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Trade of the Day: We're Talking Dirty For Melky

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In all the reaction (read, "freak out") to the Jonathan Sanchez trade, I haven't seen this addressed: What better could the Giants and Brian Sabean have done? Those looking strictly at the numbers (or living in "Hey I just watched the baseball playoffs!" fantasy land) wonder why they couldn't have landed Nyjer Morgan -- yes, I actually saw that comment somewhere -- or, well, name anyone with a better track record than Melky Cabrera. Which, admittedly, includes a lot of baseball players.

Yes, they sold low, but they always were going to do so with Sanchez. He was always more valuable to the Giants, with their forgiving ball park and their pitcher-whisperin' pitching coach. Add in the disturbing lapses of concentration that cropped up every year, the disturbing velocity fluctuations, and the palpable relief when he lasted at least five innings -- all things that national insta-pundits chiding the Giants have had little notion of -- then slather with the $5 million-plus salary he's expecting, and Sanchez was never going to be a sell-high commodity.

As for the buy-high criticism, well, yes. You can't get any buy-higher than Melky Cabrera after his career year. Everyone who watched him underachieve in the Bronx and get fat in Atlanta is  certain the Regression Train is headed straight for Melky Station in 2012. They could be right. But what if they're not? What if the Melkman at the age of 26 actually figured out how to be a productive major leaguer, a responsible eater, and a volunteer at the local animal shelter? There are statistical reasons to argue pro and con; this article sums them up nicely.

A bigger question: Is Melky's continued production less likely than keeping Jonathan Sanchez and hoping -- here we go again -- that this year he puts it all together? Or, my favorite: this year, his career path starts to look even more like Randy Johnson's!! Note to all writers who still cling to the Dirty-Unit (!) comparisons: Randy Johnson threw 100 miles an hour when he was 28. Jonathan Sanchez could barely crack 90 MPH at times. (Dave Cameron is the only non-local writer I've seen with a clear-eyed take on Sanchez.)

The Giants are taking a risk, of course. It's a trade of human beings, not robots. A risk that Melky changes back into his pre-Kansas City pumpkin costume. A risk that Sanchez discovers Adderall, or a better pitching coach, or the seventh chakra, and helps the Royals to their first AL Central title since 1885. But I suspect those risks are weighted more in the Giants' favor than most people suspect.

Earlier today I tweeted the trade was about money. Not so fast. The Giants avoid Sanchez's 2012 salary, estimated to land between $5 and $6 million, and they get Cabrera, who's due for his final year of arbitration after making a measly $1.25 million. I thought that would put him in line for a salary of $2 million, perhaps $3 million. But MLBTR estimates $4.4 million, which minimizes the Giants' savings. If this means the end of Andres Torres as a Giant, I'll be sad, for reasons I've written here. If this means no Carlos Beltran, I'll be sad, but I'm not holding out hope that Beltran wants to come back to the Giants, anyway.

For now, I look at the trade this way: It was going to be hard to trade Jonathan Sanchez for what his fans thought he was worth. Let someone else deal with his arbitration case. In return, the Giants get someone who has a passing chance of having a good year in the outfield, won't cost a ton, and doesn't require a long-term commitment. They also have him on board early in the off-season. Who knows, maybe he'll be traded in a couple weeks.

All I know is, Jonathan Sanchez had to be traded, and the market was limited. A couple promising prospects would have been nice, but a 26-year-old switch hitting outfielder who's just gotten a taste of success and will be fighting for his first free-agent contract might turn out to be a whole lot better.

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