KANSAS CITY, Mo. So if it turns out you swapped a doper for clunker, who wins the final recount?
Jonathan Sanchez cheated you out of your enjoyment, out of your hard-earned ticket money. Melky Cabrera cheated the game.
Sanchez played baseball wretchedly. Cabrera played it brilliantly, but only after signing over his soul first.
Sanchez is a pariah in Kansas City. Cabrera is a pariah in every Major-League ballpark.
Sanchez seemed almost too gifted to be this wretched. Cabrera seemed almost too good to be true. Which, in hindsight, he was.
The former Kansas City Royals outfielder, now with the San Francisco Giants, was slapped Wednesday with a 50-game suspension for testosterone use. That put the kibosh on a number of things the Giants' postseason hopes, Cabrera's integrity, and what was shaping up to be a massive "walk" year for the free-agent-to-be: a .346 average, 159 hits, 25 doubles, 10 triples and 11 home runs in 113 games.
All of which, it seems, was a fraud. Wasn't it? We can say that now, right? An illusion. Phony baloney. The "real" Cabrera is apparently a .265-270-ish type with so-so peripherals, a strong arm, and OK speed, not this .340-something doubles machine who launches line drives straight enough to hang your laundry on. At 28, Melky is the second coming of Carlos May, not Willie Mays.
In Kansas City, where Cabrera had become almost as revered by his absence as he was at AT&T Park for his presence, the reaction was mostly shock and disappointment. The switch-hitting Dominican had seemingly regained his swing here during the summer of 2011 Melky posted career highs in average (.305) and home runs (18) after having been tossed onto the scrap heap by Atlanta to say nothing of his mojo.
"(It was) a combination of a lot of things," Cabrera said through a translator last month while in town for All-Star festivities. "First of all, my off-season workout. I dedicated four months to work. (And) the opportunity my manager had given me every single day I just thank God to have (had) the opportunity to play."
As far as Royals brass are concerned, no test results indicated anything fishy during Melky's comeback year. Conspiracy theorists may raise a few eyebrows over that last bit, of course, pointing to Cabrera's .269 career average over five seasons with the New York Yankees compared to his .322 mark during the past two campaigns. The brisket at Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue is all kinds of heavenly, but not heavenly enough to tack 50 points onto your baseball card.
While suspicion will likely dog The Melk Man for the rest of his days, Wednesday might have finally parted the dark clouds of baseball karma that've followed Royals general manager Dayton Moore around since he shipped Cabrera to San Fran last November for Sanchez and minor-leaguer Ryan Verdugo.
The deal was generally praised, at first, given the Royals' surplus of young outfielders Lorenzo Cain was already in the fold and Wil Myers seemed to be on the way and the fact that Melky had reportedly declined the club's offer of a contract extension. Moore was using a position of strength to try and help shore up an area of weakness. It made perfect sense.
Only once the curtain lifted, everything that could go wrong for the deal from a Kansas City perspective pretty much did. As Cain missed the entire first half of the season with a groin injury, Cabrera became a cult legend in Northern California; got voted as a starter for the National League All-Star team; then celebrated his return to Kauffman Stadium for the Mid-Summer Classic by belting a home run and taking home Most Valuable Player honors. To top it all off, Sanchez was abysmal, posting a 1-6 record and a 7.76 ERA in 12 starts.
On July 20, the erratic lefty was dealt to Colorado for another arm that badly needed a change of scenery, right-handed innings-eater Jeremy Guthrie. As Melky kept on raking, the locals in Kansas City kept on cursing their luck.
But hindsight can be funny, unpredictable beast; after this week, the victors in the Cabrera-Sanchez deal aren't nearly so clear-cut. Sanchez is long gone. Cabrera is stuck in baseball purgatory. And following the Royals' 5-0 win over Oakland on Tuesday, Guthrie has run his streak of scoreless innings up to 15 the longest of his career. The only locals cursing are the ones by the Bay.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org