FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Twins added to their starting-rotation depth, agreeing to terms with veteran right-hander Anibal Sanchez on a one-year deal worth $2.5 million with up to $2.5 million in incentives.The Twins confirmed the agreement on Tuesday, as Sanchez had to pass a physical before the signing was
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Twins added to their starting-rotation depth, agreeing to terms with veteran right-hander Anibal Sanchez on a one-year deal worth $2.5 million with up to $2.5 million in incentives.
The Twins confirmed the agreement on Tuesday, as Sanchez had to pass a physical before the signing was announced. The contract is not guaranteed, as Sanchez will have to earn a roster spot this spring to earn the $2.5 million, according to a source. But Sanchez will be on the 40-man roster, and the club will have to clear a spot for him in the coming days -- which is likely to be Michael Pineda heading to the 60-day disabled list.
Analytics played a role in Sanchez's signing, as the Twins believe they can alter his pitch usage to help him be more successful. He's struggled with the Tigers in recent years, posting a 4.99 ERA in 157 innings in '15, a 5.87 ERA in 153 1/3 innings in '16 and a 6.41 ERA in 105 1/3 innings last season. But a deeper look at Statcast™ exit velocities shows Sanchez gave up a league-average quality of contact last season -- including a 21.6-percent strikeout rate that was exactly the MLB average and his 6-percent walk rate was two points better than average. He's still homer prone, but it's mostly his fastball that gets hit hard, and he's coming to a team with a much better defense than the Tigers.
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"His analytics on some of the factors [our evaluators] feel are significant were a lot better than his results," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "Obviously, the long ball bit him a lot. A lot of people think it has to do with pitch usage and some other things. But they really liked a lot of the weapons he still has. They think he got away from things that would give him a better chance to be successful."
The move will not preclude the club from pursuing other starting pitchers via free agency or trade, as adding to the rotation remains a priority this spring. The Twins remain linked to the top starters available, such as Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb and Jacob Arrieta -- although several mid-tier starters such as Jaime Garcia, Andrew Cashner and Jason Vargas have signed with teams in recent days.
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Sanchez, who turns 34 on Feb. 27, has pitched in the big leagues for 12 seasons, including the last six with the division-rival Tigers. He owns a career 4.09 ERA in 284 appearances (262 starts).
Sanchez still possesses a plus splitter, but has had trouble with his fastball as it has lost velocity over the years. Opposing batters hit just .125 with a .188 slugging percentage against his splitter last season, but .337 with a .579 slugging percentage against his fastball, per Statcast™.
"I think they feel there are some things that they can try to build on that are still really positive," Molitor said. "We're just trying to get a feel for where he's at and see some of the things we think he can do [that] line up with performance more than last year."
Sanchez is also considered a veteran leader who can help mentor younger pitchers. He could be valuable in that role this spring, even if he doesn't make the club.
"He's just a good teammate," Tigers closer Shane Greene said on Saturday. "He likes to see other players succeed as much as he wants to succeed. So just having that environment with him around is good. Being around him for the three years, to go through the struggles that he had and still be the same guy every day, was something anybody can learn from."
"The last couple years aren't indicative of his pitching," said Tigers right-hander Michael Fulmer. "Plus, he's just a great human. He loves his teammates. He'll do anything for anybody. For him to just still be able to pitch, it's awesome. He had a lot of influence on me."
Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter **@RhettBollinger** and **Facebook**.