Senior Baseball Columnist

Royals camp report: Sanchez may be one-year rental, but can help now


Jonathan Sanchez, a free agent after this season, hopes to make a quick impact in K.C. (US Presswire)  
Jonathan Sanchez, a free agent after this season, hopes to make a quick impact in K.C. (US Presswire)  

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- New surroundings, less hair.

For years, the Giants refused to trade young pitching. Now, the guy they finally dealt looks around his new Royal digs, part of a team that ranks head and shoulders ahead of where it has been for most of the past two decades, and ponders the question.

Kansas City Royals
Scott Miller
Young position players. Eric Hosmer. Mike Moustakas. Salvador Perez. That's all positive for K.C. Likes, dislikes >>
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Here to help push Kansas City several more steps forward, has Jonathan Sanchez met anyone with hair as pretty as ex-teammate Tim Lincecum's? (And let's not even go near Brian Wilson's beard).

Early morning, and Sanchez chuckles.

"A couple of guys," he says brightly. "Eric Hosmer's hair is pretty nice. He's got a Mohawk. And Luis Menoza. They call him, 'The Big Sexy.'"

The mop of hair Mendoza is modeling alone could land him a prime spot in a highly rated soap opera. As for Sanchez, his own personal drama came to a surprising conclusion last November when San Francisco sent him east for outfielder Melky Cabrera in one of the coolest trades of the winter.

There was no salary dumping, no moving ledgers from one checking account to the next, no bad contract-for-bad contract nose-holding. It was pure baseball, need-for-need.

The Giants ranked 29th in the majors in runs scored last summer and had to change that. So they targeted outfielder Melky Cabrera.

The Royals, popping like spring crocuses with exceptionally talented young position players, had to improve their pitching. In shipping Cabrera for Sanchez, they not only did that, they also opened center field for another prospect, Lorenzo Cain.

"I got to the big leagues in 2006," says Sanchez, 29. "Since then, there were rumors that I was going to get traded every year.

"I was going to get traded. I was going to get traded. It never got done."

A free agent following this season, and with the Giants attempting to focus on Lincecum and Matt Cain long term, Sanchez's shelf-life finally expired in San Francisco.

Fantasy Writer
One-hit wonder ... Jeff Francoeur, OF: It's probably not fair to call Jeff Francoeur a "one-hit wonder" since he fared well in his early years with the Braves. Still, 2011 was a career year and entering his late 20s, one might be tempted to think it was a breakout. However, Francoeur's improved batting average (.285) and run-production stats (77 runs, 87 RBI) were helped by a .330 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) -- a mark that doesn't square up for a player who pops out a lot and is a below-average line drive hitter. Even if he manages to be a 20-20 player again, Francoeur will have a difficult time matching last season's production. He profiles more as a low-end No. 3 Fantasy outfielder than the No. 2 outfielder he looked like last year.
Rotisserie gem ... Lorenzo Cain, OF: Lorenzo Cain finally showed some home run power in his first full season at Triple-A in 2011, but even if that doesn't translate to the majors right away he is a worthy Rotisserie target. With good gap power and decent contact skills, Cain could toy with a .300 batting average. Though his minor league stolen base totals weren't gaudy Royals manager Ned Yost likes to have his players run, so 25-30 steals are not out of the question. While Cain is strictly an AL-only option in Head-to-Head formats, he is a viable No. 5 outfielder for mixed Rotisserie leagues. -- Al Melchior
Depth Chart | Royals outlook | 2012 Draft Prep

He's probably a one-year rental in Kansas City before free agency, but he couldn't fit the Royals' needs any better. They need rotation help now. Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon will be making serious money by 2014, 2015 ... and by then, if things work according to plan, Sanchez will be making his extravagant coin elsewhere and the Royals will be flush with young starting pitchers.

"We filled a need," Royals general manager Dayton Moore says."We filled in our rotation. And anytime you can add a quality left-hander. ..."

What excites the Royals is, the hair on Sanchez's fastball remains, though maybe just a smidge less of that, too. His average fastball was down about 1 mph last year. Still, he can bring it.

His stuff was electric enough to no-hit San Diego two summers ago, and aid the Giants' 2010 World Series run during a breakout season. He's also enigmatic enough that he frustrated the Giants nearly as often as he thrilled them. His high cheese often was too high. His hard hook often bit dirt.

Last summer, Sanchez averaged a career-high 5.86 walks per nine innings, highest ratio in the major leagues.

"All of my pitches are strikeout pitches," Sanchez proclaims, unapologetically. "I can throw any pitch for a strike. My slider is hard, my curve is hard, my split is hard and my fastball is hard. I don't have a pitch where it's, 'Here you go, hit it.'

"The thing with me is I throw pitches high and I throw pitches in the dirt. You've got to be ready. I'll throw three strikes in a row and then I'll throw three balls in a row."

Far as self-awareness goes, that scouting report is dead red.

So, too, is this: "If I throw you strikes, you are done. I don't worry about walks. If I walk 100 guys and they don't score, I'm good."

Well, let's not get carried away with that, else summer will turn cold early in Kauffman Stadium. ...

The Royals are going into this with open eyes. Despite Sanchez's tendency to lose the zone, they have zero plans to try and change him.

"As a manager and coaches, you're always striving to make players better," Royals skipper Ned Yost says. "You look at Jonathan Sanchez, he has the ability to get a lot of missed swings. He can pitch effectively in and out of the strike zone.

"That's a nice knack to have."

Says Moore: "We know what we're getting. We know he's going to walk some people. Hopefully, we're getting the guy who pitched in 2010. The last three or four years, he's been one of the most dynamic left-handers in the game."

There's this: With runners in scoring position last season, Sanchez held opposing hitters to a .190 batting average. That would have led the majors had he had enough innings to qualify (biceps tendinitis and a sprained ankle limited him to 19 starts).

Also, his 9.37 strikeouts per nine innings since 2008 ranks third in the majors, trailing only Lincecum (9.97) and Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo (9.43). Over his career, lefties are hitting just .210 against Sanchez.

"We're not thinking we're smarter than anyone else and all of a sudden he's not going to walk guys," Moore says. "He's just got to maintain his strengths, and work within those strengths."

Luke Hochevar pitched like a true ace the second half of last year. Bruce Chen is a dependable veteran. The Nos. 4 and 5 slots are open, with Felipe Paulino, Danny Duffy, Mendoza and even Aaron Crow competing.

Sanchez is the pivot point in a rotation that could surge or slump, depending on what he produces.

"You see Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan," Sanchez says. "Those guys walked a lot of guys, but they had success in the big leagues. That's why I don't worry about walks. One day you walk five guys, the next you don't walk anybody."

"This is the kind of pitcher I am. I walk guys. I strike guys out. That's how it is. They say, 'You throw too many pitches.' That's how it is.

"In 2010, I led the league in walks and we won the World Series. Nobody cared about walks back then."

Win a World Series, and nobody ever does. It's the walks that leave a team short, those are the issue.


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