Earlier today, the front office added a year and $6MM to Freddy Sanchez‘s pre-existing contract, which will now keep him in a Giants uniform through 2012. Although it’s hard to bash a GM for handing out a one year extension to a fairly-reliable player, I’m curious to find out why Brian Sabean would act so preemptively. A lot can happen in a year, and as fans know, Sanchez hasn’t exactly been a model of perfect health during his tenure in San Francisco. In addition, it’s highly implausible that he will suddenly start performing at an elite level, putting himself outside of the Giants’ price range. In other words, even if Sanchez stays healthy and has a stellar year, he probably won’t get much more money here, or anywhere else for that matter. But hey — when Juan Uribe gets 21MM and 3 years from the Dodgers, anything is possible.
Even if this deal was given six months too early, it’s likely to pay off in the long run. Based on his annual salary of $6MM, Sanchez is being valued as a 1 to 2 WAR player. Brian Sabean has previously signed other low-risk, low-reward players such as Miguel Tejada and Mark DeRosa for similar amounts. Fortunately, Sanchez projects to be at the higher end of this spectrum, assuming that he can stay relatively healthy and does not decline significantly. Having played just 111 games in each of the last two years, he has accumulated considerable WAR totals of 1.8 and 2.7 respectively. If nothing problematic occurs, Sanchez seems like a fairly safe bet to eclipse the 2 WAR mark during the next two seasons.
It seems that Brian Sabean isn’t just gambling that Sanchez will be healthy and productive for two more years — he is also predicting a thin free agent market in the upcoming offseason. At first glance, the list of available second basemen appears impressive. However, the superstar of this class, Robinson Cano, won’t be available for obvious reasons. Solid alternatives Brandon Phillips and Aaron Hill have reasonable club options, and Phillips is looking to sign another extension with Cincinnati. Oakland favorite Mark Ellis will be 35 by then, and Florida’s Omar Infante has always been a utility guy until just last year. That leaves one legitimate option: Kelly Johnson.
Even with some question marks, Johnson was an intriguing option for 2012. His offensive abilities have always been slightly above average, but it’s tough to determine whether his breakout 2010 season was aided by the hitter-friendly confines of Chase Field. In addition, his 2010 defense was quite suspect — his superb 7.3 UZR followed three straight years of negative data. After taking all these factors into account, it’s safe to conclude that Sanchez may actually be one of the best options on the market next year. By locking him up for another year, Brian Sabean has mitigated the risk of losing another valuable middle infielder to a rival contender.
Some people have speculated that this extention will ultimately end up hindering prospect Charlie Culberson. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think this will be a problem the Giants will have to worry about. Culberson has yet to play in any level above Single A, which was an extremely offensive-oriented environment. While his results in the AFL showed promise, Culberson still has quite a long way to go before he reaches the big league club. In the absolute best case scenario — and that means a Posey or Belt-like ascent through the upper minors — I could see him knocking on the door in mid-2012. If this were to happen, Sanchez and Culberson could share playing time until the Giants access that the rookie is able of assuming a full-time role in 2013.
The Sanchez extension is a solid deal for Brian Sabean and the rest of management. It was completed a bit too early for my liking, but at least the timing seems to be justifiable. With a little luck, he’ll provide what we paid for and more over the next two years.