Royals acquire Sanchez, Verdugo

The Royals made their first major move of the offseason Monday when they acquired left-handed starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez and minor league left-hander Ryan Verdugo from the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Melky Cabrera.

The Royals made their first major move of the offseason Monday when they acquired left-handed starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez and minor league left-hander Ryan Verdugo from the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Melky Cabrera.

The trade makes a lot of sense for the Royals, but shouldn't necessarily be classified as a "win" for the team either. While Sanchez brings with him a much-needed skill to the Royals rotation (the ability to miss bats), there are questions about his health going forward. However, Kansas City took a gamble on a guy who will improve the team's rotation in 2012 for a reasonable price.

The 29-year-old Sanchez presents new pitching coach Dave Eiland with an enhanced challenge: Just another arm on the pitching staff with good stuff and little ability to consistently throw strikes. The 2011 Royals walked the most batters in the American League and Sanchez's track record suggests he won't do much to improve that standing. He walked 66 batters in 101 innings a year ago, and has a poor career total in walks per nine innings pitched (4.8).

However, Sanchez has made up for some of the free passes by allowing only 7.7 hits per nine innings pitched. For the sake of comparison, Kansas City's top three starters a year ago -- Luke Hochevar, Felipe Paulino and Bruce Chen -- all allowed close to a hit per inning a year ago, so Sanchez improves the rotation in that sense. He also immediately joins Paulino as another starting pitcher who can rack up strikeouts. As was noted on MLB.com, Sanchez's strikeout rate of 9.355 per nine innings since 2006 is third to Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw.

Sanchez also brings with him questions about his durability. Eiland said he wanted Royals pitchers to pitch into the 7th innings of games with regularity. Sanchez has struggled to do that. Over the course of his career, he's averaged only about 5.5 innings per start. A year ago, he suffered through tendinitis in his left bicep and was out of action for weeks with an ankle sprain. The tendinitis could explain Sanchez's decrease in fastball velocity last year to 89.7 mph, nearly a full mile per hour lower than 2010. However, his fastball velocity and movement has decreased every year since 2009 as well.

But through all of that, this deal was about utilizing the pieces the Royals had available to start building a team that can win more games in 2012. Sanchez can be a free agent at the end of the year, but so could Cabrera, who surprised almost everyone with a fantastic 2011 season that saw him rack up more than 300 total bases in 155 games.

Ultimately, the presence of Lorenzo Cain made Cabrera expendable. For now, that probably means Cain will play center field every day next season, which will upgrade the team's defense up the middle, which has always been an important factor in Moore's philosophy. While Cabrera's improvement in 2011 may very well stick, the bottom line is that the Royals didn't really need him anymore, so they sold high from a position of strength to improve a weakness and pick up a lottery ticket in Verdugo, who is essentially a minor league version of Sanchez: Lots of walks, lots of strikeouts, not very hittable.

The trade makes a lot of sense and means the Royals took the first step to shoring up what was a bad starting rotation. However, they can't stop here. Sanchez is not the top-of-the-rotation arm the team desperately needs if they have any hope of catching lightning in a bottle and contending for a division championship in 2012. But by picking up one starting pitcher without surrendering Cain or Wil Myers or Jake Odorizzi, the Royals kept their best bargaining chips to continue to pursue that #1 starter this winter.


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