Trade Talk: Royals Cash In Cabrera for Giants’ Sanchez

The Kansas City Royals, with a potential center fielder ready to get his shot, traded outfielder Melky Cabrera to San Francisco for left-handed starter Jonathan Sanchez and a young prospect.

Cabrera, 27, had a career year in 2011, batting .305, with 201 hits, 44 doubles, and 18 homers – well beyond any season he put together while a member of the Yankees or Braves.  Sanchez turns 29 on the 18th and comes off a poor season where he missed time due to bicep tendonitis.  Sanchez had a fantastic 2010, but returned to his more erratic ways in 201, walking 66 in just over 100 innings of work.  Both players become free agents at the end of 2011, and the Giants apparently will save a couple of million in salary for next year.

For the Royals, this gives Lorenzo Cain a shot at being the regular center fielder – better range, might be a comparable bat with a little less power.  And, it gives the Royals a mid-level starter should Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen not return in 2012.  The Giants get an insurance policy in center or left fields, but to be honest – he’s only marginally better than a healthy Andres Torres or Nate Schierholtz.  If nothing else, Cabrera would be a candidate to have worse stats, moving to the spacious home at AT&T Park and having to play road games in Los Angeles and San Diego (as well as regressing from his peak season). And who knows how Sanchez is going to fare – he throws the ball all over the place and is frustrating when you see someone with his kind of stuff have no idea where it’s going.  We’re talking about someone with a no-hitter and a string of bad starts (and now a slight injury history).

Pitcher Ryan Verdugo was the third player in the deal, a 9th round draft pick in 2008 by the Giants out of LSU.  Last year, as a starter, Verdugo was pretty good – this after a couple years in relief where he seemed unhittable if not slightly wild.  He doesn’t have a grade A fastball, but he throws hard enough and couples it with a nasty change up.  He tends to walk too many people, so improvement in his command might make him a Royals roster member in 2013 as a long or middle reliever.

2011 Season Forecast: Kansas City Royals

Last Five Seasons:
2010: 67 – 95
2009: 65 – 97
2008: 75 – 87
2007: 69 – 93
2006: 62 – 100

Last winning season?  2003

Runs Scored: 676 (10th in AL)
Runs Allowed: 845 (Last in AL – and by 60 runs)

With this combination, the Royals would have been expected to win about 63 games.

Season Recap:

Few people picked the Royals to finish higher than fourth, so from a prediction standpoint, the Royals did what people expected.  KC didn’t have a winning month…  They were close, going 13 – 14 in June and actually outscoring their opponents that month.  The bottom was in July, though, when they went 10 – 15 (they had a worse record in September), but got outscored 173 – 94.  The Royals hung around .500 until early May, when they got swept by Texas, lost a couple of more and fell to 11 – 23.  That cost Trey Hillman his job, and gave Ned Yost a shot at managing the Royals.  I mentioned the bad July – included in that month were an 11 – 0 loss to Anaheim, a 15 – 5 loss to the White Sox, a 13 – 1 loss to Toronto, and 10 – 4 loss to the Yankees, and three straight losses of 12 – 6, 19 – 1, and 11 – 2 (Yankees, then two to the Twins).

Among the disappointments was the lackluster season of pitcher Zack Greinke, who fell from Cy Young to a league average pitcher, going 10 – 14.  Gil Meche never got healthy and retired at the end of the season rather than face another year of collecting $11 million for rehab work.  A lot of pitchers had ERAs that were downright scary.  Offensively, there were just too many outs – including the acquisition of catcher Jason Kendall and infielder Chris Getz, and the return of Alex Gordon, who hit .215.  Scott Podsednik played well enough in left, only to get shipped to the Dodgers for the stretch run.  The Royals did get good performances out of Mike Aviles, Billy Butler, and David DeJesus – until DeJesus went down after 91 games to injury.

Starters:

Zack Greinke is gone, having been shipped to Milwaukee with Yuniesky Betancourt for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress, and minor leaguer Jake Odorizzi.  Brian Bannister is also gone – he wasn’t getting anyone out and when he opted for free agency, the Royals didn’t bite.  Of course, Bannister had an ERA over 6.00…  What is left behind is an unproven group waiting for help from Aaron Crow or John Lamb whenever either shows signs of being ready.

Instead of a rotation of Greinke, Bannister, Kyle Davies, Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen, and either Meche or Sean O’Sullivan, the Royals are looking at a rotation of Davies, Hochevar, Chen, Jeff Francis, Vinnie Mazzaro and maybe O’Sullivan.

Hochevar has skills but hasn’t put together a strong and consistent month.  Kyle Davies eats innings, but isn’t a world beater.  Bruce Chen was a pleasant surprise last year, going 12 – 7 with 23 starts and 10 relief appearances.  Jeff Francis is the former Rockies ace coming back from shoulder surgery.  He made 19 starts last year for Colorado with good control and if he can pitch 30 times will be an improvement over Bannister.  Vin Mazzaro might remind you of Hochevar – shows signs of life but needs to make another step forward to help the team.  O’Sullivan was hit around a lot last year and needs some seasoning.

There’s a reasonably good chance for a little improvement if Jeff Francis continues to get a feel for throwing.  He can easily match what Greinke did in 2010, anyway, though there is no chance of anyone having a season like Greike’s in 2009.  Mazzaro will be a step up from Brian Bannister, and if Chen can make 32 starts instead of 23, that’s also a step forward.

Relievers:

Talk about a rag-tag bunch.  At the tail end, you have one of the best closers in the business in Joakim Soria.  However, it’s an odd mix of arms in front of him, including Blake Wood, Robinson Tejada, Jesse Chavez, Jeremy Jeffress, Greg Holland.  Holland and Tejada have the power arms, and of this group Holland looks to be the one guy who might make a significant contribution.

Catching:

Jason Kendall and Brayan Pena return to give the club below average catching.  Unless Pena is given a chance to play as the starter, there is no chance that this will be better than 2010.

Infielders:

The left side of the infield will be different, with Escobar replacing Betancourt and Mike Moustakas likely getting the opening day nod at third.  Moustakas is a highly rated prospect because in the last couple of years, he’s been hitting bombs all over the minor leagues.  Escobar is Betancourt’s equal in the field, but after hitting the bigs and making a big impression in 2009, he fell back to hitting .235 in 2010.  Betancourt wasn’t half bad last year, showing a little power and actually playing better than league average defense.

The left side remains solid with Mike Aviles and Billy Butler manning second base and first base.  Butler is a hitting machine, and Aviles is a quality #2 or #3 hitter in any lineup.

Pedro Feliz is in camp as a potential depth option, having gotten a non-roster invite to spring training.  He could be a starter on opening day if the Royals choose to give Moustakas a few at bats in AAA.

It’s hard to believe that this will be an improvement in 2011, in part because Alberto Callaspo and Wilson Betemit both hit well while playing third base (about 95 runs created) and Escobar wasn’t as good as Betancourt.  However, Moustakas COULD be a league average fielder, which would be a 30 run improvement.  The pitchers will appreciate the help, for sure.

Outfielders:

Last year’s outfield of Podesdnik or Gordon in left, Mitch Maier or Gregor Blanco or Rick Ankiel in center, and DeJesus or Mitch Maier or Jose Guillen in right has to be replaced.  Looking at the 40 man roster, an outfield could be made of free agent signee Melky Cabrera, Lorenzo Cain, and Jeff Francouer.  Again – not a single world beater in the outfield, which is problematic.  Blanco can hit a little, but has been a disappointment in the field, making him a probable fourth outfielder.  Maier has improved some with the bat, but on his best day really should bat ninth.  Jeff Francoeur is long removed from being a middle of the order hitter, and Melky Cabrera might be a solid eighth or seventh hitter.  No really competitive team has NOBODY who is an outfielder and can’t hit in the middle of the lineup.

DH:

Gone is Jose Guillen, so look for Alex Gordon or Jeff Francouer or Kila Ka’aihue to get the at bats.  I like Mt. Ka’aihue, a minor league power hitter who has to prove he can be more than a AAAA player.

Down on the Farm:

The Royals are loaded with prospects.  Mike Moustakas we mentioned earlier…  The 2007 1st round draft pick hit .319 with 15 homers in just 225 AAA at bats, after clobbering AA pitchers to the tune of 21 – 76 – .347 in 66 games.  Kila Ka’aihue hit .319 with 24 dingers in 323 at bats, draws walks, too.  Among the pitchers, Greg Holland and Blake Wood showed success at AAA and both made the Royals for the end of the season and can help in the pen.

In AA Northwest Arkansas, every one hits – the team hit .291 in 2010.  The two that make prospect lists are second baseman Johnny Giavotella, who hit .322 with a .395 OBP, and first baseman Eric Hosmer, who got to AA at 20, hit .313 with 13 homers in 50 games (he had hit .354 in A+ Wilmington).  2009 1st round pick Aaron Crow didn’t pitch as well as hoped, but he made a big jump out of college.  His control got the best of him – 59 walks in just 119.1 innings.  The best stats belonged to Everett Teaford, who went 14 – 3, fanning 113 in just 99 innings, and walking only 32.  Danny Duffy made seven solid starts after a promotion, and reliever Louis Coleman gave up 31 hits in 51.2 innings, while striking out 55 and walking just 14.

John Lamb climbed from Burlington through Wilmington (A+) to AA and is just 20.  Lamb is a lefty with great command and in 42 minor league starts, has 230 strikeouts and just 65 walks.  He could be the lefty version of Bret Saberhagen – and the Royals need this to be true.  Wil Myers is a catcher who, in his first full professional season, finished by hitting .315 at two levels with power and a .429 OBP.

2011 Prediction:

The Royals may climb out of the cellar, but not far.  I think the starting pitching can be 20 – 30 runs better than last year even without Greinke coming  back.  Moving Moustakas in at third base will help defensively – this could be 25 runs or more at his position alone.  Lorenzo Cain and Melky Cabrera give the Royals defensive stability – certainly better in left field and possibly centerfield than what was there in 2010.  And, your fourth outfielder, Maier, can cover ground.  So, look for the Royals to drop the runs allowed from 845 to about 780.  And I don’t think Kendall manages a staff very well.

Offensively, adding Moustakas will be nice, but unless Lorenzo Cain can hit .290 and get on base a lot, there won’t be many runners for Butler and Moustakas to drive in.  That being said, a full season of Mike Aviles would also add a few runs.  But Cain would be hitting like Podsednik, and Francoeur is no different, really, than Jose Guillen.  That means that the offense isn’t likely to climb up that many notches.  Ka’aihue is a wild card.  If he hits .260 with 75 walks and 25 homers as a DH, that would be a lift.  If Moustakas is a rookie of the year candidate, maybe another lift.  Unfortunately, you still have too many outs.  Escobar, Cabrera, and Kendall.  Please let Kendall back up Pena – that could be worth 10 runs.

You have an ace-less staff, old catching, with league average fielding and a well-below average offense.  That gets you about 69 wins, and if you are optimistic, maybe 72 wins.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that the Royals have a deep farm system and by 2013 – especially if the pitching steps up – could be competitive.  Hang in there fans, there is help on the way.

2009 Season Forecast: Colorado Rockies

Colorado Rockies
74 – 88 (3rd NL West) 
Scored 747 Allowed 822

Quick Season Summary:

Colorado was coming off the heels of a remarkable stretch run that got the Rockies into the World Series for the first time.  With a young power core and decent pitching, the Rockies hoped to build on a successful 2007.

It didn’t happen.  Instead, injuries to Troy Tulowitzki, Clint Barmes, Jeff Francis, and Todd Helton meant a slow start.  A 9 – 19 May buried Colorado, and even though they played well in July and August, the good times ended when they gave up on the race in September.

Tell Me About That Offense:

While Coors field still is a haven for hitting – the humidor has helped, but it can’t fix everything – the Rockies actually had several good performers.

Chris Iannetta is a solid hitter with okay power, and his backup, Yorvit Torrealba, is tolerable.

Todd Helton was basically league average, with his back and other injuries cutting into what historically had been solid performances.  Garret Atkins has nice counting numbers, but anywhere else would be league average.  Barmes and Ian Stewart were decent, but Troy Tulowitzki had a tough sophomore season, finishing as a below average hitter.  Fortunately, he hit well after the all-star break.  Until then, he was atrocious.  Backup Omar Quintanilla was even weaker, though.

The outfield featured Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe, who both were very good – Holliday will be missed.  What they needed was a centerfielder who could hit.  Willy Taveras isn’t the answer – he had a .310 OBP and 68 stolen bases can’t possibly make up for not being there more often than not.  I like Ryan Spilborghs – a great player, and too good to be a fourth outfielder.  Scott Podsednik hit like a fifth outfielder.

And the Defense:

Bad.  Only Pittsburgh and Cincinnati were worse.  The average defensive efficiency in the NL was 68.7%.  Colorado only turned 67.6% of the balls in play into outs – basically adding 9 points to every hitter’s batting average.

Iannetta and Torrealba were tolerable behind the plate, scoring as average in things like errors  and mistakes, mobility, and stopping the running game.

Todd Helton remains a fantastic fielder, but Garrett Atkins was atrocious as his backup and is below average at the position he normally plays – third base.  Tulowitzki is a remarkable fielder, his range is exceptional and he’s good at avoiding errors and turning double plays.  Unfortunately, Omar Quintanilla wasn’t very good backing him up – and he was even worse at second base.  In fact, nobody plays second well – whether Barmes (-8.5 range), Jeff Baker (-12.1), or Quintanilla (-22.1).

Matt Holliday is an average fielder in left, Taveras still shows good range in center.  And then there is the worst right fielder in the NL – Brad Hawpe.  Hawepe’s range was graded at – 16.2, adding an unnecessary 47.6 runs to the other team’s scoreboard.  Hawpe made just 1.57 plays per nine innings – the average right fielder is going to be around 2.  So, basically he was allowing a hit every other game that someone else would have gotten.  Based on 2008, he’s a DH waiting to happen.  Podsednik and Spilborghs were decent backups.

Pitching:

When you think that the defense is horrible and the park is killing them, you have to give Colorado pitchers the benefit of the doubt.

Jeff Francis, injured and making just 24 starts, finishing with a 4 – 10 record and a 5.01 ERA, was actually slightly better than league average as a pitcher.  Aaron Cook, who doesn’t strikeout too many guys was solid – 22 runs better than average.  Ubaldo Jimenez, one out shy of 200 innings, was nearly 20 runs better than the average pitcher.  Jorge De La Rosa was league average.  The fifth slot was troublesome – Greg Reynolds, Livan Hernandez, and Mark Redman were a combined 38 runs worse than average.  Most teams would be happy to have four decent slots in the rotation, and Colorado had them.

It’s hard to get a read on the relievers because they pitch in so few innings and half of them are in dire straits.  But, Ryan Speier was actually pretty good (7 runs better than average), Glendon Rusch was decent, Manny Corpas was above average.  Taylor Buchholz, Jason Grilli and closer Brian Fuentes were all great – 12 to 15 runs better than the average NL pitcher.  You just always can’t tell because of where they pitch.

What is Different for 2009?

Injuries stole Jeff Francis and Taylor Buchholz.  Jason Marquis comes from Chicago where he’ll give them three good months and then management will wonder what happened after July 1.  Matt Holliday was traded to Oakland for Greg Smith and Huston Street.  Brian Fuentes was signed away by the Angels – he’ll be missed.  Manny Corpas or Huston Street will get first dibs on saves.  Dexter Fowler or Seth Smith will play center with Willy Taveras having gone to Cincinnati.  Good for Colorado.

Marquis wasn’t that bad; he and Greg Smith will be league average – if you can tell with that defense.  More innings with Barmes and Tulo would help – especially if Barmes can step up some at second base.  A full season of Helton defensively would be great, too.

Actually, having gone through this, I’d be optimistic for improvement.  A healthy Helton would provide 10 runs of offense, which will help with the change from Holliday to Spilborghs in LF.  Fowler may actually hit better than Taveras – so right now – that’s a net.  If Tulo returns to form and Barmes plays up to speed, that could be 20 extra runs even with Holliday leaving.

And, defensively, we’re talking 20 extra runs removed with Tulo, Helton, and Dexter Fowler in center.  Spilborghs could be better than Holliday – maybe it’s 30 runs better.  And, if Smith or Jason Hammel are close to league average, that could be another 30 runs by not having to put last year’s fifth starters out there.

So, that puts the Runs Scored/Runs Allowed ratio at 767/772 – pretty much a .500 season.

Down On the Farm…

Everybody hits well in AAA Colorado Springs.  The two that stood out were 25 year old Jayson Nix, a second baseman with a broad spectrum of offensive skills, and Seth Smith – both of whom will be on the Rockies.  All of the pitchers there have scary ERAs – only Greg Reynolds was young (22) and he wasn’t ready for the big show.

AA Tulsa is also tough on pitchers, but Brandon Hynick has some skills and great command.  Chaz Roe is only 21 and showed control, a few Ks, but serves up a few homers.  I like Casey Weathers, who has a great strikeout pitch, but a little less control.  Dexter Fowler hit .335 here, with walks and a few stolen bases.  Matt Miller hit .344 with a little power and some plate discipline.  He might make it, but is running out of years – he’s 25.

The best player in A+ Modesto was likely Michael Paulk – who has Mark Grace numbers, if not his glove at first base.  He’s 24 and could replace Helton in two or three years.  I like Aneury Rodriguez, a 20-year-old with a good ERA and better K/W numbers.  Another 20-year-old, Jhoulys Chacin made 12 starts, walked only 12, and fanned 62 in 66.1 innings after smoking hitters at Ashville (10 – 1, 1.86, 98/30 K/W in 111.1 innings).  He’ll be on the Rockies as soon as it makes sense to use him – perhaps 2011.  Perhaps sooner.