clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Two years later, Anibal Sanchez-Omar Infante trade is a clear win for the Tigers

The Tigers' 2012 deadline pickup of Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante from the Marlins has worked out well in their favor.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers' rotation was dealt a major blow earlier today, as stud right-hander Anibal Sanchez landed on the DL with a right pectoral strain, and could miss up to four weeks. Even with the recent addition of David Price, Sanchez's injury has potentially devastating ramifications for the Tigers, who have watched as the Royals have surged to within a half game of the AL Central lead.

Also in the news lately has been Jacob Turner, who was curiously designated for assignment by the Miami Marlins last week, and later traded to the Cubs for a pair of nondescript relief prospects.

Sanchez and Turner, of course, share the everlasting tie of having been dealt for each other, as the pair headlined the returns for the Tigers and Marlins, respectively, in the July 23rd, 2012 blockbuster that would launch Detroit towards a World Series berth. The deal, centered around Sanchez and Turner, also consisted of Omar Infante, who headed to the Tigers, Rob Brantly, and Brian Flynn, who were sent to the Marlins. The teams also swapped competitive balance draft pick, with the Marlins receiving a compensation round B pick and the Tigers a compensation round A pick.

Now, with the trade over two years in the rearview mirror, and a pair of its components making headlines, it's as good of a time as any to look back and see just how this deal shook out.

________

Detroit's goal in making this deal was simple: win the World Series. While they ultimately fell short of their lofty dream, Sanchez and Infante both proved to be valuable pieces for the Tigers down the stretch, resulting in a division title and deep playoff run.

Sanchez, especially, was everything the Tigers could have hoped for, and more. At the time of the trade, the Tigers weren't acquiring an elite pitcher, as Sanchez was nowhere near the caliber hurler that David Price is now. Still, he was a solid mid-rotation starter, having produced two straight 3.0+ WAR seasons in 2010 and 2011. Of course, he didn't come without some negatives.

For starters, Sanchez was far from durable. Entering the 2012 season, he had topped the 120 innings mark just twice, and never eclipsed 200 innings (he reached 195 in the two years prior). He had proven to be quite injury prone, and already had a Tommy John surgery under his belt. The other caveat was that Sanchez was going to be a free agent at season's end, so he would just be a rental.

Of course, for a Tigers team that was dealing with a poor year from Rick Porcello and lacked in any rotation depth beyond their starting five, he was exactly what they needed. The Tigers already had a very formidable trio of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Doug FIster headlining their rotation, so Sanchez wasn't being relied on to come in and pitch like an ace. He also gave Detroit the opportunity to move rookie Drew Smyly, who was struggling in the rotation, to the bullpen, where he was excellent for the remainder of the year.

Sanchez made 12 starts down the stretch for the Tigers, and his performance did see an uptick from what he was doing in Florida. At the time of the trade, Sanchez had a 104 ERA+, but he posted a 114 mark in Detroit, bumping his seasonal tally to 108. Overall, in 74.2 innings, he put up a 3.74 ERA, 3.68 FIP, 6.9 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, and 1.2 WAR. He would go on to pitch very well in the postseason, making three starts and allowing just four runs.

At this point, it was fair to say that Sanchez had more than delivered on the expectations that were set forth when the Tigers acquired him. However, there was another cherry to add to the deal.

While it's tough to include contract extensions in trade analysis since the contract is not actually a part of the trade, you could argue that Sanchez's stint with the Tigers was what led to him accepting their five-year, $88 million offer. And the Tigers' expensive bet on Sanchez has looked like a steal in the nearly two years since.

In 2013, Sanchez was arguably the best pitcher in the American League (at least on a per-game basis), leading the junior circuit with a 2.57 ERA, 165 ERA+, 2.39 FIP, and 0.4 HR/9, while also posting a career-best 10.0 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, and 6.3 WAR in 182 innings. If it weren't for his relatively low innings total (again, injuries), he most likely would have won the Cy Young award over teammate Max Scherzer.

He has been fantastic once again this season. In 125 innings pitched, the now 30-year-old has a 3.53 ERA, 118 ERA+, 2.71 FIP, 7.3 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, and 3.5 WAR. He currently leads the club in FIP, while placing second behind only Scherzer in WAR.

As for Infante, he wasn't exactly a throw-in in the deal, but he also wasn't the main piece Detroit was trading for. That was Sanchez. His inclusion is comparable to Jason Hammel in last month's Oakland/Chicago mega-swap, as just like Oakland was unwilling to give up Addison Russell in a deal for a single starter, Detroit was probably less inclined to include the highly regarded Turner in a trade for just Sanchez.

Infante, who had one extra year of control at the time of the trade, was having am impressive season with Miami when dealt, as he was hitting .287/.312/.442 with a 101 OPS+ and 1.9 WAR. Capable of playing pretty much every position on the diamond sans catcher and pitcher, Infante was brought over to fill the Tigers' void at second base, which had been ravaged by the trio of Danny Worth, Ryan Raburn, and Ramon Santiago. He would play decently over the final two months of the season, hitting for just a 78 OPS+, but playing good enough defense to muster a 0.7 WAR.

The following season (2013) would prove to be the best of Infante's career, as he hit .318/.345/.450 with a 113 OPS+ and 3.0 WAR, giving the Tigers some much needed stability and offensive prowess from the keystone. He would leave Detroit for a four-year, $30 million deal with the Royals over the offseason, and the Tigers' decision not to bring back Infante seems justified, as he has reverted back to a below-average hitter and is doing little of note in Kansas City.

The draft pick the Tigers received has also worked out well. Detroit took reliever Corey Knebel out of Texas with the 39th overall selection, and the flame throwing right-hander has already reached the majors, having made eight appearances with Detroit this season. He profiles as a future late-innings reliever.

________

For the Marlins, this was just another classic salary dump/rebuilding effort. They acquired three solid prospects and a draft pick, which was an overall great return at the time of the deal. However, the trade looks horrific in hindsight.

Turner was hailed as the key piece coming back to the Marlins in the trade, and it's easy to see why. Entering the 2012 season, Baseball America ranked Turner as the 22nd best prospect in the game, while Baseball Prospectus slotted him at 15th overall. He was clearly an elite prospect, with many dubbing him as a future number two starter.

Turner's initial stint with Miami started off well, as he posted a 3.38 ERA and 3.89 FIP in seven starts with the Marlins down the stretch in 2012. He followed that up with a strong 20-start campaign at the major league level in 2013. In 118 innings, the 22-year-old Turner posted a 3.74 ERA, 103 ERA+, 4.43 FIP, 5.9 K/9, and 4.1 BB/9.

This year, Turner has put up a horrid 5.97 ERA in 78.1 innings at the big league level, however, his FIP (4.00) and xFIP (3.92) suggest that he is having a much better season than his surface numbers indicate. The most likely culprit of his struggles: a .368 BABIP.

Turner's decent track record (excluding this year), once lofty upside, and age (he's just 23) make the Marlins' decision to get rid of him so easily extremely odd to say the least. He's now joining a Cubs organization that has had success "fixing" post-hype arms such as Jake Arrietta. While we're probably past the point of him becoming a future ace, Turner could still have a long, fruitful career ahead of him. Either way, it seems that Miami comes out as the loser here.

Brantly was viewed as a potential regular at the catcher position, but he has been absolutely horrible in both the majors and minors since joining the Marlins' organization. In 356 major league plate appearances with the Marlins in 2012 and 2013, Brantly hit just .235/.298/.325 with a -0.5 WAR, including a 46 OPS+ and -1.1 WAR last season. He has yet to surface in the majors this year, and is instead bombing at Triple-A, where he has a .642 OPS in 327 plate appearances.

Flynn, viewed as the third piece in the deal, may actually wind up contributing the most to the Marlins. The 24-year-old entered the season as the ninth best prospect in the Marlins' system per Baseball Prospectus, and was cited as a possible number four starter. He was having a decent season in Triple-A before a recent call-up, posting a 4.00 ERA, 6.2 K/9, and 3.1 BB/9 in 117 innings. Flynn has a 8.64 ERA and 5.39 FIP in 25 big league innings over the past two seasons, though that small sample size should provide little insight on his long-term value.

Like the Tigers, the Marlins took a college reliever with the draft pick they received. However, unlike Detroit, Miami's selection hasn't worked out so well. The Marlins took right-hander Colby Suggs 73rd overall out of the Univeristy of Arkansas. He was solid in his debut season last year, posting a 3.29 ERA in 27.1 innings pitched across multiple levels. This year, he has a considerably worse 5.68 ERA in 50.2 innings at High-A Jupiter.

So, if you're keeping tabs, the Marlins essentially dealt Sanchez and Infante for a couple of years of watching helplessly as a once prestigious prospect crashed, a potential backup catcher who hasn't hit in two years, a possible back-end starter, and a reliever struggling to get A-ball hitters out. That's probably not what they expected.

________

The returns are from complete on this deal, but unless Brian Flynn magically becomes what Anibal Sanchez already is, then it's hard not to chalk it up as a victory for the Tigers. Without surrendering a single long-term piece of note, they acquired a rotation mainstay and one of the best pitchers in baseball, as well as 1.5 seasons of a quality second baseman. With trades like this, it's no wonder Dave Dombrowski is hailed as one of the best GMs in baseball and the Tigers once again sit atop the AL Central.