Cabrera, 25, was generally considered one of the top 100 prospects in the league in his time in the minors but has yet to put together an extended stretch of big league success. He made his debut in the big leagues in 2021 with seven starts, posting an ERA of 5.81 in those. In 2022, he was able to get that down to 3.01, obviously a much better number, but that came in just 14 starts as he made multiple trips to the injured list. He was probably lucky to have that ERA, as his .207 batting average on balls in play and 86.1% strand rate were both on the fortunate side of average, leading to a 4.59 FIP and 4.68 SIERA.
Here in 2023, Cabrera was able to stay healthy for the first half of the season. He did land on the IL in mid-June due to right shoulder impingement, returning after just over a month. His 17 starts and 77 innings are already personal highs at the major league level, and he’s getting strikeouts at a strong 27.6% rate as well as grounders at a 54.4% clip. But he’s paired those with a 15.4% walk rate, the highest such rate of any pitcher with 70 innings pitched this year, almost a full percentage point beyond Alek Manoah’s 14.6% rate. Despite a solid combination of strikeouts and grounders, those control issues have Cabrera’s ERA at 4.79 for the year.
Despite once having a rotation surplus, the Marlins have seen that thinned out this year. They traded Pablo López to the Twins in the offseason and currently have Trevor Rogers and Max Meyer on the 60-day IL. Their rotation mix is now Sandy Alcantara, Jesús Luzardo, Johnny Cueto and Braxton Garrett. With Cabrera nudged out, it’s possible that his spot goes to Ryan Weathers, who was just acquired from the Padres in the Garrett Cooper trade yesterday. Eury Pérez has been optioned himself to monitor his workload, but he could be back up at some point.
This option will likely put the Marlins and Cabrera in a bit of a bind since he only has one option season remaining. Once he spends 20 days on optional assignment, he will burn that last option, meaning he will enter 2024 out of options unless he’s quickly recalled in the coming weeks. It’s unlikely to affect his path to free agency, as he came into this season with 168 days, just under the 172 required for a full year. He’s already gone well beyond that one-year mark, though his chances of reaching Super Two status after 2024 might slip depending on how long he’s in the minors.
The Marlins have a bit of time to decide what to do. If they still believe Cabrera is capable of reining in his control and taking a step forward as a major league starter, they can keep him in that role. Cueto is likely to return to free agency this winter as his $10.5MM club option for 2024 will probably be spurned in favor of a $2.5MM buyout, since he’s mostly been injured and not at his best this year. That could reopen a spot for Cabrera next year, though Rogers and Meyer might be healthy and back in the mix by then as well.
If they think his true future is in the bullpen, they could consider giving him some time in that role now so that he goes into 2024 with a bit of preparation, but doing so would give them a bit less starting depth for the final months of this season. Once the offseason rolls around, they could perhaps pursue trading Cabrera to a rebuilding club with more willingness to give him a starting job at the big league level, though that will be an avenue to pursue in the future. For now, the Fish seem to be at a turning point with the former prospect, which will be an interesting situation to monitor.