Charlie Wilmoth (MLB Trade Rumors) is reporting that the Rays have signed 29 year-old middle infielder Asdrubal Cabrera. Though all the specifics of the contract have not been announced, the initial reports have pegged the acquisition as a one year deal, which would typically require a higher dollar amount hence the $8MM figure Joel Sherman reported earlier (Twitter link).
Both Yunel Escobar and Ben Zobrist have been tied to trade rumors, and this move could signal that a deal is in the works for either player. Personally, I see the former getting dealt over the latter — Escobar has been seen as former Manager Joe Maddon, and former President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman’s pet project. The Rays also explored a deal with the Athletics for Escobar last season, yet they inevitably withdrew his name from the waiver wire at the last minute.
It was written elsewhere at the beginning of the month,
Should he be dealt, Escobar’s removal from the roster would not be entirely painful. He could be functionally replaced by Nick Frankin or Logan Forsythe, or maybe even 33-year old Ben Zobrist. The first two, acquired in 2014, will be riding rookie contracts in a possible platoon role unless one can pull ahead of the other, and the Rays would likely try to keep their youth on the left side of the infield, and allow Zobrist to continue to showcase his defense at second.
Framed in the context of trading Escobar, this move seems sensible — especially when you consider the following:
- Trading Zobrist now is, essentially, conceding the 2015 season before it even starts.
- Steamer projects that both Escobar and Cabrera will produce similarly, culling a 1.5 +WAR. He also projects to a 100 wRC+ in 2015 — a shade ahead of Escobar — with a higher ISO (.146 vs .090) and possibly twice the home run tally. With a career .307 BABIP (.283 in 2013, and .272 in 2014), Cabrera pans out to be a middle infielder who, when compared to Escobar (.300 career, .281 in 2013, .282 in 2014), is more productive.
- Relying upon Cabrera, while trading Escobar, gives the Rays flexibility to shed $19MM from the payroll over the next three seasons, while creating another spot in the middle infield for the tandem of Nick Franklin and Logan Forsythe — and creating room for Ryan Brett, Hak-Ju Lee, or Tim Beckham in 2016.
- The Rays also lose the risk of decline associated with Yunel’s age.
- Finally, a great point was written on another blog, the Rays will pay $3MM (the difference between Cabrera and Escobar’s contracts) for the ability to acquire $7 million value (in the form of either a fringe-top-100 pitching prospect or several lower-ranked prospects).
On its own, however, the deal doesn’t entirely make sense. The Rays are a team that place a great amount of emphasis on defense, and well…Cabrera is not known for his fielding work. Per FanGraphs, Cabrera totaled -7 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) last season between the middle infield positions, -16 as a shortstop in 2013, and an average of -22 overall. Despite the -24 DRS last season, Escobar is still on the positive end of things when you look at his career numbers.
To be frankly honest, Cabrera’s .241 BA/.307 OBP/.387 SLG/.684 OPS combined line in 553 plate appearances with the Indians and Nationals last season really doesn’t bolster the Rays roster. And when you consider there is no clear platoon advantage with the switch hitting Cabrera, his role in the lineup becomes murky.
The only seeming connection between Cabrera and the Rays, is the recently hired Kevin Cash, who was part of the Indians coaching staff previously. Then again, as with Yan Gomes before him, perhaps the Rays new skipper see’s something in Cabrera that we may not.
In the end, Danny Russell (DRaysBay) summed things up well,
If the Rays are nearing a trade of Ben Zobrist or Yunel Escobar the signing receives more credence, but that wouldn’t appear to make the Rays better or cheaper next season.
- I wrote about the trade rumors swirling around Ben Zobrist the other day.
- It was written around Thanksgiving, the Rays are able and willing to move Escobar because they have several players capable of playing shortstop on the 40-man roster (Tim Beckham, Hak-Ju Lee, Nick Franklin, and Ben Zobrist). The free agent market for shortstops still isn’t very strong, while the cost to acquire one — in terms of prospects or having to take on salary plus a prospect — is high. A team would have the opportunity to acquire Escobar for far less than say a Starling Castro, Didi Gregorious, or Zobrist and the fiscal impact would be minimal.
- It is common knowledge that Asdrubal Cabrera fell off the last few seasons. His wRC+ dropped below league average over the past four seasons — from 119 and 112 in 2011 and 2012, to 94 and 97 in 2013 and 2014. Meanwhile he started hitting a lot more catchable fly balls and his strikeout rate went up, due in part because he started swinging at more balls up and outside the zone. The running theory, if Cabrera can tweak his swing and change his approach at the plate, he could be a real presence for the Rays next season. Jason Hanselman (Dock of the Rays blog) took a look at Cabrera at the plate, giving the readers an in depth analysis of how he’s fared against certain types of pitches, among other things. It’s worth the read.