Too many words about Asdrubal Cabrera
Asdrubal Cabrera makes $10 million this year.
Somehow, this is a fact that floored me when somebody brought it up the other day. The hypocrisy of the hippocampus is such that a person might quickly recall the precise date of his last dental appointment but not his own social security number. There’s really no telling what the mind will deem important enough to remember, and somehow in the midst of more pressing matters – including, but not limited to, a brilliant Food Network game-show idea that I can’t reveal much about other than to say it involves the boiling of pasta, the racing of the clock and the pressure of instantaneous mental math – the particulars of Asdrubal Cabrera’s backloaded contract escaped me. My apologies.
But I do believe you’ll join me in opining that $10 million is (in the Cleveland market at least) a lot of money for Asdrubal Cabrera.
Now, this is all a relative discussion, because Cabrera has “only” made a little north of $24 million his career, to date, while providing substantially more on-field value to the Indians. And even at this stage in which his sum far exceeds far value, $10 million for roughly league-average production from your shortstop is certainly superior to, say, the $7 million spent on Brett Myers last year or the $5 million spent on Grady Sizemore in 2012 or the $28.5 million being paid to Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher in the present.
Sports salaries are often out-of-whack with reality, players are paid for past – not present – performance and the Food Network’s not returning my calls. That’s life.
All that said, as the Indians sit a game under .500 on their last off day before the Trade Deadline, dangling on that increasingly nebulous line between the “buy” and “sell” side of the equation, Cabrera’s contract has to count for something, doesn’t it?
You keep hearing things like Cabrera “has value” at this Deadline, given the sort of lackluster options in the middle infield that keep Dan Uggla employed. But it’s hard to say what this means, exactly. Chase Headley still had “value” in the trade market with a .651 OPS for the Padres, and that “value” translated to a 27-year-old journeyman named Yangervis Solarte and a 23-year-old Class A pitcher named Rafael De Paula, <i>minus</i> $1 million.
For the Padres, it was a trade weighed against the value of literally doing nothing and reaping nothing, and they acted accordingly.
For the Indians, it might amount to a different sort of equation. The value, as it were, might lie most meaningfully in the value of dumping the prorated portion (roughly $3.3 million) of that $10 million sum. That’s not a lot, but, to a club that has already committed probably 60 percent of its 2015 payroll to seven guys (one of whom is named Ryan Raburn), it’s not nothing, either.
The Indians, therefore, would be remiss not to at least explore all options with Cabrera. No, they have no immediate plans to promote Francisco Lindor, and, in fact, the odds, at present, are probably against him coming up earlier than a month or so into 2015, given the arbitration issues at stake there. But a Cabrera trade could change that equation come September, if (and only if) the Indians are still in it, and their market size and payroll realities do demand capitalizing on situations such as these.
In this trade market, Cabrera’s value might be at its height at second base, not short. The Giants, owners of the aforementioned Uggla, have a need, as do the Blue Jays, Yankees, Orioles and A’s. With Ryan Zimmerman out with a severely injured hamstring (and Anthony Rendon, therefore, back at third), the Nats might play in that market, too.
All of this lends itself to an internal examination of what Cabrera is currently worth to the Indians. Would a combo of Mike Aviles (.626 OPS) and Jose Ramirez be satisfactory enough at short if the Indians still hope to contend? Hmm. Obviously, the status quo ain’t cutting it, as the 52-53 record and sometimes-stagnant offense demonstrate, and Cabrera’s .157 average and .517 OPS in what Baseball Reference describes as “high leverage” situations (versus a .744 OPS in low leverage spots) are telling.
That said, it is hard to trade your starting shortstop without sending a message to your clubhouse that you’re conceding defeat. And you saw how well the Indians fared when he missed most of the past week with back spasms.
It will all come down to that value equation. What Cabrera is worth to other teams, in terms of prospect or big-league-ready chips, is hard to say. It was a different market and a different time, but (courtesy of Baseball Reference) look at Cabrera’s current numbers compared to those of Jhonny Peralta (who was playing third base but essentially dealt to the Tigers as a shortstop exactly four years ago today) in 2010 with the Tribe:
Cabrera: 95 games, .249 AVG, .309 OBP, .392 SLG, 9 HR, 40 RBI, 99 OPS+, minus-0.1 defensive WAR
Peralta: 91 games, .246 AVG, .308 OBP, .389 SLG, 7 HR, 43 RBI, 94 OPS+, 0.6 dWAR
Again, all markets are different, but it is worth remembering that the Indians also sent the Tigers the remainder of Peralta’s $4.85 million salary in exchange for Giovanni Soto, a wiry teenage left-hander who is currently in Double-A and, to date, has not yet distinguished himself as the most successful player to bear his own name (Geovany Soto can still rest comfortably).
So eating Cabrera’s contract might be the only way for the Indians to get even a warm body back for Cabrera at this stage. While it would be interesting to see the Indians pull off a big-leaguer for big-leaguer swap and land some back-end starting or relief help in exchange for Asdrubal, I don’t know if that’s especially realistic.
Honestly, it could be that their best option — if they do move Cabrera — is to just try to recoup some cash. But try putting that in a press release.
Another option, of course, is to keep Cabrera and see where this thing goes. On the heels of a bizarre road trip that saw the Tribe take three of four from the Tigers only to drop 5 of 7 to the Twins and Royals, it’s hard to be overwhelmingly encouraged by the playoff odds. But the league at large remains remarkably forgiving. The Indians are sub-.500 yet still just 3 ½ games back of a Wild Card spot.
You could say the Indians’ 2014 season has at least successfully sorted out that which needed sorting out on the infield front. And what I mean by that is the Tribe no longer entertains visions of carrying baseball’s first-ever third baseman/catcher/cleanup hitter hybrid in Carlos Santana, no longer wonders when or if Lonnie Chisenhall will emerge, no longer has much rational reason to believe the $56 million investment in Swisher was all that much better than the $57 million investment in Travis Hafner (though it still remains to be seen if “Brohio” enjoys longer staying power as a marketing mechanism than did “Pronkville”).
Chisenhall’s your third baseman, Santana’s your first baseman and Swisher is your switch-hitting designated hitter who should probably be a bit more restricted from the right-hand side.
Shortstop, meanwhile, is the same as it ever was – Lindor in the long frame, Cabrera in the meantime.
How much more meantime will be determined in the next few days.