Experiment Over

November 7

If Asteroid 2005 YU55 hasn’t hit Earth on Tuesday, Melky Cabrera will open up the 2012 season somewhere in the Giants’ outfield, and Jonathan Sanchez will be in the starting rotation of the Kansas City Royals. Will everyone be happy ? That’s the aim of a classic major league baseball trade.

Would that be such a bad thing ? If the Giants get the 2011 version of Melky in 2012, and Sanchez pitches well for the Royals ( who will likely be also-rans again ), would that ruin your day, Giants fans ?

I guarantee you this: the minute Sanchez gets a W, or the first time he strikes out ten in a game, some fans will howl at the idiocy of Brian Sabean. Meantime, Melky will need to make the All-Star team and become an MVP candidate.

Nothing less than a fleecing will please some fans. Many are upset enough as it is. Shoot, in their minds, “Sanchy” should have been traded for Ryan Braun, or at the very least Cory Hart.

Hey, I was one of the people who wanted the Sanchez Experiment to end a year ago, and bemoaned the fact that he was damn-near un-tradeable at the end of the 2011 season. I’m actually amazed they got MELKY CABRERA for this guy, given his present state, instead of a bag of Funyuns.

I’m not the biggest fan of Sabean: his track record of free agent signings and trades for hitters is well below the Mendoza Line, so it will be easy to summarily dismiss this trade. Sure enough, some Giants fans have already done so. They dismiss Sanchez’s bad 2011 as an anomaly, and do the same with Cabrera’s terrific 2011.

However, I prefer to look at each trade on its merits, so here we go:

The Royals needed starting pitching depth and wanted to make room in the outfield for prospect Lorenzo Cain, so it made sense for them to deal Cabrera, who will be a free agent after 2012. In their minds, they’re getting a pitcher who has struck out more than a batter an inning who could return to his 2010 form.

His average fastball dropped below 90 last year, due in part to biceps tendinitis. He also had an ankle injury and never seemed to get untracked physically, or mentally, last year. His sometimes-flaky mental approach was driving the Giants crazy, and they’re usually pretty good in working with pitchers.

Sanchez would routinely lose his arm-angle and his fastball would sail on him. Opponents had a low batting average against him, but when you account for the all the walks, it didn’t take more than one or two swings before crooked numbers appeared on the scoreboard.

Sanchez has always had “swing-through” stuff but has struggled with control for much of his career. In 2011 he walked everyone but Lou Seal, who had an enlarged strike zone.
Even in a strong 2010 campaign he led the league in walks and was not much more than a six-inning pitcher, so the Royals should not expect him to be more.

There’s a chance he could regain his form in KC, but I think there’s a slightly better chance the lineups of the Tigers, White Sox, Rangers, Yankees, and Red Sox will feast. Like Cabrera, Sanchez might want to rent in his new city. If the Royals think he’ll be a top-of-the-rotation horse, they’re sniffing around in the wrong stable.

Royals’ General Manager Dayton Moore chooses to see him as “young” at age 29. That’s an age where it’s time for pitcher to fish or cut bait. Some blossom after age 30, but Sanchez is beyond the stage where it’s realistic to discuss his potential. For both clubs, it’s a matter of what you choose to see — for Sanchez and Cabrera.

Cabrera had a career year in 2011, his numbers well above anything he’d ever done in several categories. Many fans worry that will be his best year, and he will regress to his previous level. If Cabrera was in his 30’s, that would be a legitimate worry, but Cabrera is 27 and has clearly benefitted from a fitness and weightlifting program.

The Giants will be his fourth team in four years after the Yankees decided he wouldn’t fulfill his promise, he had an awful year in Atlanta, and then came into his own in Kansas City. It could be a case of a young veteran ballplayer reaching his prime.

For those worried about Cabrera playing in A-T & T, it’s worth noting that Kauffman Stadium was the second-toughest home run park in the majors last year, next to the one at Willie Mays Plaza. Cabrera still hit 18 homers, but also managed 44 doubles and banged out 200 hits.

He’s not a great outfielder in terms of range or throwing arm, but is capable enough to play three outfield positions. He doesn’t walk a lot, so he’s not an ideal leadoff hitter, and my hope is the Giants will do a better job of addressing that need. His steal rate wasn’t great last year ( 20/30 ) but was much better in previous years.

Cabrera has one year left of arbitration eligibility and will probably cost the Giants a couple of million dollars less than Sanchez will. The Royals paying up to 6 mill for Sanchez ? Have at it.

And for Cabrera, no two words spell motivation better than “contract year.” He’s looking for his first big deal. If he plays well for the Giants and gets a gold mine elsehwere, fine. Hopefully Gary Brown will be ready to patrol center field in China Basin by that time, plus Aaron Rowand’s money is off the books.

It’s uncertain where Cabrera will be in the lineup, but with him and Sandoval the Giants get two switch-hitters. If they happen to sign Carlos Beltran, that’s three, and that causes havoc for opposing managers and pitching staffs.

I tend to think Melky’s arrival is just a first step. There may be another trade, because that’s the most likely way for the Giants to bring bats into A T & T Park. I doubt there will be more than one signing of a free-agent hitter.

If Cabrera plays center field, Andres Torres’ days as an everyday player are over. In fact, they might be even if Cabrera plays right or left.

Also consider that Buster Posey appears to be on the fast track to recovery from his injuries, and Freddy Sanchez returns ( for however many games ) in 2012. The Giants offense set the bar limbo-low in 2011, so there’s certainly hope for improvement.

Sanchez’s departure means that Barry Zito will get yet another chance to claim the fifth spot in the rotation. He is still owed 46 million dollars, so as much as we’d like to see this steaming pile of cash thrown in the dumpster, it ain’t happening.

The Giants will also need to bring in a couple of veteran starting pitchers as a backup plan. I don’t think Eric Surkamp is ready to pitch a full season in the majors, so Sabean and company will need to go trawling for a veteran arm or two.

I think at worst, this trade is going to be a wash. Cabrera is not going to be a perennial All-Star but still has a chance to be a solid ballplayer, and frankly, his 2011 numbers would have made him the next best hitter outside of Pablo Sandoval.

If he comes close to his “career year” it’s a big plus for the Giants. Whatever Sanchez does, it will be done in Kansas City. He could be pitching meaningless games in September.

That’s the damn thing about trades, though: you have to wait to see if they actually work out. Right now, everyone is right. If nothing else, the Giants have a better Cabrera on their roster now.

As for Asteroid 2005 YU55 ? JUUUUST a bit outside … hopefully. Or do we need Chuck Norris ?

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One Response to “Experiment Over”

  1. Paul Heally Says:

    Hi Ray

    I wanted to give my input into the Sanchez/Cabrera Trade:

    First, Sanchez was toast in SF. He had to go both because of performance and contract status. And ultimately, it may prove a good move for him moving to a pitcher friendly Kaufman Stadium—he will have to throw more strikes—but that’s KC’s problem! Still, Sanchez will be missed and shall always be remembered as a San Francisco Giant—it’s just time to move on.

    At first I was not so warm on Cabrera. Sure, he hit .305, but he does not walk and that only netted .339 OBA. However, once I looked at his splits I got a lot more positive. First, Cabrera had a .742 OPS at home and a .871 OPS on the road—altho this is one year and to be honest requires a bit deeper study on my part, it indicated Kaufman Stadium probably limited Cabrera from having an even stellar year last year overall. Other than 2007—where he had about a .060 better OPS on the road—his Home/Road Splits have been pretty even during his career—better buttressing that Kaufman suppressed his offense.

    Secondly, in his early years, Cabrera showed a strong preference to being a right-handed batter; however, in the last three years his OPS has not been more than .040 different between being a lefty or righty swinger—he is a true switch hitter than can produce from either side of the plate—unlike Torres or Sandoval who have wide deviations between sides of the plate—which misstates their overall stats.

    Lastly, young players that are undistinguished in their early in their careers often come into their own in the 25-29 age range—stole this from a Bill James 1980’s Abstract! J I’ve never studied this greatly, but you can see it in players like Aaron Rowand and Cody Ross—these players usually start declining at age 30—too bad Sabs didn’t read Bill James or he might never have signed Rowand! Anyway, Cabrera will be 27/28 next season so it can be reasonably expected his positive production should carry on for the next couple of seasons—and as it were Cabrera probably will serve as a one-year bridge to Gary Brown depending on how Brown performs in 2012 in the minors. Again, I hope Sabs studies his Bill James Abstracts and doesn’t offer Cabrera a huge contract when he most likely will be very pedestrian in his 30’s—which does not mean he will not be a productive player—just not what we might see in his late 20’s bloom

    On the negative side, Cabrera has consistently been below league average in Range Factor per 9 innings as a Centerfielder, so we can extrapolate he is probably a below average Centerfielder—but he did have 13 outfield assists last year and as high as 16.

    Twenty steals indicates some speed and 10 caught stealing suggest Bochy should look closer at this as a legitimate weapon.

    I’m often critical of Sabs and his mindset—kinda the anti Billy Beane. But, I think he hit it on this one—only the 2012 season will tell—that’s why they play the games!!

    Thanks and enjoy the day

    Paul Heally

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