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Tigers outbid Cubs for Anibal Sanchez — but it was close

Righty Anibal Sanchez signed five-year $80 millideal stay with Detroit Tigers. | Matt Slocum~AP

Righty Anibal Sanchez signed a five-year, $80 million deal to stay with the Detroit Tigers. | Matt Slocum~AP

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Updated: January 16, 2013 6:12AM

For the first time in close to two years, there was a pulse again. A player the Cubs reeled in — or at least appeared to reel in — gave fans a reason to hope again. A player who stirred visions of the next competitive wave.

Roughly 20 hours after it was reported that right-hander Anibal Sanchez had agreed to become a Cub, he went back to the Detroit Tigers on Friday — just as the Cubs suspected might happen all along — accepting a five-year,
$80 million offer that beat the Cubs’ final bid by just $2.5 million.

But after a sales pitch presented personally Thursday by chairman Tom Ricketts and team president Theo Epstein, the Cubs came very close to landing Sanchez. He needed to sleep on the final offers even though the supposedly long-shot Cubs had the lesser offer on the table and even though he made it clear from the start that his priority was the greater opportunity to return to the World Series.

If that says something about how persuasive Epstein and Ricketts were or how serious they were in their stealthy, monthlong pursuit of Sanchez, the saga — including the result — says even more about how this second-year regime does business.

They identified the one pitcher on the market who, at age 28, fit their long-term vision, then downplayed their interest publicly while ignoring their own analysis that suggested they didn’t have a good chance of landing him. Then they determined their walk-away terms and made their best pitch.

When the reclining Tigers finally sat up and took enough notice to get off their original four-year,
$48 million offer, the Cubs almost got him. The Cubs still might have had him if they had been willing to enter a bidding war that would have saddled them with a potentially bad contract.

Cubs officials won’t comment about the situation, but those familiar with the events and the timeline suggest the Cubs walked away disappointed but with no regrets in what would have been Epstein’s splashiest signing.

That’s because they walked away on their terms, despite getting agonizingly close to signing the guy who might have been their five-time Opening Day starter.

Whether the Cubs are coming off a 101-loss season or a playoff season, it seems as if they are going to be players for anyone available who fills a need. They’re also going to finish second more often than they’re going to finish first.

When Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer were with the Boston Red Sox, they were unable to complete a trade for Alex Rodriguez. They lost Cuban free-agent pitcher Jose Contreras in a bidding war with the New York Yankees. They were one of the teams in on Mark Teixeira before the Yankees got him.

They liked Jayson Werth before the Washington Nationals spent $126 million on him two years ago. Last year, they lost Yu Darvish to the Texas Rangers and Yoenis Cespedes to the Oakland Athletics.

It’s a simple rule of negotiating: Know when to walk and be willing to do it. Take no deal instead of a bad deal, and keep enough strength and flexibility to be ready for the next good deal.

Someday these guys might be ready to overpay to win now. But don’t expect any other big multi-year offers this winter. Plan B
could be Edwin Jackson on a short deal or Carlos Villanueva.

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