Everyone knows of Miguel Cabrera‘s exploits in winning the first Triple Crown in 45 years, and likewise, everyone knows that potent bat was absent in a World Series loss to the San Francisco Giants. But the man who won the All-Star Game MVP and in large part won homefield advantage in the Fall Classic for his team, Melky Cabrera, was not a part of the festivities.
Likewise, as free-agent season has officially begun, Cabrera’s been something of a forgotten man with teams looking to retool for 2013. Nonetheless, though some of Cabrera’s numbers are suspect and his presence is something of a gamble, teams looking for outfield help would be wise not to overlook Cabrera as a viable option to help their team.
The argument against Cabrera is easy: before 2010, the offensive numbers he put up plainly weren’t very impressive. He was viewed as one of the better fourth outfielders in baseball and a defensively flexible player who dealt well with irregular at-bats. However, he was certainly never a slugger, with his best slugging percentage at .417 in 2008. He then took off in 2011 and 2012, posting OPS figures of .809 and .906.
Any team expecting to get the 2012 version of Cabrera is almost certainly going to be left wanting. Whether it was a result of testosterone use or peaking in performance in his age-27 season, last season was an absolutely outlier in a good-but-not-great career.
All that being said, Cabrera does bring valuable skills to the table, and there are indications that his 2011 performance may be repeatable.
First off, while we know that Cabrera not only tested positive for testosterone, but then participated in a very sloppy attempt to cover it up (raising character issues), one doesn’t have to look back very far for an instance of a positive test which wasn’t necessarily a harbinger of performance dropoff. They just need to look back at 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun. Braun, of course, also tested positive for testosterone after his MVP performance, and though his suspension was overturned, any applied wisdom says that Braun was a user.
However — assuming he was off the junk in 2012 – Braun’s performance did not suffer, putting up nearly identical peripheral numbers to his MVP campaign last year.
Of course, Cabrera isn’t Ryan Braun, but it does prove that there isn’t a linear relationship from positive PED test to performance dropoff. Moreover, though Cabrera didn’t and is never going to hit for the kind of power Braun has in his career, Cabrera does have one set of skills which bode well going forward: he’s avoided large strikeout numbers while showing a good, if unspectacular, eye at the plate.
What that does is it limits his downside, even if his upside remains something of a mystery given his indiscretions. Nonetheless, considering Cabrera will be in his age-28 season, he’ll still be right in the middle of his prime, and even if he won’t repeat his 2012 numbers, it’s a reasonable gamble to take that he’ll end up closer to his .809 2011 OPS (playing in the hitters’ park of Kauffman Stadium) than his .671 number in 2010.
Of course, like all players in the post-Moneyball era, Cabrera’s attractiveness will largely be dependent upon his price, but that’s exactly why he may well be an attractive option. With the PED cloud hanging over his performance the last two years and having missed most of the second half of 2012, Cabrera may have ensured that the bottom fell out of the market for him in what could have been his year to earn a big payday. It would be a surprise to see Cabrera wind up with anything longer than a one-year deal, making him a prime candidate to be some team’s calculated risk.
Considering the state of the outfield free-agent market, many teams could do a lot worse than taking on that risk.