Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The cost of a strikeout arm

Jonathan Sanchez was the third starter for the Giants when
they won the World Series in 2010, but was their fifth
best starter in 2011 (4-7, 4.26).
We interrupt our musings on the Twins front office shakeup to comment on a trade made Monday: The Kansas City Royals sent outfielder Melky Cabrera to San Francisco for starter Jonathan Sanchez and minor league lefty Ryan Verdugo.

This is of interest to Twins fans not only because the Royals are in their division, but because it suggests what the trade market looks like for starting pitchers, in particular starting pitchers who get strikeouts — which is the kind of starting pitcher the Twins could use more of.

Cabrera had a big year for Kansas City: .305/.339/470 while playing center field. His OPS+ — a stat that adjusts on base-plus-slugging for home field bias — was equal to Michael Cuddyer's. This was easily Cabrera's best season, and he's not particularly likely to replicate it, but his value was probably at its peak.

And what the Royals got for him is a power arm who led the league in walks in 2010, who made just 19 starts because of injury in 2011, who walked almost six men per nine inning when he did pitch, and who is eligible for free agency after 2012.


There basically two outcomes for Kansas City from this trade:

  • Sanchez continues to be wild and/or hurt, in which case the Royals will let somebody else try to harness his talent in 2013;
  • Sanchez finds sufficient command and health to be effective, in which case he's likely to be overpriced for Kansas City.

There's not much long-term upside for the Royals in this exchange, and yet he was worth giving up one of their better hitters.

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