Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera posted a breakout offensive year in 2011 with career highs in runs, hits, home runs (25, well over his record of 6 in any prior season) and runs batted in despite a decline in the 2nd half. He made the All Star team and won the shortstop Silver Slugger Award for the American League.
Asdrubal credited former Indian Orlando Cabrera with the suggestion he pick his spots and drive the ball. Good advice but will the results last? Was 2011 a rank outlier of a season or a glimpse of a robust future?
Much money, team payroll flexibility and the status of the shortstop position for the Indians over the next several years rests on the answer.
AB R H RBI HR BB K SB AVG OBP OPS
2011 season 604 87 165 92 25 44 119 17 .273 .332 .792
1st Half 358 55 105 51 14 23 66 12 .293 .347 .836
2nd Half 246 32 60 41 11 21 53 5 .244 .310 .729
Career Avg. 608 86 171 78 13 53 113 13 .281 .343 .756
Despite several highlight reel plays on SportsCenter, Cabrera rated mediocre or below average on defense (.976 fielding % v. .972 league average; -6 or below average based on number of runs allowed v. number of plays made).
Cabrera became arbitration eligible at the start of 2011 and the parties agreed on a one year contract with a substantial raise, from $ 444,600 in 2010 to $ 2,025,000.
He filed for a $ 5.2 million salary in arbitration after the 2011 season and the Indians countered at $ 3.75 million. Despite the parties’ stated willingness to execute a long term extension, negotiations broke down and Cabrera signed another one year deal for $ 4.55 million in 2012. He retains a final year of arbitration in 2013 and becomes a free agent in 2014.
During Spring Training Cabrera reiterated he wanted to remain in Cleveland but said the club made no further effort to negotiate a long term deal. Antonetti said he also remained interested in an extension, but only if the term and dollars made sense. Translation: Asdrubal is willing to stay but wants to get paid based on 2011, not his career norms. The Indians want to wait and see which Cabrera they’re buying.
The fact Cabrera has a history of poor conditioning and this Spring came to camp dumpy and out of shape with long hair in a Manny-like do-rag probably did not help jump start renewed negotiations. Nor did his .091 batting average early on (after 12 games his average climbed to .206).
What will it take to sign Cabrera long term (ie, three years)? His career numbers most closely align with Yunel Escobar and Alexei Ramirez on the following list:
SALARY CHART (from baseball-reference.com)
Age Service 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Peralta 29 7.118 5.5 6.0
Hardy 29 6.614 5.85 7.0 7.0 7.0
Aybar 28 5.086 3.0 5.075
Drew 29 5.079 4.65 7.75 10.0
Escobar 29 4.121 2.9 5.0 7.0 7.0 7.0
A. Ramirez 30 4.000 2.75 5.0 7.0 9.5 10.0
Andrus 23 3.000 452k 2.375 4.8 6.475
Cabrera 26 4.027 2.025 4.55 ? ? ?
Based on this chart, Cabrera lags slightly behind both Ramirez and Escobar in contract value although his strong 2011 closed the gap. If his performance continues, a three year extension (2013-15) would likely cost the Indians between 22-27 million. Is Cabrera worth it?
The Indians currently have no long term contracts on the books past the 2013 season. Jimenez holds a player option for 8 million but the 12 million club option with Hernandez/Carmona is gone. However, Choo, Rafael Perez, Slowey and Joe Smith become free agents along with Cabrera so money for retaining at least Choo and Smith must be available. Hafner becomes a free agent after 2012 unless the Indians exercise a 13 million club option for 2013 (doubtful unless at a reduced price).
A cautious wait and see approach is appropriate. If Cabrera has another strong year then maybe an extension makes some sense (‘sense’ is a relative term and complete misnomer in baseball economics) but only at reasonable value and for no more than 2 or 3 years. If he struggles in 2012 then the team should back away and save the resources for other moves.
Of course, failure to extend increases the Indians’ risk of losing Cabrera to free agency after 2013. But it is imperative the Indians know what they’re buying and his performance in 2012 will demonstrate whether the parting is truly painful or just necessary.
Keep in mind the Tribe’s No. 1 pick in 2011, shortstop Francisco Lindor, will be on the horizon in 2014 and the team can always keep Jason Donald as a stopgap at SS until Lindor’s arrival. Donald will make the league minimum in 2013 and start his arbitration clock in 2014 at a much lower dollar level.
The Indians have learned the hard way one good year by a player does not always an extension make. For that to change with Cabrera, he must earn the team’s trust and the money with another strong showing in 2012.
What would you do as GM of the Indians?