KANSAS CITY -- The Royals vowed to upgrade their starting pitching and didn't waste any time, on Monday acquiring left-hander Jonathan Sanchez from the San Francisco Giants in a trade for center fielder Melky Cabrera.
In the deal the Royals also picked up Minor League left-handed pitcher Ryan Verdugo.
Sanchez had a 4-7 record and a 4.26 ERA last season in 19 starts before missing the last month and a half with a left ankle sprain. Clearly the Royals are counting more on the Sanchez of 2010 who went 13-9 with a 3.07 ERA for the World Series champion Giants.
"I think he's a solid No. 3 starter on a championship-type club," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "He's certainly has performed like that in the past. He's thrown a no-hitter in the Major Leagues, and when you look at his strikeout rate, his swing-and-miss ability is among the very best in the game."
Cabrera's departure clears the way for Lorenzo Cain to take over center field for the Royals in 2012.
"It was very important for us to free up Lorenzo Cain to play center field for us every day," Moore said.
Moore said the Royals, who had been exploring the Sanchez deal for more than a month, have no concerns about his ankle injury.
"Basically a high ankle sprain that prolonged his DL time last year," Moore said. "But he's a very dynamic left-handed pitcher. His hit rates are very low, his strikeout rates are very high. Walks are something that we're not over-excited about, but at the same time, he improves our rotation. He's very young and someone our scouts feel is a breakout candidate in 2012."
Indeed, Sanchez has great stuff and movement on his pitches, which has gotten him 736 strikeouts in 708 innings, a rate of 9.36 per nine innings. That's the third-best mark among big league starters since 2006, behind only Giants teammate Tim Lincecum (9.87) and the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (9.36). Since 2009, Sanchez has given up an average of 7.02 hits per nine innings, second-best in the Majors to Kershaw's 6.70.
But he's also doled out 376 walks, including a National League-high 96 in 2010. That's likely to be a primary issue for new Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland. Concern over the Royals yielding the most walks in the American League last season was a factor in the dismissal of Bob McClure as pitching coach.
SCOUTING REPORT: Ryan Verdugo
A ninth-round pick of the Giants in 2008, Verdugo came out of LSU's program after transferring there from Skagit Valley Community College. The lefty has been used as both a starter and a reliever and shown some ability in both roles. It's believed the Royals are leaning toward making him a situational lefty, perhaps a one- or two-inning guy in the Majors.
This past season, Verdugo spent the year with Double-A Richmond and finished third in the Giants system with his 133 strikeouts. He has struck out 11.1 batters per nine innings throughout his career, but his rate of 4.5 walks per nine is a big reason that some felt he might be a reliever in the long term.
The 24-year-old has an aggressive approach and goes right after hitters. His fastball is a tick above average, occasionally plus. His breaking ball, a slider, is Major League average, but he uses it well. He throws an average changeup, too.
- Jonathan Mayo
Sanchez was a strong pitcher down the stretch for the 2010 Giants on their way to the championship. In fact, he pitched five shutout innings in the season's last game to help San Francisco clinch the NL West title. On July 10, 2009, Sanchez pitched the 13th no-hitter in Giants history, an 8-0 win over San Diego. In his big league career, Sanchez has a 38-46 record and 4.26 ERA in 174 games, including 118 starts.
At 6-foot-2, Sanchez is listed at 198 pounds but is slender and last season missed some time with biceps tendinitis in his pitching arm.
Both Cabrera and Sanchez are coming up on their free-agent years after the 2012 season, and both are currently eligible for salary arbitration.
"It's basically a wash, payroll-wise," Moore said. "It's a good baseball deal, obviously, with San Francisco having surplus pitching and needing some offense, and obviously we felt offense was a strong part of our team."
No other deals are imminent, according to Moore, including signing free-agent left-hander Bruce Chen, the Royals' top winner last year.
"We'd still like to get Bruce back on our team," Moore said. "It just needs to fit for both parties. It's still early on in the process and it's no slam-dunk we're going to get Bruce back, so we felt like we needed to move on this deal with Sanchez before it went away."
When the deal was made, the Puerto Rican-born Sanchez was just 12 days away from turning 29.
"It does improve our rotation and gives us the opportunity to add a lot of power to the rotation, with particularly [Luke] Hochevar, the way he performed in the second half, and [Felipe] Paulino and [Danny] Duffy have a lot of strikeout ability. And Sanchez has proven he's one of the top strikeout pitchers in the game, and we feel like he'll continue to get better," Moore said.
Verdugo, 24, this year was converted to a starter and was 8-6 with a 4.35 ERA in 25 starts for Double-A Richmond. But Moore indicated his future with the Royals is as a reliever.
"Our scouts really liked his toughness and his ability to strike guys out. They see him as a situational, one-to-two-inning left-hander on a Major League pitching staff at some point," Moore said.
Verdugo, from Baton Rouge, La., has a career mark of 21-7 with a 3.14 ERA in 102 Minor League games, including 26 starts. He has 300 strikeouts in 234 1/3 innings. A teammate of Royals reliever Louis Coleman at Louisiana State University, Verdugo was a ninth-round pick in the 2008 Draft.
Cabrera, in his one season with the Royals, hit .305 with 201 hits, including 44 doubles, five triples and 18 home runs. He scored 102 runs and drove in 87. Cabrera was part of an outstanding outfield with Alex Gordon in left and Jeff Francoeur in right.
Now Cain, a .312 hitter last season for Triple-A Omaha, gets his shot. In 128 games for the Storm Chasers, he had 16 homers, 81 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. In a six-game September callup with Kansas City, he batted .273.
Cain was part of the deal that sent pitcher Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers a year ago. As backups, the Royals also have Jarrod Dyson and Mitch Maier on the roster.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.