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Anibal Sanchez's reoccurring shoulder issues should be a concern for Tigers

Despite repeated assurances, Sanchez has been dealing with right shoulder problems since 2007 -- and it's not going away.

Leon Halip/Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers received a bit of good news regarding Anibal Sanchez on Wednesday. After going to see Dr. James Andrews about a persisting right rotator cuff strain issue, Sanchez was informed that his shoulder looked "great" and simply needed rest. Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press first reported the news.

Sanchez was supposed to make his first start for the Tigers since Aug. 18, on Sept. 16, but was shut down when his shoulder flared up again during his last bullpen session on Sept. 14. Sent to see Andrews in Pensacola, Fla., Sanchez underwent an MRI arthrogram that revealed "no major structural damage" and received a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection.

While the diagnosis does not preclude Sanchez from the 2016 season, the right-hander has been shut down for the rest of 2015. He will begin throwing again around Thanksgiving, according to Fenech, and Sanchez's 2016 season shouldn't be negatively affected in any way -- that is, if he can remain healthy.

This season hasn't gone well for Sanchez and it was thought to be the result of performance rather than health. However, there was a noticeable drop in his velocity as his season wore on and the Tigers stated on Aug. 20 that Sanchez had been dealing with pain for several months. And to compensate for the shoulder issue, he was putting more strain on his elbow, which was also causing soreness.

Sanchez's shoulder issues go back as far as the 2007 season, when he started that year despite shoulder problems in spring training with the Marlins. He later underwent season-ending surgery for a tear in his labrum on June 21, 2007. Dr. Andrews performed that surgery and Sanchez didn't pitch again until July 31, 2008.

While Sanchez returned to the rotation in 2009, after three straight poor starts he exited in the fifth inning of a May 7 outing with right shoulder discomfort. He went on the 15-day DL the next day with a right shoulder strain and made only three starts until Sept. 1. Sanchez would give the Marlins just 86 innings of work that season.

The Tigers traded for Sanchez and Omar Infante on July 23, 2012 in exchange for the team's top prospect that year, right-hander Jacob Turner, as well as catching prospect Rob Brantly and Double-A left-hander Brian Flynn. Sanchez finished the 2012 season with a 3.68 FIP, a lovely 1.8 BB/9 and moderate 6.9 SO/9 in Detroit.

The Tigers promptly signed him to a five-year, $80 million extension on Dec. 14, 2012 and in 2013 those efforts paid off. Sanchez won the 2013 AL pitching title with a 2.57 ERA. His HR/9 was a mere 0.445 and he had a 2.39 FIP, both which were the best in the AL. Sanchez's 6.3 WAR was the fourth-best in the AL and his 9.989 SO/9 ranked third-best in the AL.

It appeared as if Sanchez was going to deliver for a long time at quite a bargain. Unfortunately, until 2015 it was the only season in which he remained healthy for most of the season, and even in 2013 Sanchez landed on the DL for a time and missed a start.

Team Date of injury DL date Type Missed start Injury Return date Time missed
Marlins June 21, 2007 June 21, 2007 Season-ending surgery - R labrum tear July 31, 2008 1 yr., 41 days
Marlins May 7, 2009 May 8, 2009 15-day DL - R shoulder strain June 2, 2009 26 days
Marlins June 4, 2009 June 5, 2009 15- then 60-day DL - R shoulder strain August 20, 2009 76 days
Marlins March 10, 2011 - Scratched from start March 15, 2011 R shin bruise; ankle pain March 20, 2011 10 days
Marlins March 2, 2012 - Scratched from start March 9, 2012 R shoulder soreness March 14, 2012 12 days
Tigers June 8, 2013 - Scratched from start June 9, 2013 Upper back/R shoulder tightness June 15, 2013 Seven days
Tigers June 17, 2013 June 16, 2013 15-day DL - R shoulder strain July 6, 2013 19 days
Tigers March 17, 2014 - Scratched from start March 17, 2014 R shoulder inflammation March 24, 2014 Seven days
Tigers April 26, 2014 April 26, 2014 15-day DL - R middle finger blister May 18, 2014 22 days
Tigers August 8, 2014 August 10, 2014 15-day DL - R pectoral strain (scar tissue) September 24, 2014 44 days
Tigers August 20, 2015 August 20, 2015 season-ending - R rotator cuff strain TBD TBD

In the three years since signing the extension, Sanchez has been on the DL more times than you could shake a stick at. Even though Dr. Andrews assures that Sanchez's 2016 season will in no way be affected, Sanchez's reliability is being called into question. While Sanchez has been on just two DL stints in the last year, both have been lengthy and both involved his shoulder -- the former involving scar tissue from his 2007 surgery.

All but one of the six reported injuries landed him on the DL, the rogue injury occurring in a spring training start. Sanchez's shoulder issues are beginning to not just pile up, they're getting longer and more costly to the Tigers. His last two stints on the DL have been 44 and an estimated 45 days once this current season finishes.

In all, Sanchez has missed 143 days of service time while with the Tigers, equivalent to about 90 percent of a full season since being acquired a little more than three seasons ago. Essentially, the Tigers have had a healthy Sanchez for about 2.5 of his 3.5 years with the team. While it's not entirely uncommon for pitchers to have injuries now and then, Sanchez's are more of a trend.

The Tigers still owe Sanchez $33.6 million after the 2015 season with a $16 million club option in 2018 that contains a $5 million buyout. Detroit was able to retain Sanchez at a low price, and if he does indeed bounce back from his injuries this offseason to become dominant once again it may be well worth the price.

However, if Sanchez continues to struggle with his health, the Tigers may need to take extra steps to protect their starting rotation and the bullpen. Having pitched nearly 200 innings in the last four years before the 2015 season, Sanchez is showing signs of wear and tear, and the tearing doesn't appear to be fading just yet. And that's starting to be a concern.