Would The Real Melky Please Stand Up
We knew Melky Cabrera was a gamble. But, at two years and $16 million, the 2012 All-Star was a risk worth taking for the Blue Jays.
Cabrera filled a void the club had in left field and at the top of its order, and came two, three (?) times cheaper on the open market than he would have had he not been hit with a 50-game ban for a failed drug test.
After hitting .346/.390/.516 last season, the belief was that the Blue Jays were getting a player much improved from the version that patrolled the outfield for the Yankees and Braves from 2005-10. Even if his '12 season was an anomaly and a year where his performance was possibly enhanced through the use of banned substances, Cabrera's numbers in the 2011 season -- the one manager John Gibbons was familiar with from his time in Kansas City -- were supposed to add a sense of security to the signing.
Cabrera posted two strong seasons in a row prior to his arrival in Toronto, and it was enough to look past his previous years of mediocrity. But the hobbling left fielder has been a bust in year one of his two-year deal.
So what can we expect from him moving forward? It's anyone's guess.
The thing with Cabrera is that we really don't know how much his play benefited from using performance-enhancing drugs, just like we don't know how much his play this season has been affected from the leg injuries he has battled.
Cabrera, a free agent after the 2014 season, is an even bigger question mark moving forward than he was eight months ago when the Blue Jays signed him.
Here's what the soon-to-be 29-year-old did from 2005-10, a span of 2657 plate appearances:
.267/.328/.379, 40 homers, 51 SB, 11.7 K%, 8.0 BB%, 6.5 XBH%, .112 ISO, .290 BABIP, .311 wOBA, 85 wRC+, 1.6 WAR.
And then his next 1207 plate appearances in 2011-12:
.322/.360/.489, 29 homers, 33 SB, 13 K%, 5.9 BB%, 9.4 XBH%, .167 ISO, .352 BABIP, .365 wOBA, 131 wRC+, 8.2 WAR.
Finally, his production with the Blue Jays in 2013 over 372 plate appearances:
.279/.322/.360, three homers, 2 SB, 12.6 K%, 6.2 BB%, 5.4 XBH%, .081 ISO, .313 BABIP, .302 wOBA, 87 wRC+, 0.9 WAR.
As you can see, Cabrera's numbers this year more resemble the player that was extra outfielder material from 2005-10 than the one that was, on average, a 4-plus WAR player in '11 and '12.
What we have seen this season is a player who can't run, can't field, and has no pop. Someone whose .279 batting average is hollow, and whose .360 slugging won't hack it as a starting corner outfielder. Cabrera's WAR ranks dead last among all qualified outfielders, and his slugging is fifth from the bottom.
Are Cabrera's wonky legs the sole contributor to his down year?
Cabrera has never been known for his power, but the lower-body injuries he has been dealing with all season long will certainly make it difficult to drive the ball with maximum authority. If he puts the leg issues behind him, will he regain the pop he had in '11 and '12, run the bases better and field his position adequately?
A singles hitter with below-average defense, which is what Cabrera has been this season, is simply not a very good player -- especially not as an everyday guy owed $8 million.
Solving the mystery as to what type of player Cabrera is, is something the Blue Jays are going to have to wait out.
Toronto is unlikely to find any suitors for him. Teams don't have the biggest appetite for a player with an inconsistent track record coming off an injury-plagued year, a season after getting busted for PEDs, with $8 million in checks coming his way.
Cabrera was very good with the Royals in 2011 and an impact piece with the Giants last season when he hit .346 and was named MVP of the All-Star Game. But he has also been a replacement-level player for much of his career.
You could do worse than rolling the dice on a potential bounce-back candidate signed for only one more year. But you could also do a whole lot better than what Cabrera has shown this season.
It's difficult to forecast the future performance of Cabrera. His past use of PEDs -- which happened to come in a career year -- make it that much more complicated.
h/t Fangraphs for stats