Well Played, Dayton…Well Played
You may have heard the Royals made a deal yesterday. They sent Melky Cabrera to the San Francisco Giants and received back left handed starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez. I’m going to break down the trade in a little bit, but first I want to talk about how Dayton Moore handled this situation absolutely perfectly. It’s funny because about a year ago at this time I didn’t think I’d ever be typing those words, but I haven’t been befuddled recently by a decision he’s made, so I think it’s time to heap some praise on him. Whether you like Sanchez or not is immaterial for the first part of this discussion. Dayton Moore essentially applied the most basic principles of building your stock portfolio and he made the Royals a better team. A little later, I’ll tell you how he can make them even better, but you’ll have to stay tuned to find that out.
Let’s hop into the Wayback Machine with Mr. Peabody and go all the way back to one year ago when the Royals signed Melky Cabrera to a one-year contract. They had just traded away probably their second most recognizable player in David DeJesus and had an outfield to fill. Nobody knew whether or not Gordon would actually make good on his promise to dominate and Jeff Francoeur was a wild card. The whole outfield was unpredictable, but the one thing most people could say for certain was that Melky Cabrera was not a good signing. People pointed to his declining numbers with his expanding waistline and concluded that even for just over $1 million, it was a bit of a waste of money. When I say people, I mean me. Well, not just me, but I was pretty well certain that Cabrera would be terrible. I was dead wrong.
A few days later, the Royals traded their most recognizable player in Zack Greinke and got back a center fielder in the deal, Lorenzo Cain. I think most Royals fans believed that Cain might actually be the opening day center fielder with Cabrera as the fourth outfielder. That was an idea I could get behind. I thought Melky might be the perfect fourth outfielder actually. As spring training rolled around, rumblings out of Royals camp started coming out that Melky was promised a starting job and that he’d be given every chance to make good on his potential. I personally thought that was ridiculous, but I didn’t mind terribly giving him the opportunity because it was a lost season before it started. I figured Cabrera would struggle quickly enough that Cain would be up by mid-May. It’s not like they could have finagled an extra year of service time out of him. They’d have to leave him down until the middle of July and I think we all knew that wasn’t going to happen. Whoops.
The season progresses and Melky had the 2011 season he had while Cain had the season he had in AAA and it becomes clear that the Royals need pitching help if they want to even consider competing in 2012. I’ve thought for a long time that Melky for Jonathan Sanchez was a good trade, but now we’ve reached the point in both of their careers where it had become a no-brainer for both sides. Sanchez was relegated to competing for the fifth starter job with the a guy the Giants were going to pay $18 million to while Cabrera was going to start to become expensive and had only one year left before free agency. Plus, a ready made replacement was in house.
So Dayton Moore sold high. He could not have worked the system any better. He signed a guy coming off a terrible season to a one-year deal. Said player has the season of his life. Moore then trades said player for a pitcher coming off a not-so-great season. He did the classic move of selling high and buying low all in one move. If Jonathan Sanchez has the year that he had last season and Melky Cabrera does the same, the Royals lose this deal. They could still come out ahead, though, because they replaced Cabrera’s subpar defense in center with Lorenzo Cain’s plus defense. So if Sanchez shows signs of being the guy who went 13-9 with a 3.07 ERA in 2010 and Cain plays good defense and hits .265/.330/.410, then the Royals are a much better team in 2012 than they were in 2011. Critics of Dayton Moore have a lot of things to point to in their criticism, but this deal is not even close to it.
I want to give a bit of a breakdown of my thoughts on the deal as well because I think you’re all going to get bored reading about it for the next week or so. I’m getting a lot of it out of the way here.
My first reaction to this trade was that I loved it. While Melky definitely proved me wrong by having the season he had, I just don’t believe it’s entirely sustainable. I don’t think he’ll be 2009 bad again, but I could see his numbers dropping to a .270/.310/.430 level. At that point, his defense in center field isn’t being covered at all by his offense. Then I see Jonathan Sanchez and I see a lefty who has great stuff, gets strikeouts and limits hits. Yes, there are drawbacks to Sanchez and I went over those yesterday. It’s why he was fighting for a fifth starter job and not being penciled in to pitch the second game of the season. Still, when a guy’s top three ZiPS comps are Randy Johnson, Herb Score and Al Leiter, there’s at least something to get excited about. And yes, I understand that a ZiPS comp doesn’t mean that’s where his career is headed.
After sleeping on the deal, I don’t love it quite as much, but I still like it. It isn’t like the Royals traded their starting center fielder with no replacement ready to go. They have a guy who will probably be better than Cabrera cumulatively because he’s a plus on defense. The walks Sanchez gives up are troubling and I have visions of Oliver Perez in my brain and that’s scary. But again, the worst that can happen is Sanchez implodes and he leaves after the season and gave a prospect some more development time. Actually, there are four scenarios that can happen, none of which are truly that bad while some are downright good. He could be outstanding and sign an extension and be a legitimate top of the rotation starter. He could be outstanding and leave as a free agent and give the Royals comp picks. He could be just fine and give the Royals a decent season before leaving as a free agent. There are other variations on those four, but those are the big ones.
Ahh, but there’s a fifth. And this is how Dayton Moore can make that trade even better. He can steal a page out of the book of Alex Anthopoulos and look to flip Jonathan Sanchez elsewhere. You might be asking, “If Dayton Moore can get a better deal for him, why wouldn’t Brian Sabean just take the better deal?” I’m glad you asked. The answer is that the Giants need bats in the worst way. They don’t need another pitcher. But maybe there’s a team like, oh I don’t know, the Marlins who are looking for left-handed pitching help and are willing to trade off one of their righties for a lefty with dominant stuff. Then Dayton Moore can flip Jonathan Sanchez for the unrelated Anibal Sanchez. That’s not the only trade he can make, but teams covet left-handed pitchers so much that Sanchez could still be a valuable trade chip. Even if he doesn’t make that deal, though, he showed that he’s making progress as a general manager and I’m way more excited for 2012 than I was at this time yesterday.
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