Brian Sabean must have been tempted over the years to trade Jonathan Sanchez. He never pulled the trigger, and I lamented this fact here, while wondering what he could actually get for Sanchez coming off his worst season in 2011.
On Monday, Sabean let us all know what he could get for Sanchez when he obtained 27-year-old center fielder Melky Cabrera in exchange for the beleaguered left-handed pitcher and minor league left-hander Ryan Verdugo.
Cabrera is certainly not the difference maker that most Giants fans would tell you that the team needs, but he is coming off a career year and seems to have maybe figured the game out.
Cabrera started his career with the New York Yankees in 2005 and was traded to the Atlanta Braves during the winter of 2009. Cabrera had his worst season in 2010 in Atlanta and found himself at a crossroads.
Cabrera realized that it was time to get serious about the game, and he spent the 2010 winter getting into the best shape of his life and he reaped the benefits in 2011 as he posted career-high numbers in almost every offensive category.
Cabrera hit .305/.339/.470/.809 for the Royals in 2011 in what was easily his best season yet. He was in demand around the trade deadline, but ultimately he finished the season in Kansas City. Cabrera, like Sanchez, is entering his final arbitration season in 2012 and will be a free agent at the end of the season.
Cabrera made $1.25 million in 2011 and should make around $4.4 million in 2012. Sanchez was expected to make $5.2 million in 2012 so the Giants will see a small, insignificant savings. This deal was not made for salary relief though; it was made for several other reasons.
The Giants had grown tired of Sanchez' inconsistency. They also had grown tired of the game of chess they had to play at the No. 5 spot in the rotation. If Sanchez had ever taken that spot as his own, he would still be a Giant, but since he hasn't, he will now try to right his ship in KC.
The Giants have a need for a center fielder. Andres Torres proved in 2011 that 2010 was his lightning in a bottle season. The Giants certainly had to return him to center field last year after he was such an important piece of their championship team, but he was a shell of his 2010 self.
Cabrera will play center field for the Giants in 2012 and right now will likely be their leadoff hitter despite his less than impressive on base percentage, even in his career year of .339.
So what, if anything does this move tell us about the strategy of the team going forward? For one thing it tells us that Barry Zito will be the No. 5 starter. That may not be the worst thing and is certainly all he has left to try to resurrect his career. I think the team will still attempt to bring back Carlos Beltran but that they know what they are willing to spend on him a should not go past the years/money that they are comfortable with.
I think that the Cabrera acquisition bodes well for a team that was significantly challenged offensively in 2011. One can point to Cabrera's overall career numbers of .275/.331/.398/.729 and worry that 2011 was an aberration and that he will drop off significantly for the Giants in 2012.
I think most Giants' fans would agree that they would take even his career stats at center field in the upcoming year. I feel like he will be closer to his 2011 production when all is said and done, as he has shown an understanding of the work it takes to be successful at the big league level and will be playing for his first free agent contract this year.
Sabean did well in acquiring Cabrera for Sanchez. Sanchez will be missed specifically for his no hitter and his dominance down the stretch in 2010. Sanchez will not be missed for his inconsistency and laissez faire attitude when he struggled.
Cabrera is a good piece to the Giants' puzzle, Sabean needs to make a significant free agent pick up to support him and then the Giants will be in a pretty enviable position. If they can bring back Beltran or land another hitter like Jose Reyes at a reasonable price, the Giants will have instantly transformed from an all pitching, no hitting team to a potentially very dangerous offensive team with the same dominant pitching. Stay tuned.