The Blue Jays have acquired left-hander Génesis Cabrera from the Cardinals, reports Katie Woo of The Athletic. The Cards had designated Cabrera for assignment earlier this week. In exchange, the Cards received minor league catcher Sammy Hernandez. The Jays will need to open a spot on their 40-man roster to accommodate Cabrera.
Cabrera, 26, once looked to be establishing himself as an impact relief lefty at the big league level. Across the 2020 and 2021 seasons, he made 90 appearances for the Cards with a 3.41 earned run average. He struck out 27.8% of batters faced and kept the ball on the ground at a 40.4% clip but also allowed walks at a 13.3% rate. Despite the obvious control issues, the punchouts were enough for him to move into a high-leverage role, recording 28 holds in 2021.
Things haven’t gone as smoothly for him since then, however. His strikeout rate dropped to 16.5% last year, helping his ERA climb to 4.63. This year, he’s got those strikeouts back, punching out 26.6% of hitters. But it hasn’t led to improved results, as he has a 5.06 ERA on the year. Home runs have become an increasing issue of late, as he allowed eight in the 2019-2021 period, but then eight more last year alone and another six this year.
The Cardinals are having a disappointing season and seem to be bound for some selling between now and the trade deadline. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak has been forthright about the club turning its attentions towards 2024, with various trades possible in the days to come. Cabrera got bounced off the roster ahead of time, likely due to his struggles but also because he apparently expressed some frustration with his role in St. Louis.
Despite his poors results of late, there are some logical reasons for the Jays to be interested in taking a shot. Cabrera is averaging 95.8mph on his fastball, a rare trait for southpaws. Statcast data has him in the top 10 in that category among left-handers with at least 500 pitches thrown this year. It’s also possible he has even more in the tank since he was at 97.6mph back in 2021. He also has an option remaining, which will give the Jays the ability to send him in Triple-A if they so desire.
He also relatively cheap, making $950K this season, which is barely above this year’s $720K minimum salary. He can also be retained for future seasons via arbitration, as he began this year with three years and 11 days of service time. That means he’s not slated for free agency until after 2025, and that could even get pushed back by a year if he spends some time on optional assignment. The Cards already optioned him at the start of the season, though he was quickly recalled on April 8 and stayed on the active roster until his recent DFA. If the Jays can help him get back into the form he showed a few years ago or help him rein in his command, he could be a multi-year asset for them.
The Jays have operated with Tim Mayza as their only left-handed reliever this year. He’s having a great season with a 1.10 ERA in 44 appearances, but Cabrera could give them a second option to call upon. They might make additional acquisitions before the trade deadline but Cabrera’s option means he can be a depth piece in the minors, even if he’s squeezed out of the picture at the big league level. The Jays are clear buyers, given that their 54-43 record has them tied with the Astros for the second Wild Card spot in the American League. The nearest non-playoff team, the Red Sox, are three games back of the Jays and Astros at the moment.
For the Cards, this is likely to be the first of many deals they make in the coming days, given their aforementioned seller position. Despite currently enjoying a six-game win streak, they are 8.5 games out of the playoff picture in the National League. They have various impending free agent pitchers that seem likely to be moved, such as Jordan Montgomery, Jack Flaherty, Jordan Hicks and Chris Stratton, as well as a position-player logjam that could lead to a trade.
For now, they will add Hernandez, a 19-year-old catcher. He was selected by the Jays in the 14th round of last year’s draft and has been playing in the lower levels of their farm system. He’s hit .213/.287/.367 in 42 games across two different levels this year. He hasn’t generally been considered one of the club’s top 30 prospects.