Indians-turned-Nationals middle infielder Asdrubal Cabrera will finish his eighth year of MLB action at just 28 years of age, presenting a rare youthful free agent option. He can hit and play up the middle. Yet he left Cleveland as something of a disappointment, and has not generated nearly as much hype as was once expected heading into his first crack at free agency. Once expectations are moderated for reality, however, it is apparent that Cabrera remains a rather intriguing player to watch on the coming market.
Cabrera’s free agent case remains difficult to figure. Over the 2007-12 period, he slashed .279/.342/.416 while manning an up-the-middle defensive spot (mostly, shortstop). Though advanced metrics never viewed him as even an average fielder, Cabrera delivered some value on the basepaths and was at least a solid, above-average regular in the aggregate.
That account of Cabrera took something of a turn, however, more recently. Over 978 plate appearances with Cleveland since the start of 2013, Cabrera’s OPS fell beneath the .700 level, making for a below-average bat that significantly reduced his overall appeal.
Nevertheless, in need of a veteran infielder down the stretch, the Nationals made a move to acquire Cabrera at the trade deadline. Notably, the Indians agreed to pay all of Cabrera’s salary in the deal, while acquiring an interesting but little-hyped prospect in Zach Walters. On a busy deadline day, the swap looked like a relatively low-impact, gap-filling move for Washington.
Since heading to the NL East-leading Nats, however, Cabrera has looked energized. He owns a .252/.341/.443 slash in the first 133 National League plate appearances of his career, including five home runs and two stolen bases. His resulting 115 OPS+ looks much more like the marks he was putting up in his heyday. Nearly as importantly, perhaps, Cabrera has looked comfortable at second, racking up 284 errorless innings at the position.
Without question, Cabrera’s late-season run of success at the plate will have a positive impact on his free agency. He has at least suggested the possibility that he is still capable of being the hitter of old; whether he’s convinced scouts, of course, remains to be seen.
The defensive returns, on the other hand, are somewhat more ambiguous. To be sure, proving that he is capable of solidly handling the keystone is a nice feather in Cabrera’s hat. At the same time, misplays have not been the major knock on his glove. Range is the primary concern, and he’s continued (obviously, in a short sample) to receive well-below-average marks in that respect.
So, where does Cabrera fit into the middle-infield market? Things are somewhat more crowded over at shortstop, where J.J. Hardy probably sets the standard and Jed Lowrie and Stephen Drew also present possible starting-caliber options. And that assumes that Hanley Ramirez is pursued primarily as a third baseman; if enough serious bidders look at him as a shortstop, the market would look even more crowded.
But Cabrera is perhaps best positioned to benefit from a lack of options at second, given his arguably superior bat (to all but Ramirez, at least) and recent experience at the keystone. Clubs looking to add a new second bagger will find limited possibilities on the market; as things stand, Emilio Bonifacio is probably the most appealing candidate.
Cabrera also has added appeal given that he will not turn 29 until the offseason, making him the youngest shortstop-capable player available to the highest bidder. That holds significant value, particularly when viewed alongside the fact that he does not have any significant recent injury history. Cabrera will also come free and clear of draft compensation, as his mid-season trade ensures that Washington will not be able to make him a qualifying offer. Particularly given the down years at the plate from Hardy (at least in terms of power production), Lowrie (who has been better in the second half), and Drew (who has been awful since his mid-season signing), Cabrera stacks up reasonably well.
In the aggregate, though Cabrera may never take the final step forward to become a truly premium ballplayer, he has shown the ability to produce at his earlier levels and should draw fairly significant and potentially broad interest. Depending on his performance down the stretch and in the post-season, he still has some capacity to climb up free agent boards and become a sought-after asset heading out of the 2014 season.
This SS free agent market is very interesting. Hanley aside, there is no clear top candidate. Hardy is probably the best in the short term but Cabrera could be a longterm fit. Lowrie has been very consistent and provides good contact, which IMO a lot of lineups lack given the new emphasis on power and patience.
Personally, I would be happy with my Mets signing any of these three, and saving their prospects for an OF bat, opposed to taking a risk on an oft injured Tulo
Hardy has a better shot of sticking at ss long term though.
Haha. I like this comment. I’m going to say yes and no. Hardy obviously has the farthest to fall to be considered “no longer a short stop” in terms of talent. He also is closest to that fall in terms of age. The age to defensive talent ratio could potentially make it a wash
Tulo is a good player but am not willing to give up de Grom, Wheeler.
Exactly. I think a corner outfielder would be a better investment. The Mets need both. Might as well get a serviceable short stop and get a guy you can count on being in the lineup everyday for your prospects
Mr. Todd, you should never use “Asdrubal Cabrera” and the phrase “superior bat” in the same sentence.
Since 2008, he has the fifth best wRC+ among all shortstops in baseball. 1) HanRam, 2) Tulo, 3) Reyes, 4) Peralta, 5) Cabrera, 6) Jeter, 7) Lowrie, 8) Desmond …
That’s a 105 mark, so not exactly lighting the league on fire, but that’s pretty darned valuable for a shortstop. Of course, he’s the only one from that group with negative defensive value (by fWAR) over that stretch, but his bat is strong overall for the position.
If the Nats are interested in resigning him to continue at 2B I’d be for it. If he is willing. Let LaRoche walk and move Zimmerman to 1B.
It wouldn’t shock me, though I’d be somewhat surprised to see them beat the market for him if it picks up steam. Guess he’d provide some Desmond insurance, but I doubt they see him as a SS.
I could imagine the Nats trying to deal for a 3B or 2B, or adding a veteran on a short-term deal. Would have to think they’d be especially interested in a left-handed bat. Guess I could see Headley as a bounce-back guy, though given the contention window he may be too risky to rely on.
Contracts I’d love to have if I were DC: Frazier, Zobrist, Utley. Not that I see any of those happening, but all are at least hypothetically possible trade targets (if not for the Nats, in the case of Utley), and I could imagine Rizzo pouncing if an opportunity arose.
He’s been great on the Nats, but I see him getting ridiculous Jhonny Peralta like money from some dumb team. If the Nats could get him for 4 years $32MM, I’d pounce, but wouldn’t be surprised to see him get $13-15MM/yr.
would fit nicely for the A’s and 2nd but again probably won’t happen because he wants to play shortstop and Oakland doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot of cash
As bad as Stephen Drew has been this season, if I could get him cheaply enough, I would prefer to take my chances on him for one season in a platoon with Brendan Ryan, than spend a lot of money on anybody else who is going to be available. I would also like to bring back Chase Headley and Brandon McCarthy.
East Coast Bias
And finish out of the playoffs again?
With an albatross like A-Rod on the roster and no sense of whether the Yankees are on a budget or not, shortstop is not necessarily the position where the Yankees are likely to get the most bang for their buck.
They already have Ryan under contract for another year. If there is no market for Drew and the Yankees could get him as well for the same money that they are paying Ryan, I think that the odds are better that one of them could outperform their contract and provide more offensive and defensive value than either Cabrera or Hardy at $8MM-$10MM per year. Overpaying Han-Ram or trading for Jose Reyes or Troy Tulowitzki is just asking for trouble.
They could throw a lot of money at their next shortstop and still finish out of the playoffs again. I don’t know if the Yankees plan on bringing McCarthy and Kuroda back next year and/or what condition CC or Nova will be in next year and/or what they think they will get out of Shaun Greene, David Phelps, and Michael Pineda, but if I am going to spend a lot of money anywhere, it would be on signing Jon Lester or trading for Cole Hamels.
What would be the point in platooning two players who aren’t really platoon types to begin with since neither one has drastic splits and can’t hit anyway?
It would be a good starting point in dividing starts between the two of them with the hope that one overperforms expectations to the point that they earn more playing time against same-handed pitchers. If neither hit well enough to start, the Yankees could keep both of them on the bench and try Prado at shortstop and Refsnyder at 2B. My point is that I am only interested in bringing back Drew if there is no market for him and the Yankees can get him for roughly the same amount that they are paying Ryan next year.
Adderlyn De La Cruz
Why? Drew just can’t hit, he’s even worse than Mario Mendoza, i really like Brendan Ryan’s defense but the guy can’t hit, but without doubts if have to choose i’ll pick Ryan, i don’t know why bring Drew back, i hope the Yankees sign a good shortstop.
I think Cabrera signs for 3/24. The infielder market is flooded and I don’t see a team giving him an eight figure AAV.
Padres need to check into this guy.
I hope the Mets go hard after him.
thought he might be a good pickup for the Yankees for ss/2b: checked his stats at Yankee Stadium: Baseball Reference says he only 1 game there in his career???? Can anyone explain?
I think he’ll get a 3/30, just working my way back from what Peralta got last year.