Rockies, Royals Swap Guthrie, Sanchez

Jeremy Guthrie and Jonathan Sanchez — both acquired in deals this past offseason — were supposed to help the Rockies and Royals, respectively, find some stability in their rotations. That never really played out however, and on Friday the two teams engaged a rare double change-of-scenery deal.

The deal had a time component to it. After designating Sanchez for assignment on Tuesday, the Royals needed to move quick if they were going to be able to salvage any value out of it. The cynic would say that in acquiring Guthrie, they still didn’t, and they would have a case. Guthrie has been all sorts of awful this season, but a good portion of the awful was isolated to Coors Field. While it can be hazardous to infer too much from home-road splits, Guthrie admitted this afternoon that his pitches broke less at Coors Field. While that is not a surprising or startling revelation, as we have heard that frequently over the years, it is always interesting to hear a pitcher actually admit it. Guthrie allowed fewer homers on the road than at home, and his ERA, FIP and xFIP all were much lower in road starts this season. And while it isn’t as cut and dried as that — as Eric Seidman noted last month, Coors Field isn’t any easier or harder to hit home runs in than is Guthrie’s previous address, Camden Yards — it is perhaps a minor point in his favor.

Also working in his favor are the results he has achieved since he was re-inserted into the Rockies’ rotation in July. They have still been modest, but they are trending up. In his first 59 innings in the rotation, he allowed a 1.033 OPS, and that has come down to .891 since the start of July. Now, the second sample is just 19 innings, so let’s not get carried away, but he has been better. He managed to post consecutive quality starts for the first time since last September.

In order to record a quality start, you of course need to get through the end of the sixth inning, and in order to find two consecutive starts in which Sanchez did just such a thing, you have to go back to last May — though he did come close in June against the Brewers and Astros. And while Sanchez was roughed up pretty good in his outing this season against the Cardinals, his 5.40 interleague ERA was a heck of a lot better than his 8.84 ERA against American League teams, so perhaps getting back to the senior circuit will bode well for him.

Devout Rockies watchers will remember that this isn’t the first time that Sanchez has been on their radar screen. As far back as 2008, Colorado tried to acquire Sanchez when he was still with the division-rival Giants, but such a deal never materialized. Their interest may stem from how well Sanchez has pitched in Coors Field over the years. Looking at the tOPS+ breakdown on his Baseball-Reference splits, we find that the only park in which Sanchez has started at least 10 games and pitched better in than Coors Field is Petco Park. Despite that success, Sanchez seems pretty broken at this point. As Wendy Thurm noted on Wednesday, the difference between the velocity on his fastball and changeup has been less than six mph this year, about four mph less than what is generally accepted as a good gulf in velocity. And of the 146 starters who have tossed at least 50 innings this season, only Kyle Drabek has thrown his first pitch for a strike less frequently than has Sanchez. Oh, and his fastball velocity is down…for the third straight year. What’s more, Sanchez has been hurt this season, with the same left-bicep tendinitis that kept him out last season, which doesn’t bode well.

Neither Jeremy Guthrie nor Jonathan Sanchez held up their end of the bargain with the teams that acquired them in the offseason. Making matters much worse, the two main players for whom they were traded — Jason Hammel and Melky Cabrera — have been outstanding (and Matt Lindstrom hasn’t been too shabby either). This trade is a bit of a Rorschach test — there are markers both in favor and against success for Guthrie in Kansas City and Sanchez in Colorado. Many change-of-scenery trades are similar. The great thing about this trade is that is low-risk, high-reward for both sides. Their initial trades have already been deemed massive busts, and if the pitchers continue to pitch as such they will be forgotten quickly, as both are set to become free agents at the end of the year. However, if either is able to rekindle some of their mojo, Colorado and Kansas City may be able to find a sliver of a silver lining.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times and a writer and editor for FanGraphs. He has written for the Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

19 Responses to “Rockies, Royals Swap Guthrie, Sanchez”

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  1. Julian says:

    If Jonathan Sanchez had 2 straight quality starts last September, why do you have to go all the way back to last May (2011?) to see when he had 2 straight starts of 6IP or more? Or does that mean May 2012?

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  2. Paul says:

    With both teams firmly in the cellar, is this the first indication of the new CBA and draft rules creating incentive for MLB teams to intentionally tank like NBA teams? That is the only possible justification for this deal on Colorado’s side. Either it’s brilliant because not only do they get the first pick, as the Astros showed, the extra bonus pool money can really pay off with a supplemental pick, since Colorado should also be in the running for a competitive bonus pick. I am certain that Dayton Moore is nowhere near bright enough to try this, he’ll spin this as a chance to “get back into it.” I don’t know O’Dowd well enough to know if he should be given credit for intentionally tanking.

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    • Hmm says:

      ??? the Rockies are partially in the cellar because the “Inning Eater” they acquired last offseason has a 9.40Home ERA how is dumping him a sign they want to “intentionally tank” the season?

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    • jrogers says:

      Per Buster Olney, the Rockies are also saving $1.1 million in the deal.

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    • jfree says:

      O’Dowd is not smart enough to intentionally tank anything. If the Rockies get the 1st draft pick, it will be because he is still going for a playoff berth.

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    • Obsessivegiantscompulsive says:

      The incentive to tank has been around for a long time now, since the draft began. It is just that, for some reason, baseball teams just do not get that.

      This is probably because in baseball, the first draft pick is never like that for the other sports. There is no Kareem or Shaq or Kidd, Elway or lots of QBs, or Gretsky.

      But my study of the draft found that the odds of finding a good player, a Star type player, while bad for the first pick overall, is still four times better odds than back of first, and double that of the sixth pick. Cox got that, GMing the Braves. Unfortunately, in baseball, thereis no Shaq or Gretsky, so you still need some skill as a GM, as KC and Pitts have learned.

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      • Michael says:

        There are elite talents at no. 1.

        Just off the top of my head – Chipper Jones,Griffey Jr., A-Rod, David Price, Strasburg and Harper.

        I still don’t think teams, however, tank in baseball (they are truly awful) like they seem to do in the NBA and even the NFL at times.

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      • Paul says:

        Agree with Michael. Actually, the irony is that the players taken from the current half since the draft began has included all the hall of famers, and a lot more who are legit star players. How does Ken Griffey Jr. not compare to Shaq or Gretzky?

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      • Paul says:

        And even though you are wrong about there being no star players available at No. 1, the point is that the reason it’s a no-brainer to tank in other sports is that you have a hard slotting or cap system, like they now do also in MLB. Matt Bush was not taken because he was the best player in the draft.

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  3. Alexandra says:

    A real lateral move. Suckage for suckage. Hard to believe Jonathan Sanchez once very nearly threw a perfect game (though maybe since Armando Galarraga did likewise, it’s not SO aberrant).

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  4. Oscar says:

    In related new, I just got Dayton Moore to trade me a pencil broken in half for chewed stick of gum. Think I came out on top …

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  5. derek says:

    Hey this kind of trade worked great for Carlos Silva and Milton Bradley! *sarcasm off

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  6. Ralph says:

    Are change of scenery trades really that rare? There’ve been several in the past 12 months alone. Kelly Johnson for Aaron Hill seemed to work out fairly well for both sides. And the Rockies themselves were involved in the Ian Stewart for Tyler Colvin deal, which has turned out nicely for them so far.

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  7. Pinstripe Wizard says:

    I like this move for the Royals. I don’t think they could’ve got a much better return for Sanchez at this point. Guthrie is, at the very least, a veteran starter that eat innings. Granted win/loss record isn’t an exact science, but Guthrie is 12-12 in his career against the rest of the AL Central, compared to 38-63 against all other teams.

    A not so brief rant on Sanchez: Something about Sanchez didn’t work in KC. While his fastball velocity has been duly noted, I think part of it has to be mental. He went from a contender to a perennial cellar dweller, so perhaps he just doesn’t pitch well in games he deems insignificant. Look at some of his best performances. Granted his no-hitter was against San Diego, but his dad was there to watch him pitch in the big leagues for the first time. Two of his other great games that I can remember were a 2 hitter against the Phillies and that 12 K game against the Dodgers in 2010. Both of those games were in the middle of a pennant race against a really good team and Sanchez’s biggest rival. You could argue that he was more focused because of the significance of those three games.

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