The Indians have a few major questions that must be addressed this offseason and one of the most crucial decisions centers around two-time All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.
Cabrera is set to earn $10 million in 2014 (about $9.5M more than he was worth this past season) before hitting the free agent market. If the Indians think they can compete again in 2014, and that Cabrera can be a valuable piece of the puzzle, they can simply hold on to him and pick up the compensatory pick when he inevitably signs elsewhere following the season.
However, since the Indians hope their window of opportunity spans more than just one season (and I think we have to assume the front office believes it spans the length of the Bourn/Swisher contracts) trading Cabrera might actually make the most sense.
But what is he worth?
The 2013 version of Cabrera is worth next to nothing. He became just the third Indians middle infielder since 1990 with at least 400 plate appearances to post an on-base percentage below .300, joining Josh Barfield (2007) and Felix Fermin (1990).
But, unlike Fermin and Barfield, Cabrera was a liability at the plate and in the field.
Of the 24 Indians middle infielders with an OBP under .300, only four also posted a Defensive WAR in the negatives – Jack Heidemann (1970), Chico Salmon (1966), Bill Wambsganss (1915) and Cabrera.
I know some fans may still be enamored with Cabrera’s web gems, but remember that great defensive plays are often made possible by a lack of range.
To better put into perspective just how horrific Cabrera was in the field this season, consider this: his -16 Defensive Runs Saved was worse than all shortstops aside from Oakland’s Jed Lowrie and a full 16 DRS worse than Jhonny Peralta! In fact, as bad as Peralta was in Cleveland (he never posted a positive DRS value in a full season at shortstop, Cabrera’s -16 was more than twice as bad as Peralta’s worst effort (-7).
So does Cabrera have any value on the trade market?
Given his past success, the Indians could potentially dump him on someone willing to take a risk, but they may not be able to get much in return – and certainly nothing of immediate value.
Prior to the season, when there were rumors of St. Louis possibly being interested, I had hoped that either Shelby Miller or Trevor Rosenthal could be included in a deal –both quality prospects ready to contribute immediately. But after his 2013 campaign, no team would be willing to part with such prospects for one, possibly terrible, year of Cabrera.
What further hurts Cabrera’s value on the trade market is the fact that his decline appears to be an actual decline in skills, rather than just a statistical fluke.
Ups and downs in statistics can sometimes be attributed to fluctuations in batting average on balls in play, which has been shown to be almost entirely luck (with the exclusion of home runs, which is a proven skill). In 2013, Cabrera’s BABIP dropped by over .020 points, indicating that he may have suffered slightly from balls simply not bouncing his way.
However, Cabrera’s contact rate also dropped significantly, especially on off-speed pitches, which is an entirely skill-based statistic.
Take a look at Cabrera’s contact rate by zone against curveballs and sliders from this past season, compared to the previous two years.
It’s difficult to speculate as to the reason for Cabrera’s decline, but something is obviously wrong. How much a team would be willing to part with in order to obtain Cabrera would all depend on how confident they are in their coaching staff’s ability to revive his career.