My lasting memory of Melky Cabrera was from the 2010 National League Division Series. He looked like he was swinging a bat that had a rope tied on the barrel, and the other end of the rope was wrapped around his torso and tied to his ankle. Oh, the bat would get around eventually, but it wasn't quick. Or pretty. He was 25 at the time, but he looked like he was 35. It was sad. Spraying-champagne-around-the-clubhouse sad, if you want to be specific about it.
And I didn't catch a whole lot of Royals games last year. When I did watch them, I was looking for Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas. When Melky came up, my brain probably shut off and I started thinking about various gadgets or video games I wanted to purchase. Wasn't interested. So his renaissance flew right past me. Not sure what made him so much better than he was in previous seasons.
With that, I can't offer a great scouting report on the guy. What I know is that he was one of the worst players in baseball in 2010, and he was pretty darned good in 2011. If the Giants had Cabrera instead of Sanchez last year, they would have been a much better team. That's Melky Cabrera, not Orlando. This sentence is a reminder that the Giants also traded for Orlando Cabrera last year.
The Giants-loving internet is freaking out right now. Sabean gonna Sabean, and all that. He's the GM who sells low to make a deal with the GM selling high. I'm not quite in that line. I can almost, almost, almost get behind this trade. First, you have to make two assumptions. The first is that the Giants really do have a finite budget that they can't break for really good hitters. The second is that they really needed a center fielder. I'm skeptical on both counts. Both of those points are sort of nonsense, actually. But I had long ago accepted that they were considered true that by the people who actually make roster decisions, so I accepted them long ago. Begrudgingly.
With those in mind I could almost see it. You say Melky is a player coming off a career year. I squint and say that Melky had the breakout year as a 26-year-old that he was supposed to have years ago. He had a .360 OBP as a 21-year-old starter. That's hard to do. He fell off a cliff after that, but it's not like, say, Justin Christian having a breakout year. It's not a total shock. Melky was supposed to be talented.
I can almost see it. The Giants need offense, and last year Melky could hit. They have a strikeout staff -- well, except for that there Barry Zito -- so maybe they can give up a little defense in center.
Maybe not that much defense. But some. Just about every defensive metric has Cabrera as a below-average defender in center, but other than when he almost fatted himself out of baseball with the Braves, he hasn't been statue-bad. Not as good as Aaron Rowand or Cody Ross, probably, but not that much worse.
And as for what went the other way, I'm not foaming at the mouth. I figured Sanchez was gone long ago, probably for a Merkin/Moss package, which was great as someone who likes to type "Merkin Moss" in his spare time. The Giants didn't get a couple of fringe players or C-prospects. They got someone relatively cheap who had a fantastic year last year. I had zero faith in Sanchez next year -- his walks, combined with his fragility and salary, made me completely okay with a possible non-tender. I can almost see it.
Ryan Verdugo was an interesting prospect -- the Jonathan Sanchez of AA -- and it's a little annoying that he had to go in the deal, but it's unlikely that he was ever going to pan out as a starter. And if he became a left-handed reliever, who cares? Those kinds of players are always hanging around if you have an extra $10 million to spend, and they're there even if you don't have that money to spend but do it anyways.
The Giants will save about $1M in arbitration with the swap, but that's not all. They also saved money by not giving $15M or $20M to Coco Crisp. They didn't commit to a center fielder for the next couple of years. This move could free them up for a shortstop, or for the re-signing of Beltran. Coco Crisp was going to be a Giant if this went down, and while I think I'd rather have Crisp on my team next year, it's not a huge downgrade when you factor in the salary commitment. I can almost see it.
My problem with the trade isn't giving up Sanchez or Verdugo. It's not necessarily Melky. He's a flawed player, but people act like a court order is going to force him to return his increased production from last year. It's not so outlandish to think that a 26-year-old who improves might turn into a 27-year-old who maintains the production.
My problem with the trade is the completely manufactured need in center field. There were concerns about Torres. Well, hey, there are concerns about Freddy Sanchez staying healthy, Buster Posey is going to be the same player, Aubrey Huff's conditioning and collapsed-star suck from last year, and the dark void at shortstop. There are concerns all over the diamond. But in center, they had a guy who was very likely to provide the Giants with a ton of value based on his defense alone. His ADHD and sproingy hamstrings made him someone you didn't want to trust, but he's cheap with the potential to be pretty danged good. This Giants' offseason should be alllllllll about "cheap with the potential to be pretty danged good," while figuring out how to fix the spots that don't have the potential of being pretty danged good.
I was expecting Jonathan Sanchez to be traded for beans. Not magic beans. Just beans. Navy. Maybe cannellini beans. I was also expecting to sign Coco Crisp to a two-year/$14 million deal or worse. So with both of those expectations already firmly implanted in my head, this is an improvement, and it could be even better if they actually spend the money I thought they were going to spend on Crisp. I can almost see it.
I would have rather traded Sanchez for a semi-prospect, stuck with Torres, and spent even more money on the free-agent market. That would have been my first choice. As is, let's all hope that last year's Melky is the real Melky, because that was a pretty danged good player. Just don't expect it.