Should the Indians Trade Asdrubal Cabrera?

With the bases loaded and the Indians trailing by 3 with only 1 out, Asdrubal Cabrera strolled to the plate in a high leverage situation. He took a lazy swing in a 1-0 count and grounded weakly into a double play to end both the inning and rally.  At the establishment I was watching the game from, a guy behind me screamed “we need to ****in' get rid of this guy. He is the most boring player on the team!”

Over the past 3 seasons, the Indians have made it clear on their intentions to “****in' get rid of this guy” by trading Cabrera. For one reason or another, no deal has been able to come to fruition. Whether it was lack of talent coming back in return or the organization’s simple reluctance to part ways with the shortstop,  he has been a member of the Cleveland Indians despite the rumors. This offseason should not be any different.

Looking at this career numbers, Cabrera is the definition of the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none player. As the chart below suggests, he is a league average player at every aspect of the game. Let’s start with his offense including the league average from 2007-2013:





























He strikes out about twice as often as he walks, but he doesn’t do either in particularly large quantities. He has some power, but he’s not a big time home run guy. His balls in play go for hits just slightly more often than average, but not enough to drastically alter his overall line. And he’s basically an average runner once he gets on base, being fast enough to steal some bases but not fast enough to avoid getting thrown out. Of course, having a shortstop who can produce league average offense is quite valuable, since shortstops as a whole are generally bad hitters.

Offense isn’t the only thing a player does to add value, and Cabrera’s skills are being pushed to the limit by sticking him at short. In 5,479 innings at the position in his career, he’s racked up a -43 UZR, which grades out to about -11 runs per full season. Those -11 runs have cost the Indians roughly one win in the standings per full season. There’s a general consensus here that Cabrera gives back a decent amount of the value that comes from playing shortstop by being quite poor relative to other players at the position defensively.

With his defensive information from above, it’s probably better to look at him as an average 2B or 3B who has just been playing out of position since 2007. In fact, this is one of the reasons that other organizations are reluctant to strike a deal with the Indians: An average hitting, average fielding 2B/3B is basically the definition of an average player.

The main concern with Cabrera moving forward is how to explain his 2013 season. An initial look at the numbers would indicate that he is projected to rebound as he ran into the worst luck in his career this past season. His .283 BABIP and -1.6 wFB were easily the lowest of his career. What this translates to is that Cabrera’s batted balls in play after making contact with a fastball rarely got through any holes for hits. Since neither of those two statistics have high correlation from year to year, I would expect them to climb back towards the mean in 2014.

However, the biggest reason for worry was Cabrera’s impatience at the plate. He swung at nearly 35% of pitches that were thrown outside the strike-zone. That is up from his career average of 29%. In addition, he also both swung less and made fewer contact at pitches inside the strike-zone. These two are indicators that he simply did not see the ball well for whatever reason. Since neither of these are an overall declining trend in his career, we will chalk it up to Cabrera having a bad year.

Because Cabrera’s offense has been a little better than average the last few years with the exception of last season, he’s been more of a +3 win player than a +2 win player, and perhaps its fair to expect him to sustain that level of performance for the next couple of years. In fact, several of the early projection systems that are available to the public have Cabrera around +3 wins next season. But even as a +3 win player, he’s more of a nice piece than any kind of true star. With him getting paid $10 million next season, Cabrera’s a value relative to the market. A +3 win player is probably worth around $15 million per year, so Cabrera’s getting paid $5 million less than what he’s worth for next season. This makes him a bit of a bargain.

With Francisco Lindor still in development mode, it makes sense to at least start the season with Cabrera at SS. If Cabrera rebounds to have another average season in 2014, you could package him in a deal at the deadline and hand the position off to Lindor. If he is dealt before July 31, 2014, the organization would certainly be selling low considering the regressed season of a year ago.

Mike Melaragno

About Mike Melaragno

A 2010 graduate of Lee University, Mike loves writes about the game he loves most-- baseball. From an early age, he learned to live and die with the Tribe-- mostly die. Died a little when they lost the 1997 World Series in extra innings; died a lot when they were one game away from advancing to the fall classic in 2007 but fell to the Red Sox in game seven of the ALCS. He currently resides in Northeast Ohio.