately, he isn't (his strike zone percentage is down to 45.9 percent, the lowest of his Major League career; it was 48.3 percent a season ago).
As for the last point, if the Giants deal Sanchez, the pressure will be on Bumgarner to step up and be the fourth starter immediately (which would mean a return of Todd Wellemeyer or Joe Martinez to the starting rotation). That is a lot of pressure to put on Bumgarner, especially when you consider a.) He's only 21 years old and b.) He's only pitched 24 total innings at the Major League level.
If the team has playoff aspirations, they are going to need Sanchez. And, even if they don't have playoff aspirations, it would serve them better to hang onto Sanchez (who still has two years left of arbitration) for next season, rather than going out and spending MORE money on a free agent pitcher to fill the fifth spot next year. Bumgarner is going to be a solid pitcher, but they need to develop him a little more in the Majors, for he is going to be susceptible to getting hit (as we have seen in his first two starts this year) until he perfects his secondary pitches more. Sanchez is more of a sure deal, even if he can be erratic at times.
In my opinion, unless the Giants can make a play at Fielder (which I think is highly unliklely), the Giants should stay pat and stick with Sanchez. Is he going to bounce back in the second half like he did in 2009? I don't know, but for next season, Sanchez is a cheap, valuable option that the Giants would benefit from in the rotation (his WAR is still 1.5, which values at six million; he'll probably makes about half of that in arbitration next year).
And, if the Giants want to stay in the playoff hunt, Sanchez needs to stay on this roster. Bumgarner and Wellemeyer/Martinez at the end of the rotation isn't going to get them into the postseason. But Sanchez and Bumgarner?
I think Giants fans can agree the chances are better with the latter.