One of the Pittsburgh Pirates best infielders during the mid-to-late 2000’s was Freddy Sanchez. But do you remember the trade that sent him to the San Francisco Giants?
Freddy Sanchez was a solid infielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates during the mid-to-late 2000s. In 2006 and 2007, Sanchez put up overall strong numbers. In 1,285 plate appearances, Sanchez hit .323/.360/.457 with a 111 OPS+ and wRC+. Although he did not walk very often, owning a 4.9% walk rate, and did not hit for much power hitting just 17 home runs and having a .133 isolated slugging percentage, he didn’t strike out much, having the 22nd lowest strikeout rate andhe racked up 95 doubles. 53 of those doubles came in 2006 when he also won the National League batting crown. 53 is a lot, and he owns one of the 100 seasons in MLB history with at least 50 two-baggers.
Defensively, he saw time at third base, second base and shortstop, but only got up to a 1.2 dWAR in these two seasons. His best performance was at third base where he owned +12 DRS, 19 total zone runs above average, 5.8 UZR and just -0.7 range runs above average. But his bat fit second base more than the hot corner, and that was his primary position in 2007. At second base, Freddy was overall slightly above average. He did have +1 DRS, 3.5 UZR, and 0.5 range runs, but -10 total zone runs.
After two pretty good seasons, Sanchez followed that up with a disappointing 2008 where he hit for a sub-.700 OPS (.669) and sub-80 OPS+/wRC+ (78/74). 2009 saw him entering his age 31 season, and on the last year of his contract. He started the year off hot, bouncing back to a .296/.334/.442 line and 105 OPS+ through his first 382 plate appearances. At the July trade deadline, he was sent to the second base needy San Francisco Giants for pitching prospect Tim Alderson.
Now, when this trade originally went down, this looked like a massive win for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sanchez only was a slightly above average batter. His 103 wRC+ barley ranked in the top 100 of all qualified MLB batters and his .334 wOBA didn’t even rank in the top 100. Overall, he only had a 1.5 fWAR. In return, they got a highly regarded prospect, Tim Alderson.
Alderson was a top 50 prospect in baseball. This would be today’s equivalent of trading Adam Frazier for an elite level starting pitching prospect like the Braves’ Ian Anderson. Alderson was the Giants first round pick in 2007, and had done amazing in 2008. Through 145.1 innings at High-A ball, Alderson had a 2.79 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 3.22 FIP. Those are very impressive numbers. It’s gets even better considering he let up just four home runs and walked guys at a rate of just 5.9%. While he wasn’t a big strikeout pitcher, he still carried a rate above 20% at 21.3%.
Alderson started the 2009 season at Double-A. Although he didn’t reach the same numbers he did before, he was still effective posting a 3.47 ERA, 3.48 FIP and 1.24 WHIP across his first 72.2 innings of the year. At 20 years old, Alderson was ranked as the 45th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. He was projected to be the 4th starter in San Francisco, but don’t get discouraged by that. He would have been the 4th starter to Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, an impressive 19-year-old named Madison Bumgarner, and a rising star in Matt Cain.
Basically, Alderson would have been projected to be a number two pitcher on most other teams that didn’t have three aces. Alderson really focused on being a control pitcher. While his strikeout rate fell down to 14.9%, he walked batters at a rate of only 4.5%. Like in the season prior, home runs were a non-issue for the right-hander, giving up just five. This looked to be a great trade for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
A top 50 prospect for an aging, second baseman with overall average numbers who also only had 2 guaranteed months left on his contract during a season where you were 44-58 at the deadline? That’s a steal of a deal.
Unfortunately, we know the trade didn’t really work out in the Pittsburgh Pirates favor. In 2010, at 21-years-old, Alderson started to falter and his prospect status began to wane. In 128.1 innings (89.2 with Double-A, 38.2 innings with High-A), Alderson gave up 86 earned runs on 15 home runs. He also allowed 40 free passes and 159 hits en route to an ERA above 6, FIP above 4, and WHIP above 1.5.
In 2011, the former top 50 prospect was moved to the bullpen where he did do better, but still unimpressive. His 74.1 innings in 2011 yielded a 4.12 ERA, 4.46 FIP and 1.31 WHIP. Although he had a strikeout rate above 15% for the first time since 2009 (17.8%), his walk rate reached 8.4%, a career worst. 2012 was very similar to 2011, but 11 of his 28 games played came out of the rotation.
By 2013, Alderson, who was now 24 and far from a prospect put up his best season since his 2009-2010 run while being part of the Giants organization. At Triple-A through 42 innings, Alderson had a 2.79 ERA, 3.66 FIP and 1.19 WHIP. The former top prospect brought his walk rate down to 5.8%, and even got his strikeout rate back to above 20% at 22.1%. But the Pittsburgh Pirates really had no reason to hang on to Alderson any longer. On July 12, 2013, Tim Alderson, a guy who was once seen as a future rotation building block for Bucs, was sent to the Baltimore Orioles for Russ Canzler. The then 27-year-old Canzler never played a game in a Pirates uniform, nor did Alderson for the Orioles.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Sanchez finished out the year on a sour note, collecting just 29 hits, a 2:16 walk:strikeout ratio, and only two extra base hits in his final 107 plate appearances. The Giants were able to re-sign Sanchez to a two-year contract, and played a fair role in the Giants 2010 World Series run. He got 479 plate appearances and batted .292/.342/.397 with 22 doubles and a 102 OPS+ and 104 wRC+. He also put up solid defensive numbers. Despite his -3 DRS, he had 5.5 UZR, 2.7 range runs, and an 8.8 UZR/150.
In 2011, Sanchez missed most of the year after signing another extension to take him through the 2013 season. This was the last year Sanchez would play as he only played 60 games and stepped to the plate 261 times. In July, he would have to undergo shoulder surgery, which he never recovered from. The sad thing of all of this is that Sanchez was still an above average producer as his final 261 saw him hit 15 doubles and 107 OPS+/105 wRC+.
You can’t really blame the Pirates’ front office on this one. Hindsight is 20/20. Any front office if they were offered a prospect of Tim Alderson’s caliber at the time for a guy on an expiring contract on a team that wasn’t playoff bound anytime soon and had overall average numbers that season would be foolish not to accept that trade. The trade didn’t really work out in the Pirates favor, but the Giants didn’t toally fleece the Bucs in this one. Freddy Sanchez only had about a full year of above average production in San Francisco before getting injured and missing the rest of the years that remained on his contract.