(From "Mississippi," Love And Theft)
The Royals are developing a habit of making surprising trades, the kind of trades you don't hear about until they have been completed. That is certainly true of today's trade of Melky Cabrera to San Francisco for left-handed starter Jonathan Sanchez and a minor-leaguer, left-hander Ryan Verdugo. There was certainly speculation about the Royals and Sanchez, but I didn't think any deal would happen this soon, or that it would involve Cabrera.
The more I think about this trade, the better I feel about it. Cabrera was certainly a vital part of the Royals' offense last season, but I think the Royals have upgraded their rotation here, and received a potentially useful bullpen arm for the future. Meanwhile, this apparently means Lorenzo Cain will finally get his chance in Kansas City, which should upgrade the defense.
I think the Royals did a great job of selling high on Cabrera. Melky's 121 OPS+ in 2011 was by far his career high. He did turn 27 during the 2011 season, so it is possible he could have several more good years. On the other hand, if you just looked at his career numbers without knowing his age, you would certainly notice that his 2011 season was unusual. I would have expected a couple more nice years from Cabrera, but probably not as good as he was this year.
Meanwhile, Sanchez will turn 29 in less than two weeks. He has been in the majors for six seasons and was a member of the Giants' rotation when they won the World Series in 2010. Coincidentally, 2010 was his best season, although he was decent in 2009. The problem with Sanchez has always been control; for his career, he averages 4.8 walks per 9 innings pitched. For comparison's sake, Danny Duffy averaged 4.4 walks per 9 IP in 2011, and he was by far the wildest starter on the team. The good news about Sanchez is that he gets lots of strikeouts: he averages 9.4 per 9 IP for his career. So the strikeout to walk ratio is almost 2:1, which is pretty good.
In my mind, any loss the Royals suffer on offense should be offset by Cain's superior defense, unless Cain is just a total disaster at the plate. Meanwhile, Sanchez should slide nicely into the 2 or 3 spot of the Royals' rotation, depending on other moves before Opening Day. He is almost certainly an upgrade over Jeff Francis, and probably over Bruce Chen (I do fear this is the end of Chen's time as a Royal; re-signing him would give the Royals three lefties with Mike Montgomery also knocking on the door).
The best part to me is that the Royals were able to upgrade their rotation and defense without parting with any prospects. So they still have the ability to make a major trade for pitching if they so choose. On the downside, Sanchez can be a free agent after the 2012 season, so it is possible he will be a Royal for only one year. But overall, I like this deal and I like the Royals' aggressiveness in making it.