26 November 2014

Should Melky Cabrera Be the O's 'Fallback Option'?

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.

2005 20 NYY 6 19 0 .211 .211 .211 .421 14
2006 21 NYY 130 524 7 .280 .360 .391 .752 95
2007 22 NYY 150 612 8 .273 .327 .391 .718 88
2008 23 NYY 129 453 8 .249 .301 .341 .641 68
2009 24 NYY 154 540 13 .274 .336 .416 .752 93
2010 25 ATL 147 509 4 .255 .317 .354 .671 83
2011 26 KCR 155 706 18 .305 .339 .470 .809 121
2012 ★ 27 SFG 113 501 11 .346 .390 .516 .906 157
2013 28 TOR 88 372 3 .279 .322 .360 .682 88
2014 29 TOR 139 621 16 .301 .351 .458 .808 126
10 Yrs 1211 4857 88 .286 .339 .415 .754 103
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/25/2014.

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


Mitch said...

Nice article Matt. I actually asked for your opinion on the O's pursuing Cabrera so it was great to see you cover the topic. I do think Cabrera without question is an upgrade at the plate over Markakis, barring any injuries, in terms of slugging percentage and is better at getting on base. Defensively, although I've loved having Markakis in right field, he doesn't show all that well in the defensive metrics either. Melky is a switch hitter too which I think is added bonus.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Hey, thanks for reading. If Cabrera stays healthy, I think he'd be a moderate upgrade. And it's good that he's a little younger. I think he has a better chance than Markakis to be really good, but he also is more likely to be really bad, especially if he gets hurt. It's a tough call. I'm not really a fan of four years for Markakis, but I'd feel the same way about four or five years for Cabrera.

I'm still not sure why the O's didn't extend Markakis the qualifying offer. He probably wouldn't have accepted it, and it would have made losing him a bit easier to deal with.

Mitch said...

Oh I completely agree with the QO to Markakis. No way he takes it and I think it destroys his market elsewhere because he doesn't have the typical upside a team sacrificing a draft pick is looking for. Very odd they didn't do that and I think it may play out a lot like the Billy Butler scenario.

Cabrera is definitely a risk for health more than anything else. There was actually an article on ESPN a few months back explaining why Markakis and Jones are so much more valuable than their statistics suggest, durability. They are always available to play 162 and that is a very underrated value in my opinion. I just think both guys contracts will be very similar and if you're going to take a risk and overpay, I'd go with the guy with more upside at the plate which is Cabrera.

Pat Holden said...

Nice write up, Matt. I'd honestly prefer they do nothing rather than hand any of these guys a 4 year deal. For a 3 year deal, I think I'd go with your line of thinking in that Melky would be my last choice.

Mr. Brownridge said...

Why does there seem to be so little talk about Delmon Young? He hit well this year and could make for a nice DH and occasional outfielder. He could soften the blow of losing Cruz in the batting lineup as he has some power and hit for average this year.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I would say it's because 1) he wants a two-year deal, and 2) he hadn't hit that well in a season since 2010. Young was a cheap, low-risk find for the O's last year, but it's not necessarily difficult to find a platoon bench bat who is not a good defensive player. He could end up returning, but probably not for two guaranteed years.

Philip said...

Defense is important, and Melky's isnt very good.
i'm still a fan of Michael Saunders, courtesy of Matt's article(think it was Matt) but i don't really want Melky