The offseason is upon us, my friends, and on Monday, the first big trade of the Hot Stove season went down, with the Royals sending outfielder Melky Cabrera to the Giants in exchange for left-hander Jonathan Sanchez and left-handed pitching prospect Ryan Verdugo.
I’ll discuss the three players involved in the deal later in this piece, but first I want to touch on the player whose fantasy value is most affected by the trade, and that’s the Royals’ Lorenzo Cain.
Cain was a 17th-round draft pick of the Brewers back in 2004, the kind of high school athlete that you take flier on in the later rounds and hope that he pans out. Pan out he did, as Cain was ranked by Baseball America as a top-10 prospect in the system each year from 2007-10 before he was shipped to Kansas City last winter as one of the key pieces of the Zack Greinke deal.
The 25-year-old hoped to win the center field job out of spring training, but the Royals didn’t hide the fact that Cabrera was the favorite to start in center, while Cain was expected to begin the year at Triple-A Omaha to get more seasoning. Cabrera cemented the job by tearing up the Cactus League to the tune of a .468/.471/.742 batting line.
Cain didn’t sulk, though, instead taking his demotion in stride and then mashing Triple-A pitching with a .312/.380/.497 batting line to go along with 16 home runs, 81 RBI and 16 steals. He earned a cup of coffee in September and picked up six hits in 22 at-bats. Cain had shown glimpses of that kind of pop before, belting 11 dingers between High- and Double-A in 2008, but it’s the most power he’s displayed at this point in his career. The 16 steals were actually a disappointment, as the speedster had never swiped fewer than 24 in a full minor league season prior to this past year.
Cain didn’t hide the fact that he was excited about the Cabrera trade, as he knows the opportunity he has ahead of him.
“It was definitely good news when I heard we traded Melky,” Cain told the Kansas City Star. “I’m glad I’ve got a chance now to go out and roam center field. Hopefully, I can go out there and get it done. This is what everyone wants — a chance to go out and play every day and prove what you have. I’ve got my chance now, and we’ll just see what happens.”
With double-digit homer and 30-steal upside, Cain has ample sleeper appeal with an everyday job. He could stand to improve his selectivity at the plate, as he drew just 40 walks while striking out 102 times at Omaha this season. But, as long as he keeps his average up in the .270-.280 range, he’ll be getting on base enough to utilize his speed.
As far as the players that were involved in the deal, neither Cabrera’s nor Sanchez’s fantasy values are dramatically affected, though the reality is that Cabrera is due for a downturn in production in 2012.
Cabrera slimmed down and had a career year with the Royals, batting .305/.339/.470 with 18 home runs, 20 stolen bases and 102 runs scored. That’s 30 points above his previous career average and easily new career highs in homers, steals and runs scored, so even if his new physique and improved commitment are for real, he’ll almost surely fall back noticeably in production. It also won’t help that he’s going from a neutral park in Kauffman Stadium (13th in ESPN Park Factors) to a decidedly pitcher-friendly setting in AT&T Park (30th in Park Factors), while also having less protection around him in the lineup. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all if Cain winds up out-performing Cabrera in fantasy in 2012.
With Sanchez, the Royals get an enigma but also someone that has a chance to really improve a rotation that could use a much-needed boost. The left-hander suffered through an ugly 2011 season, posting a 4.26 ERA and 1.46 while pitching only 101 1/3 innings. He missed time with biceps and ankle injuries, though the Giants were likely going to demote him from the rotation, anyway, when he went on the DL in late June. However, he did strike out a batter per inning and is just a year removed from a season where he held a 3.07 ERA while punching out 205 batters. Sanchez is sure to be inconsistent, and walks will always be an issue, but he’s also likely to have the most upside of anyone in the Royals’ Opening Day rotation.
Verdugo, 24, posted a 4.35 ERA and 1.37 WHIP over 25 starts this season at Double-A Richmond, though he did strike out over a batter per inning. It was the first year that he was used as a starter, and command and control issues will likely push him back to the bullpen eventually, but he has a shot to be a useful left-handed arm out of the pen at some point for Kansas City.
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