Royals get Jonathan Sanchez from Giants for Melky Cabrera

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Suddenly the Royals’ lack of interest in signing Melky Cabrera to a contract extension makes even more sense, as Kansas City has traded the outfielder to San Francisco for left-hander Jonathan Sanchez and pitching prospect Ryan Verdugo.

Cabrera is coming off a career-year and the Giants can certainly use lineup help, but he hit just .260 with a .319 on-base percentage and .372 slugging percentage during the previous three seasons. He’s in his prime at age 28, but Cabrera is also a prime candidate to regress significantly in 2012 and will be a free agent next offseason.

Sanchez is the opposite story, as he struggled this season after a strong 2010 that saw him throw 193 innings with a 3.07 ERA and 205 strikeouts. He also walked a league-high 96 batters even while faring well overall and this year Sanchez posted a 4.26 ERA with 66 walks in 103 innings. Verdugo is a marginal prospect, so this is pretty close to a one-for-one swap and I like the move more for the Royals.

They’re stacked with young position players and need rotation help, so buying low on Sanchez is smart and as a 28-year-old with a 4.27 ERA and 669 strikeouts in 646 innings as a starter he still has plenty of upside if they can get him to throw strikes. And if not he might be a late-inning bullpen option. Cabrera is a solid all-around player and was much more valuable than Sanchez in 2011, but the Giants are buying high on someone who’s more often than not been fourth outfielder-quality.

This move also opens the door for Lorenzo Cain as the Royals’ starting center fielder, assuming they don’t rekindle those trade talks with the Braves for Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado.

Jose Canseco to join NBC Sports California as an A’s analyst

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Hey, I have a new coworker: Jose Canseco has been hired by NBC Sports California as an Athletics pregame analyst.

OK, maybe he’s not technically a coworker, as the folks at NBC Sports California — formerly CSN Bay Area — and I do not hang out at the water cooler, have potlucks in the conference room or exchange secret Santa gifts at Christmas time, but dang it, I’m gonna TELL people I work with Jose Canseco. The only downside will be people assuming that, because he and I are on the same team, my performance is something less than authentic. Or, perhaps, Canseco may write another book and tell all of my secrets.

Anyway, Canseco will be part of NBC Sports California’s A’s Pregame Live and A’s Postgame Live shows. Live TV can be hard. I’ve done a bit of it, and there is certainly more to that gig than meets the eye. You can’t always prepare for what happens on the fly. I’m sure Canseco will do well, however, as he’s great with coming up with the best stuff off the top of his head.

2017 Preview: Cleveland Indians

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Cleveland Indians.

The Cleveland Indians almost won the World Series without their best hitter for the whole season and two of their starting pitchers for the playoffs. This year that hitter — Michael Brantley — is back and the starters — Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar — are healthy. Oh, and they added arguably the best free agent bat available in Edwin Encarnacion.

Baseball teams love to downplay their expectations, but given where the Indians are at the moment, anything less than another American League Pennant will have to feel like a disappointment, right? Fortunately for the Indians, they stand as the favorites to do just that.

They didn’t lose much in the offseason. Yes, World Series hero Rajai Davis is gone, but the Indians outfield will be fine if Brantley remains healthy. Mike Napoli‘s loss will be felt but it will be made up for with Encarnacion’s bat and probably then some. Coco Crisp left too, but he was not a key part of the equation.

The biggest losses are guys from last year who will start the year on the disabled list, most notably Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. Kipnis is just starting to work out following time off to rest his sore shoulder. Chisenhall ran into a wall the other day and is being evaluated. There is no sense that either will miss extended time, however.

Otherwise, the lineup should score a lot of runs, with on-base machines Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor setting the table for Encarnacion, Brantley and Carlos Santana, who is entering his walk year. The Indians trailed only the Red Sox in runs scored in the American League last year and they should score a lot of runs this year as well.

The strength of the club, however, remains its pitching. Corey Kluber looked like his old Cy Young self last year, particularly in the playoffs. Danny Salazar built on his excellent 2015 season in the first half before falling prey to injury. Carlos Carrasco posted an ERA+ of 141 before breaking his hand and Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer both stood out for fourth and fifth starters.

The bullpen is excellent too, as relief ace Andrew Miller is joined by Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and newcomer Boone Logan make up one of the relief corps in baseball.

Pitcher health is probably the biggest uncertainty for any contender, but the Indians have the best pitching in the AL if everyone stays healthy. And maybe even if one or two guys don’t.

It’s hard to find much fault with the 2017 Cleveland Indians. They are the class of their division and, while the slog of the regular season turns a lot of surefire contenders into hash before it’s all said and done, there is no reason to look at the Indians right now and think of them as anything other than the best team in the American League.

Prediction: First place, American League Central.