Truthfully, trading Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Verdugo was the easiest decision Dayton Moore will make this off-season.   It was also an easy decision for Giants’ GM Brian Sabean.    

The Giants believed they had an excess of starting pitchers (which they do until two of them get tired arms and a third can’t find the strike zone) and the Royals thought they had an extra centerfielders (which they did as long as Lorenzo Cain hits some and Melky Cabrera doesn’t become a four-plus WAR player for the next five years).   A good trade in both directions by most accounts and one that is highly thought of by the majority of those of us who follow and write about the Royals even during football season.

If Melky Cabrera regresses and Sanchez pitches to 2010 form while Lorenzo Cain proves to be a defensive whiz with a decent bat, then the Royals will win this trade.   Even if it turns out otherwise, this was a logical move with moderate risk.   No trade is a sure thing:  if there was not risk involved, I would not have a Ryan Shealy jersey gathering dust in my closet.

Now, Mr. Moore, the water gets deep.

Is two years of Bruce Chen at $10 or $12 million more important than the compensation draft pick the Royals would get if Chen signs elsewhere?   Is Jeff Francis the guy we saw in 2011?   If so, is that enough to bring him back to fill out the rotation?  Are you all in for 2012 and prepared to make a big move to put a name at the top of your rotation?   What about second base?  What about Joakim Soria?   With the likes of Ryan Madson rumored to be worth $40 million over four years, the trade value of Soria is surely back on the rise, isn’t it?

As you know, I have been advocating a ‘hold the course’ line of late, which really has not been tremendously changed by the Sanchez acquisition.   On his own, Sanchez does not make the Royals’ contenders, but he does put them maybe a bit closer to that title (again, assuming Cain is at least a 2-3 WAR player in center).    Simply put, Hochevar-Paulino-Duffy-Sanchez and somebody else is a better place to build from than Hochevar-Paulino-Duffy-and two other guys.

That said, plugging Chen or Francis in as the fifth starter or Mike Montgomery, should he have a big spring, does not make Kansas City a bonafide contender.   If everything breaks right and the Royals get a little luck, sure they could contend.  Heck, they could win the Central under certain scenarios.  To be likely contenders, however, Kansas City would need at LEAST a starting pitcher better than Sanchez/Hochevar.

That’s the rub, isn’t it?  At some point, the Royals are going to have to go ‘all in’ and getting that point in time right is the single most important decision Dayton Moore will make of his baseball life.

I don’t think the time is now.   The Royals are young and with youth comes uncertainty.  We’re pretty sure Eric Hosmer is going to be a star, we think Alex Gordon is going to come close to replicating his 2011 campaign, we have to believe that the young bullpen arms will continue to be effective and that Escobar and Perez will hit enough to justify their outstanding defensive abilities.   For one, I will be shocked if Danny Duffy is not significantly better in 2012, but what the hell do I know?

The Royals could go ‘all in’ right now and have a decent justification for doing so.   Just know, that there is no trade scenario for the kind of pitcher they will need that does not begin with Wil Myers or Mike Montgomery and won’t end until there are three more names on the list – all of which even the people on Facebook have heard of.    That is all fine and good until Cain strikes out 172 times, Gordon hits .277, Moustakas hits 16 home runs instead of 32 and Eric Hosmer is a ‘nice player’ but not an ‘All-Star’.

Yeah, Cabrera for Sanchez was easy.  It gets hard from here on out.

xxx