As Joe mentioned yesterday, the Orioles "don't have many promising infielders in the upper levels of their farm system." So the O's are doing their best to bring in several infielders to compete for a bench spot. Joe already tackled the Navarro and Janish signings, so let's focus on Nix and Cabrera.
Nix has never been more than a fill-in type player. He can field well enough, but he can't hit. He has a career wRC+ of 67, and last year he was truly awful. In 91 combined plate appearances for three teams, he had a wRC+ of -8. FanGraphs had him at -1.0 WAR despite only appearing in 41 games. He is a real long shot to make the major league roster, but could provide some infield depth if he's stashed in Norfolk.
Unlike Nix, there's plenty to note about a potential Cabrera signing. First, his deal would be for one year and about $2.4 million if he passes the O's physical (no guarantees there, obviously). He also has an option remaining, meaning he comes with some added roster flexibility (something Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette value). Cabrera is under team control as well for another year, giving the O's even more flexibility if Cabrera performs well in 2015.
Unlike Nix and Janish, who are both 32, and Navarro, who is 25 but has never received a major league at-bat, Cabrera, 28, is the most noteworthy move. Navarro is still young enough to improve enough to surprise some people, but Cabrera has had some actual success in the big leagues.
Besides the games missed because of the 2013 suspension, Cabrera has battled hamstring injuries the past couple seasons. He had his best offensive year in 2013, when he batted .283/.355/.381 (114 wRC+) in 435 plate appearances. But after dealing with his suspension and returning the following season, he was terrible. In 391 plate appearances, his numbers dropped -- .232/.272/.300 (65 wRC+). Career wise, Cabrera is a decent enough hitter for a shortstop (86 wRC+). (In 2014, the average major league shortstop had a wRC+ of 87.) But Cabrera is not a plus, or even average, defender. He has a career DRS of -13 at shortstop, and a career UZR of -22.6 (-7.3 UZR/150). He could be an option to play some second base, but he's only played 80 career innings there (and only 2 innings at third).
Cabrera, however, would improve the O's overall team speed on the basepaths. He has 136 career stolen bases, and he's been successful 78% of the time (above the break-even rate of 75%). He was remarkable in 2012 (44 steals in 48 attempts) but less so the last couple years (37 for 49 in 2013 and 18 for 26 in 2014). Those aren't terrible percentages, but the Orioles also don't need baserunners who are going to run into outs. It's possible he'll never approach the raw totals from 2012 and 2013 again, but he's still above average on the basepaths, which has some value.
Are any of these major signings? No. But it's smart for the Orioles to keep trying to improve the rest of the roster, especially since the O's are not interested in paying large sums of money for star free agents. Overall team depth is important, and the O's do have some players prone to injury. The O's already seem to have a decent amount of depth; one or two of these moves should help even more.
For the most part, these minor moves are about roster flexibility. Sure, maybe Cabrera could play some second base, if he proves to be adequate enough defensively. Jonathan Schoop has really struggled against left-handed pitching for some reason, while Cabrera hits better against them. There could be a fit there. But Schoop, Flaherty, Cabrera, and Navarro all have options remaining, which could mean plenty of Norfolk shuttling. As Jeff Long said last week, "Part of out-performing expectations on a regular basis, at least in the Orioles’ case, involves wringing every last bit of value out of each roster spot at the club’s disposal." Showalter and Duquette keep an open mind when looking for any way to improve the club, and roster shuffling has become one of their favorite weapons.
Photo via Keith Allison