Jonathan Sanchez #57 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on August 16, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
The San Francisco Giants have added a veteran outfielder in Melky Cabrera, and the Kansas City Royals have added a veteran starting pitcher in Jonathan Sanchez, as the two teams made a Monday trade.
Headlines like that make me feel kind of bad. On Monday, the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals agreed to a trade that sends Jonathan Sanchez one way, and Melky Cabrera the other. The headline names those two players. But it does not name the third player - Ryan Verdugo - even though he's also involved, and even though he's a perfectly fine player and a perfectly fine person. It feels disrespectful to just dismiss him as "prospect". But here we are, and what's done is done.
As trades go, this is among the least surprising. The specific combination might not have been expected, but the elements make tons of sense. Verdugo is a non-elite prospect who spent last season in double-A. Sanchez is an oft-frustrating left-hander a year from free agency who was known to be available. And Cabrera is a previously frustrating switch-hitter a year from free agency who the Royals weren't prepared to sign to a multi-year deal. Odds were good these guys - at least Sanchez and Cabrera - would end up getting moved.
Who gets what? Let's start with the Royals. In recent days, the Royals were known to be in talks with the Atlanta Braves about Jair Jurrjens. Things fell apart, but the Royals remained interested in adding starting pitching, because their rotation is bad. Enter Sanchez. Sanchez is expected to earn about $6-7 million in 2012 and he's a free agent after the season, but what will he bring? Let's look at Sanchez's 2011 season:
Oh, goodness, that isn't a very good pitcher, now is it? Let's broaden the window to the last three years:
Much better. Still not great, and wildly inefficient, as Sanchez has posted baseball's highest walk rate since 2009 among pitchers with at least 400 innings. But he's also posted baseball's sixth-highest strikeout rate, between Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke. That's good company.
In Sanchez, then, the Royals get a pitcher with strikeout stuff coming off a down season. There's no guarantee that Sanchez ever figures it out, and there's no guarantee that Sanchez even improves on his 2011, but he's not a bad upside gamble for the same team that hit with Felipe Paulino.
The Royals also get Verdugo, a 24-year-old lefty starter known more for his deception than his raw stuff, which tells you something about his prospect stock. He whiffed 9.2 batters per nine innings last year with double-A Richmond, but his odds of eventually making a real impact are slim.
Now for the Giants. The Giants were hoping that Andres Torres would build on the big success he had in 2010, but he did not, and so in Cabrera, they have acquired a new outfielder that could set them up for a Belt-Cabrera-Schierholtz starting trio. What did Cabrera do last season? Quite a lot, for a 26-year-old:
Cabrera served as the Royals' regular center fielder and had a breakthrough year. Before 2011, he had a career 85 OPS+ over nearly 2700 trips to the plate. Last season, he came in at 121 over more than 700. It could've been a fluke, but then Cabrera has long had appealing tools, and he broke out at an age at which you often look for players to break out. So Cabrera might have established a new level of performance.
He isn't thought to be a great defensive outfielder, or even a good one. He's in line to become a free agent in 12 months. But Cabrera's a good get, so long as you believe in his breakthrough. If you don't, well, then you have to wonder what makes him better than Torres.
Three players are involved in this trade. None of them are great. Ignoring Verdugo, the Giants are exchanging a talented player coming off a down year for a talented player coming off an up year. If you're one of those buy-low-sell-high types, you don't like this from San Francisco's perspective, but it's never that simple.
It's worth noting that dealing Cabrera opens up center field for Lorenzo Cain, while dealing Sanchez, at least for the time being, opens up a rotation spot for Barry Zito. One of those things is exciting.
Offseason. Offseason! Here we go you guys.