19 February 2015

The Orioles Keep Adding Fringy Middle Infielders

Despite signing shortstops Rey Navarro (major league deal) and Paul Janish (minor league deal) in November, the Orioles have recently agreed to terms with another infielder and are close to signing yet another shortstop. A couple days ago, the Orioles agreed to terms with Jayson Nix on a minor league deal. Nix is a Ryan Flaherty type -- a utility infielder who can fill in adequately enough (at least defensively) at second base, shortstop, and third. But it was reported yesterday that the Orioles are also close to a deal with Everth Cabrera.

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.

Everth Cabrera
Unfortunately, Cabrera also comes with some on- and off-the-field issues, as several reporters have noted. In 2013, he was suspended 50 games as part of MLB's Biogenesis investigation. Then last November, he was arrested and charged with resisting arrest after being stopped by police for driving under the influence of marijuana. Craig Calcaterra noted that Cabrera was also charged with domestic violence in 2012 (he was accused of  “assaulting his wife by hitting her in the face with a closed fist and slamming her head against the wall”), though the charges were eventually dropped. Considering the O's were willing to take a (low-risk) chance on Delmon Young last season, it's not surprising they'd consider Cabrera.

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


Statistics Don't Lie said...

About 30 years ago the Orioles made a mistake in acquiring a 2B from San Diego, Alan Wiggins. Very fast, but carried baggage (can't remember specifics anymore). Hopefully, Everth can turn it around when Alan could not.

Philip said...

Isn't good defense one of Showalter's absolute must-have's?
When I researched this guy at Fangraps, I accidentally looked up Asdrubal Cabrera, and was dumbfounded by the defensive stats I saw.
When I located the right guy, the defensive stats weren't much better.
This guy does not defend better than Flaherty, much less Schoop.
And his career offenses not that much better than either, career year excepted.
When one adds in his repeated "mistakes"
I can't see how this is it pick it worth making, especially at the cost.

Philip said...

I apologize for the repeated typos in that comment, I wish this site had an edit feature

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I guess the hope is that Cabrera will perform better at second base, where he could at least compete for playing time (barring a J.J. Hardy injury at shortstop). But he hasn't played much second base, and Schoop has looked pretty good defensively.

Schoop has been really bad offensively, however, so the O's seem to be working to round up some infield/utility competition. And that's just fine. Schoop will likely be given the chance to show he can stick at second full time and improve offensively, but he shouldn't be left alone there the entire season if he again posts an OBP around .240.

Joe Reisel said...

#Stats - Alan Wiggins had drug problems and died at age 32.

Matt Perez said...

Steve Melewski reported that Jim Duquette thinks Cabrera has plus range and is a good defender with issues throwing the ball in the past.

Basically, he has a legitimate chance to be a quality utility infielder and can play some outfield in a pinch. He can be used as a platoon bat against left handed pitching. He also is a potential pitch runner late in games.

I don't think that's worth $2.4M especially with his issues but I can see what he brings to the table.

Erik said...

As I recall, Wiggins was an outfielder converted to second base. He at least had a reason for being awful as a defender.

As far as Cabrera, he appears to be in the running for the emergency guy in case Hardy gets injured. The Orioles may really not want to move Machado to shortstop with the knee issues.

Showalter likes to have players that can provide some above-average dimension that he can apply in a game. The ability to steal a base could be an element to contribute from the bench.

The Orioles stood pretty pat this offseason in the face of departures. This is what it comes down to.

Anonymous said...

Alan Wiggins biggest problem was drugs, which eventually killed him. He once stole 120 bases in a minor league season in the late 1970s. I first saw him in a game I think providing funds for the family of Lyman Bostock in LA in 1981 just after he had been traded from the Dodgers to the Padres. He was the fastest runner I've ever seen, pole thin and still wearing a Dodgers uniform. He signed a ball for me which I still have. When he came to the majors he still stole some bases, but got thrown out a lot.

Anonymous said...

Re: Wiggins. AIDS sucks.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me or does anyone else's eyes hurt when reading the white text against the black background? It happens every time with me.

Anonymous said...

Clearly, O's brass isn't enamored with either Schopp or Flaherty and are keeping all of their options open at 2B. Cabrera will be another option at that base and can spell Hardy when he (likely) will get his recurring back spasms...

Anonymous said...

Hopefully Cabrera is no longer beating up women and taking illegal drugs.

Anonymous said...

If you think back to the last week of August the O's had nobody that could steal a base outside of Adam Jones.

Now they have two in DeAza and Cabrera. Also mirrors a little of what KC could do with speed.

While I dont want to diminish EC's past, the reality is what can he do for this team under a one year deal? He offers speed, a super utility option, a possible leadoff option, a platoon partner, JJ Hardy DL insurance and someone to push Flaherty off the roster or JS to Norfolk until he proves he belongs.

So on the face of it its an interesting move late in the offseason. We didnt add a HR option like Cruz but maybe a SB option that we havent had in awhile.

Like the risk/reward.