KANSAS CITY, Mo. —The Royals traded outfielder Melky Cabrera to the San Francisco Giants for left-hander Jonathan Sanchez today, upgrading their starting rotation and clearing the way for hotshot prospect Lorenzo Cain to get a chance in center field.
It was the second significant trade involving a starting pitcher this offseason. The Atlanta Braves shipped Derek Lowe to the Cleveland Indians last week.
The Royals also received Double-A pitcher Ryan Verdugo in the deal.
With a young lineup and plenty of talent still in the minor league system, Royals general manager Dayton Moore was willing to part with Cabrera to fill his biggest need: starting pitching.
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Despite the emergence of former No. 1 draft pick Luke Hochevar and rookie Danny Duffy, the Royals' starters still logged the third-fewest innings of any staff in the American League. Their combined 4.45 ERA was also the third-worst in the AL, ahead of only Minnesota and Baltimore.
Sanchez was the Giants' best pitcher during the latter part of 2010, when they beat the Texas Rangers to win the World Series. The hard-throwing left-hander was 13-9 with 3.07 ERA in 2010.
He struggled most of this season, partly due to injuries, going 4-7 with a 4.26 ERA before missing the final month of the season with a left ankle sprain. But the nagging injury wasn't enough to dissuade Moore from making a bold move to help his young pitching staff.
"He's a very dynamic left-handed pitcher," Moore said. "His hit rates are very low, his strikeout rates are very high, his walks aren't something we're overly excited about, but at the same time he's very young. He's somebody our scouts feel is a breakout candidate moving forward into 2012."
The Royals' lineup was expected to return next season largely intact, especially after Cabrera validated their trust in him by putting up one of the best years of his career.
Cabrera hit .305 with 44 doubles, 18 homes and 87 RBIs in his first season in Kansas City. He was the first Royals player with at least 200 hits in a season since 2000.
"We've known this is a potential deal we had interest in doing a month ago," Moore said. "At this point, we felt we had to move forward before this deal vanished."
Moore said the deal made sense for both sides. The Giants had a surplus of starting pitchers, and the Royals are confident enough in Cain to give him a shot at the everyday job. Both players are eligible for free agency after the 2012 season.
Cain hit .312 with 16 homers and 81 RBIs this year for Triple-A Omaha.
"It was very important for us to free up an opportunity for Lorenzo Cain to play center field for us every day," Moore said.