By The Common Man
According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Giants have just dealt starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez and a 24 year old pitcher to the Royals for centerfielder Melky Cabrera. In essence, Brian Sabean is selling one player at his lowest possible value for another player at his absolute highest, and thus is unlikely to come out of this deal looking good.
Melky does fit a need for the Giants, who are losing Cody Ross, so long as he stays at a corner outfield spot and Andres Torres remains in center. In center, Melky is severely stretched, but may prove mobile enough to handle either left or rightfield in San Francisco. He’s also very durable, having started at least 145 games in four of the last five seasons.
Offensively, Cabrera is coming off the best season of his career by a huge amount. He hit .305/.339/.470 (121 OPS+) for Kansas City and reversed his normal platoon split by crushing righties (.306/.344/.475). It’s very hard to believe, however, that Cabrera’s suddenly found a new gear after five full seasons. Indeed, Cabrera saw his walk rate fall in 2011 and his strikeout-to-walk ratio jump, while his BABIP jumped from a .290 career mark to .332. In short, a lot of the gains by Cabrera in 2011 look like a combination of bad defense and good luck. As such, Cabrera is a prime candidate for regression, especially as he leaves the AL Central.
Meanwhile, the Royals acquire the wild and hard-throwing lefty Jonathan Sanchez, who pitched great in 2010, but who saw his control slip even more in 2011 while spending 71 games on the DL with an ankle sprain and biceps tendinitis. His overall numbers look slightly worse thanks to three horrible starts he had in August after coming off the DL. That is not to say that Sanchez is without warts. He walks too many batters, throws too many pitches, and is tough on his bullpen. But assuming he’s healthy, he has a much higher upside in 2012 than Melky does.
This deal also allows the Royals to install 26 year old Lorenzo Cain as their full-time centerfielder. Cain has hit .306/.348/.415 in 181 Major League plate appearances, mostly for the Brewers in 2010. In 156 games at AAA, he’s hit .305/.377/.476. He figures to be much better defensively than Melky, and significantly cheaper. His offense is heavily batting-average dependent, and it’s likely that, even with Cabrera’s regression, Cain won’t outhit him. Still, factoring in the defense, the value figures to be comparable.
Ryan Verdugo also goes from the Giants to the Royals. He’s a 25 year old lefty with no experience over AA, but who made a fairly successful conversion to starting in 2011, strikeout more than a batter per inning at Richmond. He’s interesting, but probably not likely to have any impact at the Major League level.
On the whole, it’s hard to see how this is a bad deal for Kansas City, provided Sanchez is healthy. With Cain on board, Melky was redundant and the Royals definitely need pitching. The Giants still have five starters on the roster, though one of those starters is Barry Zito. Still, relying on Melky to be the player he was in 2011 is not a good bet. While some cite his renewed fitness in 2011 as reason to hope, it didn’t translate into helping his defense, nor is it really reflected in his hitting. Melky is as Melky does, and sometimes even Melky gets lucky. But luck runs out, and chances are that Giants fans are going to be disappointed.