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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sanchez for Cabrera - Filling a Need, Maybe?

"If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster." — Clint Eastwood
Okay, Giants fans, we got some good off-season news and something to talk about. I begin by confessing that as a National League-aphile, I don't know much about Cabrera, who has only spent one season in the Senior Circuit, where they play by real baseball rules.

In the 2010 Division Series against the Braves, all I remember about Cabrera was that he seemed a bit pudgy, which apparently he was. His time with Atlanta was pretty forgettable (BA .255, 4 HRs, and 42 RBIs in 448 at-bats). The Braves felt the same way letting him go after only one season.

After getting into better physical condition, he rebounded last year and had the best season of his young career, posting some impressive numbers with Kansas City (BA .305, 16 HR's, and 87 RBIs in 658 at-bats). He also had 20 steals though he was thrown out 10 times, not a great success rate.

Cabrera's four plus seasons with the Yankees were similarly inconsistent. From 2006  to 2009, his RBI totals jumped around from 50 in 2006, to 73 in 2007, 37 in 2008 and 68 in 2009. He doesn't walk often, which accounts for his relatively low career on-base percentage of .331. But he also doesn't strike out much, averaging around only 60 Ks per season. The 102 runs he scored last season are an encouraging sign of growth in that regard.

So these numbers and his .275 career batting average suggests he can hit, but you would hardly call him a prototypical leadoff hitter, something the Giants desperately need. Overall, he looks like a somewhat upgraded version of Andres Torres, who he is likely to replace in center field. He is definitely better offensively but probably not as good defensively, which is Torres's strong suit.

His value to the Giants may come down to how they choose to use Cabrera and whatever other moves they make in the off-season. Although the early speculation is that he could be a potential Giants leadoff hitter, in KC, Cabrera mostly batted second in the lineup. His career numbers so far suggest he would be more effective hitting somewhere other than in the leadoff spot.   

Now let's look at the other side of the equation in what the Giants gave up to get Cabrera; a decent but inconsistent starting pitcher in Jonathan Sanchez, and minor-league pitcher Ryan Verdugo. Don't know a thing about Verdugo. Maybe the best sign he will probably not be a major loss to the Giants is that the Royals apparently wanted lefty reliever Dan Runzler, who has still not proven he can pitch in the big leagues, but instead settled for Verdugo.  

Sanchez, on the other hand, is a much better known but frustrating commodity. His four seasons as a full-time starter with the Giants showcased his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde baseball personality. He has excellent stuff and can get hitters out, as evidenced by opposing hitters batting only .231 against him during his Giants career.  But he has serious control issues, with a high 1.39 career WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched), and at times he seems to lose focus on the mound.

More importantly, Sanchez hasn't seemed to improve as his career has unfolded. He indeed pitched some memorable big games for the Giants, notably his 2009 no-hitter against the Padres and a playoff-clinching, last-game-of-the-season win in 2010, also against San Diego. But his 38 — 46 lifetime won-loss record with the Giants is a good indicator of his inability to win consistently.

So this is a deal that has some question marks in it, mostly about Cabrera. Can he repeat the numbers he put up in his breakout season last year with the Royals? Can he hit National League pitching? Can the Giants find a spot in the lineup that makes sense for the abilities he has shown thus far in his big-league career?

Overall, I think it was a deal worth making. At 27, Cabrera is still a young player who has shown enough talent to warrant some optimism that this trade will work out for the Giants. For a team that needs a lot more offense, adding a good hitter like Cabrera is a plus. But I still think the Giants need to find a true leadoff hitter.

There was no guarantee that Sanchez would perform well enough to regain a spot in the starting rotation. Their current fifth starter options, which probably include Barry Zito, do not exactly inspire confidence. But the upside potential Cabrera has, along with Sanchez's lack of upward progress seem to make this trade a gamble worth taking.

But what do you think? Let's talk baseball!

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