The last piece of the projected 2021 Giants rotation took a long while to arrive. Aaron Sanchez did not sign until just before camp and was not officially introduced until Sunday, five days into spring training.
The process to getting him into orange and black, though, goes all the way back to the 2019 trade deadline.
Farhan Zaidi was in talks with the Blue Jays to acquire the hard-throwing righty, who was an All-Star in 2016 but dealt with injuries and regression that led Toronto to try to move him. The Astros beat the Giants’ offer and picked him up, but he only made four starts before he required shoulder surgery that knocked him out for the rest of the season and all of 2020, too.
There were talks, Zaidi said, of signing Sanchez toward the end of last season to pitch in Sacramento and perhaps with the big-league team, “but it was a little bit of a [Reyes] Moronta situation,” Sanchez not quite ready to make his comeback yet.
And so the Giants persisted. They watched him throw for scouts in October, when his fastball was 92-94 mph. They kept in touch and watched him throw last week, when he was at 97-98 mph. The biggest step might have come right before Sanchez officially signed.
“Fortunately his physical went really well,” Zaidi said on a Zoom call Sunday. “Kind of corroborated what we’re seeing with just how his body was moving and working.”
The hunt is over, and the Giants have five high-risk, high-reward starters all on expiring deals with Sanchez, Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood and Johnny Cueto, with Logan Webb in the wings as a possible sixth or minor league insurance.
Sanchez wanted a place to boost his value and knows of the Giants’ reputation for helping pitchers bounce back. He wanted a place that would allow him to start, and his $4 million contract has $2.5 million more available in performance bonuses for games started. He wanted a place that he could hope would help him regain his 2016 form, when he was an All-Star and led the AL with a 3.00 ERA.
“I reached out to some of my friends around the league that have come through this organization, and I heard nothing but great things,” the 28-year-old from Barstow said. “Both [from an] organizational standpoint and pitching, analytical standpoint. And obviously got the opportunity to start here — that was the biggest thing for me.”
The Giants, who found the best way to harness Gausman and Drew Smyly’s stuff last season, have another project. At his best, Sanchez was buzzing 95-mph fastballs with an effective curveball and an even better changeup.
He called himself a more “complete pitcher” now than he was in ’16, which he said is the last time he was healthy. Back then, he said, he was clinging to a major league rotation spot with the attitude of, “Here’s my stuff, hit it, let’s see what you got.
“Now that I went through this transformation, I got an understanding of more of the pitching side,” said the righty. “… Being able to do things that I wasn’t able to do in the past. Throwing breaking balls, throwing offspeed pitches in hitters’ counts, being able to do that for a strike.”
There will be adjustments both pitching and at the plate. Sanchez referred to a “revamped” delivery; manager Gabe Kapler referenced Sanchez practicing bunting, not having any NL experience.
There will be so many innings to chew up in 2021 after a shortened season that puts every pitcher’s workload in question, though perhaps Sanchez has a twisted advantage, not having pitched in major league games last year. Before the injuries set in, he looked like a workhorse in 2016, when he totaled 192 innings.
There were surely teams who saw him as a potentially high-octane bullpen arm, and perhaps if he doesn’t show enough, the Giants can try the same trick that worked with Drew Pomeranz. But for now, he slides into a rotation spot for an organization that has become a destination for pitchers like himself.
“They view me as I view myself,” said Sanchez, who is a starting pitcher with serious upside.