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Washington Nationals’ 2021 Decisions: Aníbal Sánchez or different direction in Nats’ starting rotation?

Will the Nationals bring Aníbal Sánchez back for a third season in D.C. or nah?

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The second-year of Aníbal Sánchez’s 2-year/$19M dollar deal with the Washington Nationals ended with the 36-year-old, 15-year veteran (4-5) in 11 starts with a 6.62 ERA, 5.46 FIP, 18 BB, (3.06 BB/9), 43 Ks (7.30 K/9), and a .313/.371/.536 line against in 53 innings pitched.

It was a difficult, up and down season for Sánchez, who was searching for fixes throughout, and still trying to get things straightened out at the end of the 60-game COVID campaign.

There is a $12M club option included in the deal Sánchez signed with the Nationals in 2018 (or a $2M buyout), and $4M of deferred money from the past two seasons in D.C. to be paid out this winter.

Did he show the team enough over the course of the 2020 campaign for the Nationals to consider bringing him back?

“I still think he has stuff left in the tank,” manager Davey Martinez said after Sánchez’s final start of the 2020 season.

MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

“Who knows what’s going to happen in the future,” Martinez added. “I love him to death. I mean, what he’s done for us was not only pitching-wise, but that clubhouse, phenomenal.

“He kept that whole clubhouse together. He kept that Latin group involved. And that’s huge, you know.

“I love him. Like I said, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but I know he can still pitch.

“And I told him that today, I said, ‘You still got a lot left in the tank, so just get after it this winter and we’ll see where it’s at.”

Sánchez, at the end of the abbreviated campaign, said he doesn’t feel like he’s done with baseball just yet.

“I feel really good,” he told reporters after his final outing of the season. “I don’t feel like I’m tired of this game. I think every year, I feel more love for this game for what I’ve been doing for many years. And I think I feel that I’m still able to compete at this level.”

As he walked off the mound in Nationals Park in the sixth inning of his final 2020 appearance, Sánchez said he thought about his time in D.C. and what the future holds.

“A lot of thoughts passed through my mind. Just thinking how this could be my last outing with this team or if I got another year with this team,” Sánchez explained.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen after that, but I feel, right now, really grateful for this team and the whole organization, but it is a team that I want to continue with.”

In his first season in the nation’s capital, after a bounce-back campaign with Atlanta in 2018, Sánchez helped the club win the first World Series by a Washington, D.C.-based team since 1924, and looking back on his two years with the team, he got a little sentimental.

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

“I feel really, really grateful with this team, with this whole organization,” Sánchez said.

“Because they gave me the opportunity to be here after — in 2018 I think I [had] a really good comeback in my career, but before that there were a lot of bad thoughts in my mind, about if I’m still able to compete at this level, but now I came last year and I won the World Series with this team, and I don’t have words to express how grateful I am for the opportunity they gave me to be here and be part of this team and be part of the family that they created inside.

“[GM Mike] Rizzo he brought the right guys to create a union inside the clubhouse and that’s the reason why we won last year.”

Martinez said that Sánchez played a big role in creating that union among the players in the Nationals’ clubhouse, especially the Latin American contingent.

“That’s huge. Obviously guys — there’s cliques,” he said. “Relief pitchers are with the relief pitchers, starters hang out with the starters, position players, and then you have the Latin guys who sit and don’t really — well, Aníbal took it upon himself to get these guys involved with the team and communicate and the guy that was always pushing the guys to learn English, speak English, talk to your teammates.

“He was always that guy, having fun with everybody. I think it’s important that we have guys like that, that do that.

“Then he taught our younger players, the [Juan] Sotos, now Luis [García], about, ‘Hey, you guys can grab the Latin players and get them involved. And keep everybody — there’s that kind of cohesiveness that you need with everybody. It’s good that we have somebody like that. [Gerardo] Parra was here last year and did the same thing, but Aníbal was the guy that did that for us.”

“At this point in my career, I know a lot by experience,” Sánchez said. “It’s not because I know everything, but I think in my whole career I’ve passed through a lot of things. Bad moments, good moments, really been at the top of the level on the pitching staff.

“But with the Latin guys right now, especially with the young guys, sometimes they need some help, they need some kind of work to maintain their mentality in the game.

“That’s when I’ve talked with those guys, especially because I know a little bit more of the language.

“Those guys, they need just — they want to know how to maintain their career for a long time. Sometimes you know, for a pitcher, their careers can be too short or be long.

“Those guys they want to know probably I do it. How I’m still pitching good on this level, and that’s when we cross a lot of conversations with the young guys.”

Looking back on his 15th big league season as soon as it was done, Sánchez was asked if he had any thoughts on where there was room for improvement going into his 16th campaign.

MLB: Game One-Washington Nationals at Miami Marlins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

“I’m always think about maintaining my level,” he said. “I know what I can do, I know how my arms is feeling, I know how to control my game and also my body at this time. It’s not easy.

“Believe me. At this point sometimes the soreness can get longer in your body than normal.

“But at the end you need to figure out how to be able to pitch every five days.”

Do the Nationals, who figure to have Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg (coming off surgery for carpal tunnel neuritis in his right hand), Patrick Corbin, Joe Ross, Austin Voth, and Erick Fedde competing for spots in the rotation (along with some of the other young pitchers in the organization), need to add to the mix? Does another season of Sánchez make sense or does the club need to go another direction with the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation?

“Without starting pitching it’s hard to win championships, we proved that in 2019,” Martinez said before the season finale.

In 2020, they proved the same.

“So Rizzo and I are going to have conversations, and we’ll go from there and put together a wish list of players we want to try acquire via trade or via free agency, and then we’ll go from there, but there’s always room to improve, as you know, every year is different, and we’re going to do the best we can to put a roster together so that we can compete in 2021 and win.”