Thus, Sanchez returned to Comerica Park on Monday, having signed a five-year, $80 million contract, and put on the same No. 19 jersey he wore during Detroit's run to the World Series.
It was an unusual ceremony at a Monday afternoon press conference for someone who already had worn the jersey under the big stage of the postseason, but it was a sign of how big it was for the Tigers to keep him.
"To me, you're looking at one of the best pitchers in the league," general manager Dave Dombrowski said, "We're looking at him to continue to grow."
That potential growth was key in the deal, the largest the Tigers have ever made for a free-agent pitcher. It matches Justin Verlander's current contract for the largest for a pitcher in franchise history, though that could change once the Tigers explore a new deal for Verlander.
It's a bigger deal than they wanted to make, Dombrowski freely admitted. But in the end, it's what it took to keep Sanchez, a player the Tigers and owner Mike Ilitch wanted.
It's a deal Sanchez set himself up to earn with his stellar stretch run after coming over from the Marlins in late July. That performance, in turn, came from the comfort level he was able to build after an up-and-down August.
Sanchez came to Detroit as a pitcher with much better stuff than his track record, having compiled a 3.75 ERA over seven seasons with the Marlins, but never enjoying a breakout campaign after going 10-3 with a 2.83 ERA as a rookie in 2006. But he delivered seven quality starts in his final eight outings of the regular season for the Tigers.
The highlight was a three-hit shutout of the Royals on Sept. 25 at Comerica Park, pulling out a 2-0 victory that kept Detroit tied atop the American League Central. The Tigers took over the division lead the next day and never looked back.
Sanchez went 3-3 with a 2.15 ERA from Aug. 22 to season's end, allowing 46 hits over 54 1/3 innings with seven walks and 44 strikeouts. Dombrowski saw a good pitcher using his breaking ball more, something Doug Fister also did after his trade to Detroit a year earlier.
"He really can pump it up in the mid-90s, but he pitches," Dombrowski said. "He really changes speeds."
His postseason work was more of the same, with just four runs allowed on 14 hits over 20 innings in three starts. He suffered 2-0 losses in the Division Series and World Series, but his 3-0 win over the Yankees with seven shutout innings in Game 2 of the ALCS was arguably the key win that put Detroit on its way to the Fall Classic. Hours after the Tigers had to overcome a Jose Valverde meltdown, Sanchez never gave the Yankees a chance at another rally.
Mato had a lot of statistics supporting his client's case, including the lowest run support among Major League starters over the last three seasons. Sanchez's postseason, however, was the highlight of his free-agent dossier, making him the best pitcher on the market not named Zack Greinke.
It made sense, then, that the market on Sanchez took off once Greinke signed last week.
All the while, Sanchez had a return to Detroit in the back of his mind.
"I spent my whole career in Miami with the Marlins," Sanchez said, "But they brought me [to Detroit] for a reason and everybody made me comfortable here. That's the reason I wanted back with this team."
The feeling was mutual, but the confidence from the Tigers' side wasn't exactly bubbling.
"We always wanted to have Anibal come back," Dombrowski said, "But I also knew it was not going to be an easy process. He's a quality pitcher, and when you're a free agent, a lot of clubs pursue you. It was a little bit of a delayed process for free-agent pitchers."
One club, Mato said, made Sanchez an offer at the Winter Meetings earlier this month that was worth more than what he accepted with the Tigers. Mato didn't identify the club, saying Sanchez declined the offer because it wasn't a team he wanted to join.
Greinke's six-year contract with the Dodgers, both sides agreed, set the market. Sanchez was believed to be looking for at least a six-year deal, but eventually settled into the five-year range. The Tigers were looking for a shorter-term deal, but soon realized that wasn't going to happen.
For Sanchez, who turns 29 at the end of February, the Tigers stretched.
"It's a risk," Dombrowski said. "Pitching is a risky business. It's unfortunate, but that's the way it is. But I think you have to look at every situation individually."
Dombrowski said he spent Tuesday night at the organization's Christmas party in the corner of the Tiger Club, talking with Ilitch about the Sanchez talks. A couple days later, once it became clear what the Cubs were involved, Ilitch and Dombrowski made their last offer, adding a club option for a sixth year.
Sanchez slept on it, then made his move. In the end, he stayed put.
"I'm so glad to be part of the Detroit Tigers for the next six years," he said.
Said Dombrowski: "Not really until Friday morning, when Gene said we have a deal, did I feel confident he was coming back. I was always hopeful. It's never easy, but they're not meant to be with good players that head into free agency."
Sanchez's decision leaves the Tigers with some decisions to make on the rest of their rotation. Add Sanchez to Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly, and Detroit has six starters for five spots.
Verlander will make $20 million in each of the next two seasons. Scherzer, Fister and Porcello are all eligible for arbitration. The expectation is that the Tigers will entertain trades for Porcello, the sinkerball pitcher who seemed to suffer most from Detroit defensive miscues.
"We do have six starting pitchers at the Major League level that we feel are good big league pitchers," Dombrowski said. "We'll just see what happens here over the next time period. We're not going to do anything to just do something, but if we can rectify that situation in a good fashion, then that's something we would contemplate."