The first significant trade of the 2011-2012 MLB off-season took place on Monday when the Kansas City Royals dealt outfielder Melky Cabrera
to the San Francisco Giants for lefthanded starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez
. The Royals also acquired minor league pitcher Ryan Verdugo
, a 24 year-old lefthander who recently finished his first season for Double-A Richmond.
Cabrera, a 27 year-old switch hitter, is coming off of his best big league season, when he set career highs with a .305 batting average, 18 home runs, 87 RBI, 102 runs scored, and 20 stolen bases. Prior to joining the Royals, Cabrera was a member of the New York Yankees and then spent one season with the Atlanta Braves in 2010 after being a key piece in New York's acquisition of starting pitcher Javier Vazquez
His athleticism and ability to play all three outfield spots have made Cabrera a solid but inconsistent contributor in his first five full major league seasons, and he was often relegated to part-time duty. He thrived at the plate in 2011 as the Royals' full-time centerfielder, though his defensive skills are probably better suited for either left or right field. The Giants are coming off of another season in which their pitching fared well but they struggled to score runs, so they're likely hoping that Cabrera can repeat his success from this past season and serve as a catalyst for their under-performing lineup.
Unlike Cabrera, lefthanded pitcher Jonathan Sanchez regressed this year after a breakout season in 2010. The 28 year-old hurler made just 19 starts due to injury but managed just 4 wins and a 4.26 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 101 1/3 innings. This was a significant disappointment compared to his 13 wins, 3.07 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 205 strikeouts in 2010. Sanchez was expected to compete with veteran Barry Zito
(and probably others) for a spot at the back end of the Giants rotation in 2012, but his move to Kansas City could mean that he's all-but assured a rotation spot. A change of scenery can sometimes help young pitchers find their footing, but leaving pitcher-friendly AT&T Park and joining the American League could hurt Sanchez's numbers.
Lefthanded prospect Ryan Verdugo went 8-6 with a 4.35 ERA in 25 starts for Double-A Richmond this year, marking his first minor league season as a starting pitcher after three pro years spent mainly as a bullpen arm. His 133 strikeouts in 130 1/3 innings in the Eastern League hint at his potential, but his lack of rotation experience may hinder his progression to the big leagues. Baseball America listed him as the Giants' 25th-best prospect entering 2011.
From a fantasy standpoint, Cabrera's move to the Giants will likely lead to some statistical regression, though his career year might show signs of better things to come. Once his role in the San Francisco lineup is determined, it will be much easier to speculate about his upcoming season. The biggest fantasy benefactor of Cabrera's move might be Royals centerfielder Lorenzo Cain
, who has repeatedly succeeded as a minor league hitter but hasn't asserted himself as a major leaguer since his acquisition from the Milwaukee Brewers in the Zack Greinke
trade last off-season.
Jonathan Sanchez, on the other hand, can no longer be considered the young, skilled, erratic prospect of his prior seasons and may be running out of time to fulfill his potential as a major league starter. Joining a Royals club full of young talent may help him get back on track, but it's tough to expect a big season out of him. He can help fantasy squads by piling up strikeouts, but beyond that his value is limited and owners should be cautious when selecting him.
Overall, this trade involves some risk for both sides, but it could be beneficial to everyone involved if the two key players can perform to the potential shown in their best previous seasons.