The possibility of Melky Cabrera as a "fallback option" for the Orioles does not seem overly enticing. Well, why is that?
Cabrera, 30, is a corner outfielder with a career wRC+ of 102. He was a relatively light hitter until 2011, when he posted a 118 wRC+ for the Royals. Until then, he had yet to produce a season with a wRC+ above 98.
After being traded from the Yankees to the Braves, Cabrera put up a 77 wRC+ in 147 games in 2010, while playing pretty bad defense as well. The Braves then released him, and he was picked up by the Royals. Cabrera had a strong 2011, as noted above, but was shipped to the Giants in exchange for Jonathan Sanchez. Cabrera went on to post even better numbers in 2012 -- a fantastic 151 wRC+ in 113 games -- and then was suspended 50 games for testing positive for testosterone. As a free agent, he signed a two-year deal with the Blue Jays -- his fourth team in four years. In an injury-prone 2013, he was awful (86 wRC+ in 88 games), but in a healthier 2014, he rebounded with a 125 wRC+ in 139 games.
Since 2006, Cabrera has played in at least 88 games every season. In those nine years, he's posted an fWAR below zero twice. He has had one 0 fWAR season. He also has seasons with fWARs of 0.5, 1.4, and 1.6. And the other three? 2.6, 3.7, and 4.5. The latter three fWAR seasons came within the last four years -- 2014, 2011, and 2012, respectively -- with a -0.9 fWAR 2013 sandwiched between.
Cabrera is a much improved hitter from when he was younger, but he doesn't bring many other skills to the table. By Ultimate Zone Rating, he's a -13.3 defender in left field in more than 4,500 innings. He also has a -24.9 UZR in more than 4,500 innings in center field and has been about average (-0.3) in 625 innings in right field. Per Defensive Runs Saved, Cabrera is average (0) in right field, -20 in center field, but is +9 in left. However, in 2006 and 2007, he was a combined +20 defender in left (in New York), but hasn't had a DRS above +1 since -- and has been a negative defender the last three seasons. Also, on the basepaths, he hasn't been above average for a couple seasons.
Cabrera declined the Blue Jays' qualifying offer, so signing him will require the O's to forfeit their first-round draft pick. As the O's showed last year, it makes more sense to sign multiple restricted free agents in a single year than, say, to sign one every season. Would the O's be willing to sign Cabrera and another free agent who declined the qualifying offer? That might be a lot to ask. Then again, if Nelson Cruz signs with another team, the O's will receive a compensation pick. That might soften the blow of signing someone like Cabrera. Or maybe the O's could sign Cabrera if Nick Markakis walks and then re-sign Cruz (though they'd still lose a draft pick because they didn't extend Markakis a qualifying offer).
If you believe in Cabrera's bat and don't have significant worries about his health, you'd likely endorse signing him. The 2012 suspension may be a minor concern, but as O's fans just demonstrated with Cruz, the only thing that really matters to a fan base is whether a player performs and helps a team win. Even with the ongoing circus, you don't think Yankees fans would cheer Alex Rodriguez if he manages to play well? But, unlike Cruz last season, whatever team signs Cabrera will be handing him a multiyear deal. That means more money and more risk.
The reaction to the deal Cabrera ends up signing should be fascinating. MLB Trade Rumors predicts that he'll receive a five-year deal around $66 million. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs thinks Cabrera will get a deal for three years and $39 million (and wouldn't be a fan of it). Perhaps those two are both a year off, and Cabrera will get four years.
If it comes down to four years for Cabrera or Markakis, I'd lean towards Markakis. I also feel better about Cruz despite the age difference, though giving him four years would be pushing it. But these three players shouldn't be the team's only options. Maybe the Orioles should go in a different direction.
Photo via Keith Allison