And the Starter is…

WRITTEN BY GREG.

Newly acquired lefty starter Jonathan Sanchez.

The Kansas City Royals announced today the acquisition of left handed starter Jonathan Sanchez from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for CF Melky Cabrera.  Also thrown in was minor league left hander Ryan Verdugo.

General Manager Dayton Moore made no efforts to hide what was on his plate heading into the offseason:  Acquire a quality starting pitcher.  He essentially ruled out obtaining said pitcher by way of free agency and instead suggested going the route of a trade.  The 2011 free agent class is thin and that alone would likely push the price-to-value ratio into a place the Royals were not prepared to go.

There were rumors swirling that Atlanta was keenly interested in CF Lorenzo Cain and/or RF Wil Myers in exchange for right hander Jair Jurrjens.  That price, even with IF Martin Prado thrown in, was too steep for Moore to pull the trigger on.  Thank God he didn’t .  Jurrjens is a #3 to #4 pitcher when healthy, but he doesn’t strike any one out and gives up a few too many hits in my book.

That was Thursday.  Now today, the news of trading for Sanchez comes to us.  Let’s look at this from a few different angles to evaluate the trade.

The Prize

Sanchez is a quality left handed starter, which in of itself is valuable to most teams in the majors.  He has flaws and the largest of those is his command.  For a franchise that has publicly stated the elimination of walks is the primary focus for 2012 and beyond (and cost pitching coach Bob McClure his job), the trade for Sanchez is a little puzzling.  He has walked 4.8 batters / 9 innings, an appalling rate.  This is definitely bad.

But how do you mitigate walks?  Four ways:  1) Induce groundballs for double plays, 2) Strike batters out at an equally high rate, 3) Give up few base hits, 4) Give up few extra base hits.

Sanchez is a fly ball pitcher, which while it fits into Kauffman Stadium’s dimensions, doesn’t alleviate the extra base runners.  He does, however, excel in the other categories.

In the Giants’ World Series run in 2010, Sanchez led the league free passes (96), but he also led the majors in hits allowed per 9 innings, or 6.6.  That is ridiculously low.  For his career, it is a scant 7.7 hits / 9.  For comparison purposes, Roy Halladay (8.7), Cliff Lee (8.9),  C.C. Sabathia (8.3), and Josh Beckett (8.2) are all worse than Sanchez.

And for points 3 and 4, consider Sanchez’s triple slash line for his career (batting average / on base percentage / slugging percentage):

.231 / .333 / .377

Granted, this is in the National League, where pitchers hit.  But it illustrates not only the low batting average aspect, but also the lack of power against him.  A player with this career line would be benched, demoted, or waived.  Yes, the OBP is respectable, but we’ve conceded that already (walks).

There will be some work needed to possibly hone in his command and hit the strike zone more often, but on the surface, Sanchez looks to be a solid #3 type, with potential to be a #2 if he decreases his walks.  This is a guy who has a no-hitter to his credit, and a change in scenery and a good defense behind him might mean an easy transition to the AL.

The Price

Melky Cabrera was signed in December of 2010 to a $1.25M deal that drew the ire of nearly every Royals fan, especially after just signing blogosphere whipping boy Jeff Francoeur that same week.  Not to mention this was before landing Cain in the Greinke-to-Milwaukee deal days after the Winter Meetings.

I was in the group.  By season’s end, I could only stand and cheer for the Melk Man.

Melky plays a below-average center field, but his bat turned into a weapon.  He famously had 201 hits, the first Royal to do so since the offensive heyday of 2000.  He also had 18 homers, 44 doubles, drove in 87, stole 20 bases, and sadly walked very little.

He was blocking Cain’s arrival in KC, as he hit .312 / .380/ .497 at Omaha, and by all accounts, plays a good CF.  I was concerned we’d lose Cain in a bit trade, but instead, we get to enjoy him for a few years on the cheap.

The Throw-In

The Giants also had to throw in pitching prospect Ryan Verdugo, a lefty out of LSU who strikes out batters at an amazing clip.  In his 4 years since being drafted in the 9th round in 2008, Verdugo has struck out 11.1 batters / 9 innings, down only last year due to San Francisco trying him as a starter.  Even then, his K/9 figure only dipped to 9.2.

Like Sanchez, Verdugo walks plenty of hitters, which limits his effectiveness.  He might be best served as a lefty reliever, which fits nicely into the Royals young bullpen.  It is conceivable to soon have him battling Tiny Tim Collins, Everett Teaford, Kevin Chapman, and Brandon Sisk for the left handed duties in the bullpen.

A part of me sees Verdugo as being a little like Chris Dwyer, already in the system at AA Northwest Arkansas.  Dwyer can strike out tons of batters, but his main Achilles Heel is his command.  Both are a little old (Verdugo is 24), and I see neither as starters.

I like the throw-in aspect of this deal; it seems to make it all better from every angle.  Verdugo is like a lottery ticket, Sanchez is like a pay check.

The Impact

First of all, the Royals get a starter with proven credentials on a championship team with a no-hitter in his resume.  He has control problems, and while those have been a bane to Kansas City, he provides strike out potential and low batting/slugging averages.  He fits right in to the top of the rotation and pushes out the mediocrity of our 5th starter (Kyle Davies/Sean O’Sullivan/Vin Mazarro/etc).

The rotation figures to look like this to open the season next spring, barring injury:

  1. Jonathan Sanchez  L
  2. Luke Hochevar  R
  3. Felipe Paulino  R
  4. Bruce Chen  L
  5. Danny Duffy  L

Secondly, Cain gets a shot to patrol the spacious outfield in Kansas City and provide what could be the final cog in an excellent up-the-middle defense for the Royals, joining Sal Perez and Alcides Escobar.  He has hit at every stop, including hitting over .300 with the Brewers in 2010.

Some might question how much of a drop off Cain will present compared to 2011 Melky, but one must consider the drop off 2012 Melky might have been compared to his former self, just from regression.

But all in all, Cain could prove to be a valuable piece to the puzzle to getting the Royals back to respectability.

What was one of the best offenses in all of baseball will have to make up for Melky’s sizeable contribution in 2011, and may have to have Cain step up.

  1. Alex Gordon  L     7
  2. Lorenzo Cain  R    8
  3. Billy Butler  R   DH
  4. Eric Hosmer  L  3
  5. Jeff Francoeur  R  9
  6. Mike Moustakas  L  5
  7. Salvador Perez  R  2
  8. Johnny Giavotella  R  4
  9. Alcides Escobar  R   6

Verdugo offers a shot at a dominant lefty in the bullpen, if that is the direction the front office wishes to take.  And why not?  With strikeout numbers that elevated, it would be foolish not to accelerate his path to the bigs by putting him in Omaha’s bullpen and seeing what happens in the PCL.

The Verdict

Obviously, we won’t know much about how this turns out until 2012 ends.  I figure this trade is independent of what the Giants get out of Melky, because Cain’s defense should even things out if Melky has another nice year.  Sanchez is a free agent after the season and the ability to re-sign him for 2013 and beyond may tell the tale of how good this trade was.

In conclusion, the Royals win this trade, as they garnered a #3 starter for a player that was blocking a highly-thought of outfielder who comes on the cheap.  Plus, the throw-in of a strikeout machine lefty is intriguing.

A 4.00 ERA season from Sanchez coupled with likely improvements from the rest of the pitching staff might be enough to send us to contention.  One can only hope…

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~ by goetgre on November 7, 2011.

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