KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Royals addressed their biggest off-season need Monday — help for their rotation — by acquiring left-hander Jonathan Sanchez from the San Francisco Giants in a trade for outfielder Melky Cabrera.
"He's a very dynamic left-handed pitcher," general manager Dayton Moore said. "His hit rate is very low, and his strikeout rate is very high. His walks are something we're not overly excited about...
"But he's very young, and he's somebody our scouts feel is a breakout candidate moving forward into 2012."
The Royals also obtained minor-league lefty Ryan Verdugo, 24, in the deal. He projects as a situational reliever, although he pitched this season at a starter while going 8-6 with a 3.45 ERA at Class AA Richmond. He was assigned to Class AAA Omaha.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The trade opens a spot in the Royals' outfield for Lorenzo Cain, who batted .312 with 16 homers and 81 RBIs in 128 games at Omaha. Cain, 25, has a .302 average in 169 major-league at-bats over the last two seasons.
"A lot of our motivation," Moore said, "was to improve our major-league starting rotation in combination with a bullpen we think is very strong. But we also wanted to free up opportunity for Lorenzo Cain to play every day.
"It makes us a more well-rounded baseball team going into 2012."
Sanchez, who turns 29 on Nov. 19, was 4-7 with a 4.26 ERA this season when limited to 19 starts because of a high left-ankle sprain. He has struggled throughout his six-year career to achieve the lofty expectations generated by his power arsenal.
"I think he's a solid No. 3 starter on a championship-type club," Moore said. "He certainly has performed like that in the past. When you look at this guy's strikeout rates, his swing-and-miss ability, it's among the very best in the game."
Sanchez was the Giants' No. 3 starter in 2010 when they won the World Series. He has 736 strikeouts in 708 career innings while allowing just 7.7 hits per nine innings, but he also has allowed 376 walks — including a league-leading 96 in 2010.
The Royals are hoping Sanchez, 6 feet and 200 pounds, reverts to his 2010 form, when he was 13-9 with a 3.07 ERA in 34 games. He made at least 29 starts each season from 2008-10 after gaining a spot in the Giants' rotation.
Cabrera, 27, departs after resurrecting his career in his lone season with the Royals. He batted .305 with 44 doubles and 18 homers while scoring 102 runs and driving in 87 after signing last December as a free agent.
"It looks like he's coming into his own," San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's a guy who can hit at the top of the order, whether it's first or second. He can steal a base, he's athletic and can play anywhere in the outfield."
Cabrera said he is willing to fill whatever role the Giants want.
"I'm very happy to be part of the Giants," he said, "and, hopefully, I'll do a great job for them. I'm aware the outfield in San Francisco is pretty big, but I'm going to go out and get myself in shape and get ready to play."
Sanchez joins a rotation that projects to include Luke Hochevar, Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy. Negotiations are ongoing with free-agent lefty Bruce Chen, who was picked last week as the club's pitcher of the year.
Chen is currently soliciting offers from other clubs to determine his market value.
The Royals previously looked into acquiring veteran right-hander Derek Lowe from Atlanta before he was traded to Cleveland.
More recently, the Royals and Braves discussed a deal for lefty Jair Jurrjens, but the Royals balked at surrendering minor-league outfielder Wil Myers, who is generally viewed as their top prospect.
Acquiring Sanchez figures to bump the Royals' payroll. He and Cabrera are eligible for arbitration, but Sanchez made $4.8 million this season, while Cabrera made just $1.25 million. Both players are on track to become free agents after next season.
Moore said it was "premature" to examine an extension for Sanchez but noted "we certainly have a better chance" to sign him now that he's in Kansas City.
Further efforts to upgrade the rotation are also possible, although long-term commitments are unlikely because the organization has a number of top pitching prospects in upper levels of their minor-league system.
"You never have enough pitching," Moore said, "but we do like (Mike) Montgomery, (Jake) Odorizzi, (Chris) Dwyer and (Will) Smith. Those are four guys we think have an opportunity to be on our major-league team at some point in the next one to two years.
"We don't want to rush those young pitchers, but we do want to make sure they get opportunities when they are ready. So I don't think we'll sign any pitchers to long-term contracts that would potentially conflict with their advancement to the major-leagues."