Giants trade Jonathan Sanchez for Melky Cabrera

This morning, the Giants traded Jonathan Sanchez and minor-leaguer Ryan Verdugo to the Kansas City Royals for outfielder Melky Cabrera.  Sanchez, who will turn 29 on November 19th, is coming off the worst season of his career, while Cabrera, 26, is coming off the best.  The 24-year-old Verdugo spent the season in double-A Richmond.

Sanchez had a career year in 2010, helping carry the Giants to the World Series title.  In 193 1/3 innings, he posted a 3.07 ERA and a 2.4 WAR.  His peripheral stats showed he probably wasn’t as good as his ERA, as his FIP was 4.00 and his xFIP was 3.94.  However, that line from a number four starter was more than acceptable.

Giants’ fans had high hopes for Sanchez coming into 2011, but unfortunately he was unable to live up to the hype.  In a season hampered by injuries, he posted a 4.30 FIP in 101 1/3 innings, while posting a career high BB% to go along with his lowest K% since 2008.  The scouting report on Sanchez says that he’s got elite strikeout stuff, but very little command.  He has walked 12.2% of batters faced in his career, and in 2011 he walked 14.9% of batters.  His fastball has been declining in speed for three consecutive years, and it seems unlikely that he will ever match his 2010 statistics.   In Sanchez, the Royals have picked up a 4th starter that will be good for an FIP somewhere between 4.2 and 4.4.  He’s projected to make $5.2 million in arbitration.

In return, the Giants got Melky Cabrera.  Before 2011, Cabrera was a replacement-level outfielder for the Yankees and Braves.  His career slash line was .267/.328/.379, with an OPS+ of 85.  His fielding measured as somewhere between slightly above average to slightly below average.  All told, he looked like a fourth or fifth outfielder at best.

But oh what a 2011 it was.  He hit .305/.339/.470, with 18 home runs and 20 stolen bases, good for a 121 OPS+.  Sure, the fielding metrics seemed to indicate that he was worse than ever in the field, but that hitting line is nothing to mess with.  Dig a little deeper though, and the warning flags start popping up.

First things first, Cabrera coupled the worst BB%  of his career with the highest K%.  Not surprisingly, he upped his Swing% almost 4%, from a career 46% to just over 50% in 2011.  The result of more balls in play?  A few more line drives and a few fewer ground balls, which would help account for some of the bump in production.  He also had a BABIP of .332, and while batters have the ability to control that stat more than pitchers do, it’s still a warning sign of possible regression in the future.

The thing about this trade that bothers me, though, is that the Giants already have a passable option in center field: Andres Torres.  Yes, he had a down year in 2011, but he still played great defense, and with even a minor bounce back offensively he would be easily worth 3 WAR or more.  MLB Trade Rumors projects Torres to be awarded about $2.5 million in salary this season, while Cabrera will likely cost $4.4 million and won’t be any better.  Meanwhile, MLBTR projects Sanchez to receive $5.2 million.  So the trade saves the Giants maybe $1 million at best.

Verdugo is a 24-year-old lefty who pitched in double-A ball this season.  He had a 4.10 FIP while striking out 9.1 batters per nine innings and walking 4.35 per nine.  He’s basically a poor man’s Jonathan Sanchez, and is far more likely to reach the majors as a LOOGY than as a starter.  I ranked him the 10th best pitching prospect in the Giants’ system four weeks ago.

In conclusion, this is a deal that is likely not to be particularly harmful to the Giants and is actually quite shrewd for the Royals.  They free up a spot for prospect Lorenzo Cain to play next year, and they get a talented pitcher with a lot of potential to help shore up a terrible rotation.  As a Giants fan, this deal is frustrating to me because I don’t think it had to be made.  It almost certainly spells the end of the road for Andres Torres, and I think that’s a poor decision by Giants’ management.  If Cabrera ends up playing one of the corner spots, then I like this deal a lot more.

-NM

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