SAN FRANCISCO -- In a swap that included talented yet erratic performers, the Giants attempted to bolster their offense Monday by acquiring outfielder Melky Cabrera from the Kansas City Royals for left-handers Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Verdugo.
Giants general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy expressed uncertainty regarding the spots Cabrera will fill in the batting order and outfield, since he's capable of playing all three positions. Given Cabrera's career-best 2011 production, San Francisco can put him virtually anywhere and he'll help the club.
Cabrera sported a .305 batting average, 102 runs scored, 201 hits, 44 doubles, 18 home runs, 87 RBIs and 20 stolen bases with the Royals last season. This followed a disappointing 2010 effort with Atlanta, Cabrera's only season in the National League, in which he hit .255 with four homers and 42 RBIs in 147 games. That prompted the Braves to release him shortly after they lost the NL Division Series to the Giants.
Cabrera, 27, gained a reputation early in his career for maintaining questionable training habits, which might explain why he's joining his fourth team in four seasons. He attributed his improvement this year to diligent preparation during the 2010-11 offseason that included occasional sessions at Alex Rodriguez's batting cage in Miami. Speaking on a conference call through an interpreter, Cabrera vowed to report to the Giants in decent shape and referred to his 2010 slump with Atlanta by insisting, "That wasn't me."
The Giants are banking on Cabrera's ability to sustain his sudden excellence. Their total of 570 runs last season ranked last in the NL and their per-game average of 3.52 runs was the fourth-lowest in franchise history.
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"He's the type of player this club needs," Bochy said of Cabrera, who owns a .275 batting average, a .331 on-base percentage and a .398 slugging percentage in six seasons. "He crosses home plate."
With most of the offseason remaining and more transactions sure to follow, San Francisco probably will wait until Spring Training to determine Cabrera's specific role. The switch-hitter doesn't appear destined to fill the club's perceived void in the leadoff spot, having batted second in 144 games while occupying the top of the order seven times last season.
"I'll hit anywhere the manager wants to put me," Cabrera said.
Cabrera likely could patrol center field, which he has manned 522 times in 772 career starts, including 143 last season.
With Bochy having returned from Taiwan, where he managed a group of Major Leaguers in a series of exhibition games, Sabean said that he and his staff will intensify their discussion of the Giants' list of issues -- addressing whether to retain free-agent right fielder Carlos Beltran, deciding if Cabrera really does fit in center field, measuring shortstop Brandon Crawford's Arizona Fall League progress against the need to obtain a veteran performer at that spot and determining whether veteran free agents Cody Ross or Andres Torres can or should be signed to deepen the bench.
Sabean added that Monday's deal meant that San Francisco must ponder whether to pursue a potential fifth starter in free agency or trade, due to Sanchez's departure.
Potential deals involving Sanchez frequently had been rumored in recent seasons.
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.
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"I know it bothered him last season," Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti said.
But Sabean said that the Giants "were never close" to trading him until this season ended, when the club faced the need to part with some of its pitching assets to secure a proven hitter or two.
"Given the player available and given the acute need for more offense, this was the time to cross the bridge," Sabean said.
Sanchez, 28, compiled a 38-46 record with a 4.26 ERA in 174 appearances (118 starts) since 2006 with San Francisco. But his impact transcended mere statistics. He electrified AT&T Park fans on July 10, 2009, against San Diego by pitching the 13th no-hitter in franchise history. He accelerated the Giants' march to the postseason in 2010 by finishing 4-1 with a 1.03 ERA in his final seven starts. He concluded that stretch by pitching five innings and scoring the first run in the regular-season finale as San Francisco clinched the NL West title with a 3-0 triumph over San Diego.
To an extent, as a 27th-round selection in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, Sanchez personified the Giants' renewed emphasis on scouting and player development.
"To me, he's like part of the pride of the organization," Righetti said. "He was as unpolished as anybody. ... He came a long way, so we're all proud of him. I am. Those aren't just words because he's gone, either. This one hits hard. I've spent more time with him than anybody, obviously. Between me and him, we've been through a lot together. So he means a lot to me."
Sanchez began this year as San Francisco's No. 2 starter. But biceps tendinitis and simple inconsistency prevented him from reclaiming the form he displayed toward the end of 2010. He averaged a whopping 5.9 walks per nine innings before he sprained his left ankle while trying to field a bunt on Aug. 16 at Atlanta. Sanchez finished 4-7 with a 4.26 ERA.
Sanchez's subpar results sealed his fate with the Giants, along with his eligibility for salary arbitration, which virtually guarantees him a raise from his 2011 salary of $4.8 million. Cabrera earned only $1.25 million this year but likely will receive a considerable pay hike through arbitration. Both are eligible for free agency after the 2012 season.
Verdugo, 24, often looked impressive last spring as a non-roster player during his first appearance in big league camp. He proceeded to finish 8-6 with a 4.35 ERA in 25 starts for Double-A Richmond.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.