(AP) The Royals traded outfielder Melky Cabrera to the San Francisco Giants for left-hander Jonathan Sanchez on Monday, upgrading their rotation and clearing the way for hotshot prospect Lorenzo Cain to get a chance in center field.
The Royals also received Double-A pitcher Ryan Verdugo in the deal.
With a young lineup and plenty of talent still in the minor league system, Royals general manager Dayton Moore was willing to part with Cabrera to fill his biggest need: starting pitching.
The subject of trade speculation for several years, Sanchez threw a no-hitter on July 10, 2009, against San Diego. Only an error by third baseman Juan Uribe kept it from being a perfect game.
“He’s a very dynamic left-handed pitcher,” Moore said. “His hit rates are very low, his strikeout rates are very high, his walks aren’t something we’re overly excited about, but at the same time he’s very young. He’s somebody our scouts feel is a breakout candidate moving forward into 2012.”
Despite the emergence of former No. 1 draft pick Luke Hochevar and rookie Danny Duffy, the Royals’ starters still logged the third-fewest innings of any staff in the American League. Their combined 4.45 ERA was also the third-worst in the AL, ahead of only Minnesota and Baltimore.
Sanchez was the Giants’ best pitcher during the latter part of 2010, when they beat the Texas Rangers to win the World Series. He was 4-1 with a 1.03 ERA over his last seven outings, and finished the year with a 13-9 record and a 3.07 ERA.
Sanchez struggled most of this season, partly due to a case of biceps tendinitis, going 4-7 with a 4.26 ERA before missing the final month with a left ankle sprain. But the injuries weren’t enough to dissuade Moore from making a bold move to help his young pitching staff.
The 28-year-old Sanchez, who pitched the clincher over the Padres to win the NL West on the final day of the 2010 season, has had trouble with his command, walking a league-high 96 batters two years ago. But he’s largely been able to overcome that with his high strikeout rate.
“He’s a solid No. 3 starter on a championship-type club,” Moore said. “When you look at this guy’s strikeout rate, his swing-and-miss rate is among the very best in the game, so that’s something for us to build on and we’re excited to make him a part of this team.”
The Royals’ lineup was expected to return next season largely intact, especially after Cabrera validated their trust in him by putting up one of the best years of his career.
The switch-hitting outfielder rebounded from a disastrous season with Atlanta by hitting .305 with 44 doubles, 18 homes and 87 RBIs in his first season in Kansas City.
He was the first Royals player with at least 200 hits in a season since 2000.
By acquiring Cabrera, the Giants could decide against offering a contract to outfielder Cody Ross(notes). The 2010 NL championship series MVP is seeking a two-year deal.
“We’ve known this is a potential deal we had interest in doing a month ago,” Moore said. “At this point, we felt we had to move forward before this deal vanished.”
Moore said the deal made sense for both sides. Their salaries are about the same and both players are eligible for free agency after the 2012 season. The Giants had a surplus of starting pitchers, and the Royals are confident enough in Cain to give him a shot at the everyday job.
Cain hit .312 with 16 homers and 81 RBIs this year for Triple-A Omaha.
“It was very important for us to free up an opportunity for Lorenzo Cain to play center field for us every day,” Moore said. “We felt we needed to move on this deal with Jonathan Sanchez before it moved away.”
One of Giants general manager Brian Sabean’s top priorities this offseason— along with securing his top pitchers for the long haul—was finding a reliable leadoff man.
Slugger Carlos Beltran(notes), who has said he will consider returning to San Francisco, expressed that it was among the team’s biggest needs this winter.
Giants lefty Barry Zito is likely to earn a spot in the rotation starting 2012 over Eric Surkamp, who probably needs more time in the minors.
At the end of the season Sabean reiterated president Larry Baer’s recent statement that struggling $126 million pitcher will remain on the team rather than buying out his huge salary. The 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner with Oakland, Zito has struggled in his five years across the bay in San Francisco and was left off the postseason roster for all three rounds in 2010. He is owed $19 million next year, $20 million in 2013 and has an $18 million team option with a $7 million buyout in 2014.