As part of TSN.ca's 2013 MLB Season Preview, we will be rolling out stories this week on five pressing questions facing the Toronto Blue Jays this season. The second question facing the team: What type of season should be expected from outfielder Melky Cabrera?
It's not every day that a team can add a reigning All-Star MVP with a .346 average via free agency.
It's even rarer to do so for under $10 million per year.
But those two facts do not factor in the entirety of Melky Cabrera's 2012 campaign.
The Toronto Blue Jays landed the 28-year-old Dominican early on in the free agent period, less than a week after re-shaping its roster and identity through a blockbuster with the Miami Marlins.
The Jays acted quickly on a player that – despite an impressive statistical 2012 season – was forced to sit 50 games after a failed drug test.
Cabrera – aside from a shady attempt at a web-based cover-up – took the suspension in stride, sitting patiently off to the side as his Giants teammates won a World Series without his help and removed himself from consideration for the batting title that would have come his way despite the suspension.
The Jays got Cabrera on a bargain based on his 2012 numbers, but which Cabrera should the Jays expect in their order in 2013?
Looking at Cabrera's 2012 numbers (113 GP, 11 HR, 60 RBI, .346/.390/.516) it's clear that his performance was enhanced. But if the Jays get Cabrera performing somewhere around his prior numbers, is the investment worth the risk?
His 2012 season aside, Cabrera is still a career .275 hitter. He's a player with an on-base percentage that has fluctuated between .315 and almost .340 when eliminating the high and low water marks (and, again, eliminating his 2012 numbers entirely) that has plenty of experience with the American League East, having patrolled the Yankees outfield for his first four Major League seasons.
The Jays plan to look to Cabrera to bridge the gap between Jose Reyes explosive lead-off potential and the power pack of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
If he can get on base regularly or, at worst, move Reyes into scoring position when he reaches, the Jays line-up becomes significantly more dangerous than 2012 when the club got a combined .241 average out of its one-two hitters and had a sub-.300 on-base percentage from the lead-off spot.
However, despite decent career averages for a projected number-two hitter, his numbers – prior to 2011 with the Kansas City Royals – were nowhere near All-Star calibre. Over that span, Cabrera averaged eight home runs, 54 RBI, 10 steals and almost 60 runs scored per season.
He is one failed PED test away from a 100-game suspension.
So, what should the Jays realistically expect out of Melky?
TSN.ca's Scott MacArthur has been following the Jays all season and believes that acquiring Cabrera was a positive move for the team.
He writes: "I'll start by saying that I liked this signing when it happened and I like it as much, or more, now. The two-year, $16-million contract is a low-risk, high reward scenario for the Blue Jays. I'll explain that in a moment. I also believe in second chances; Cabrera served his 50-game suspension for performance enhancing drug use and now we should all move on.
Cabrera's 16th game this season will be the 1,000th of his career and so we have a good sample size when trying to determine how he'll do. Cabrera's a career .284 hitter with a .338 on-base percentage. He's got above-average speed and a plus arm in the outfield, which we've seen in Grapefruit League play.
The deal is low risk because of its two-year term; the Blue Jays can walk away in a couple of seasons if Cabrera falls off the table. The money seems absurd to us nine-to-fivers but in baseball it's a pittance, especially when you consider Buster Olney's report earlier this month that Cabrera was closing in on a $75-million extension with the Giants at the time of his suspension.
The deal has potential for high reward if Cabrera produces and I believe he will. I think Cabrera hits .275 with 10 home runs, 65-70 RBI and he'll steal a dozen or so bases.
Cabrera is a proven commodity and a better fit than a younger player (like Anthony Gose) for a team trying to win it all now."
What do you think?
Which Cabrera should the Blue Jays and their fans expect to see in the lineup this year? What kind of numbers would he have to produce to make the signing a good deal for the team?
As always, it's Your! Call.