In a move that was not unexpected the San Francisco Giants gave up a piece of their prized starting pitching to improve a limp offense that came in 29th out of 30 MLB teams in runs scored in 2011. The Giants sent lefty starter Jonathan Sanchez, 28, and minor league lefty Ryan Verdugo, 24, to the Kansas City Royals for Melky Cabrera, an extra-base hitting outfielder with average defensive numbers.
Sanchez was drafted in the 27th round of the 2004 amateur player draft by the Giants and was brought up to the big club in 2006. On July 10, 2009, Sanchez threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres, the first for a Giants pitcher in 33 years. During the 2010 post season, Sanchez appeared in 4 games going 0-2 with a 4.05 ERA.
Overall Jonathan Sanchez was 38-46 with a 4.26 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP for the Giants, But it was his ability to strike batters out that propelled his potential: 157 SOs in 2008, 179 in 2009, and 205 in 2010. Sanchez spent much of the 2011 season on the DL with a biceps injury and a badly sprained ankle.
Melky Cabrera was among the top ten American League hitters in a number of key offensive categories in 2011, which was considered the switch-hitting slugger’s breakout year at the plate:
> 4th overall with 201 hits;
> 7th overall in total bases with 309;
> 8th overall with 44 doubles.
Cabrera has been primarily a center fielder throughout his career; in 2011 with Kansas City he played 143 games in center, 9 in left field, 2 in right field and 2 as a DH. Originally drafted as an amateur free agent in 2001 by the New York Yankees, Cabrera spent 5 years with the Yankees (2005-09), one year with the Atlanta Braves in 2010.
While a team can never predict the perfect time to trade a player, it’s generally thought the Giants might have received a bigger bat had they moved Sanchez after the 2010 season. But that’s convenient hindsight: with the issues surrounding 5th starter Barry Zito and no minor league pitchers ready to be moved up, Sanchez provided the World Series champs with critical depth in their starting rotation as they began the 2011 season. And a twenty-seven year old left handed starter with a no-hitter under his belt offered the potential of further improvement.
But after last season, the Giants’ front office finally reached the breaking point with Sanchez’s increasingly poor control. He allowed 5.9 walks per nine innings in 2011, and had a career total of 4.8 BB/9. The emergence of veteran Ryan Vogelsong last season as a solid contributor to the Giants’ starting rotation gave San Francisco an opening to trade one of their proven starters for a proven bat.
Melky Cabrera should fit in to one of the 3-4-5 spots in the Giants 2012 batting line-up, and this should be the end of the line for Andres Torres and/or Cody Ross. There is little room for Torres because a) Cabrera is the starting center fielder now, b) Torres’ disastrous 2011 season was one of the primary reasons the Giants offense died last year, and 3) Torres brings little to the table as a back-up outfielder.
Cody Ross’ salary will probably price him out of the Giants plans as a starter, and the Giants already have a great back-up at a great price in Nate Schierholtz (which is the correct role for Schierholtz next year).
Cabrera signed with Kansas City as a free agent for $1.25 million after getting out of shape during his 2010 stint with the Braves. MLB Trade Rumors pegs his signing salary with the Giants at about $4.4 million, so Cabrera looks to be a huge bargain for San Francisco.
Even with the Cabrera trade, the Giants still have much to fix in their offense. They need another outfielder and a lead-off batter and they need another power bat. If the front office is seriously pursuing Carlos Beltran, he will solve both the power bat and outfielder issues.
What remains is getting an on base machine to hit first in the batting order, a final decision on who will be the 2012 shortstop, and finding a starting second baseman to back up the injury-prone Freddy Sanchez. Despite all the budget ceiling talk from the Giants ownership and front office, San Francisco certainly has the revenue to sign one or two more free agents and make a serious charge into the post season next October.