Melky Cabrera Follows Marlins to Toronto

During the 2012 regular season, Blue Jays outfielders combined to be worth 4.6 WAR, which was tied for the sixth-lowest total in baseball. Nearly all of that came from Jose Bautista, who was terrific and then injured. The Blue Jays have some young and talented outfielders in-house, and if they were rebuilding, they might guarantee those players some time. But this week’s mega-trade with the Marlins signaled that the Blue Jays would like to win “sooner” instead of “eventually”, so now they’re going to guarantee some time to Melky Cabrera.

On Friday, the Jays signed Cabrera to a two-year contract worth $16 million, according to Enrique Rojas and later confirmed by others. The deal is not yet official — just like Toronto’s other big deal — but there’s little reason to believe it won’t become official after Cabrera’s physical, so now we analyze.

I will refer back once again to a post by Dave Cameron, looking at the 25 best free-agent values, according to Dave Cameron. The FanGraphs audience projected Cabrera for a…two-year contract, worth…$16 million. The clairvoyant live among us. The clairvoyant are us, collectively. The beginning of Cameron’s remarks on Cabrera:

First off, I don’t think Melky would even want a two year deal at this kind of price.

The consensus expectation, as far as I could tell, was that Cabrera would sign somewhere for a year in an effort to re-establish his value before re-entering the market. Cabrera didn’t sign a long-term contract with Toronto, but he signed for twice as long as people thought he would.

Cabrera, as you know, was having a big 2012 season with the Giants. Cabrera, as you know, had his big season with the Giants interrupted and ended by a 50-game PED suspension. Hence the one-year contract expectation. By signing Cabrera, and by signing Cabrera for two years, the Blue Jays are taking a chance, but they aren’t taking that much of one, really.

Adrian Beltre signed a five-year contract with the Mariners immediately after his incredible, historic, 48-dinger season with the Dodgers. Critics said that Beltre would never repeat that season again, but of course, the Mariners weren’t paying him to repeat his 2004 season over and over. If the Mariners paid Beltre as if they were expecting a bunch of his 2004 seasons, he would’ve landed the biggest contract in history. He got $64 million. The Mariners were more paying Beltre to be what he was in 2002-2003, and what the Mariners paid for was what the Mariners got.

Likewise, the Blue Jays aren’t paying Cabrera to repeat his 2012, and they aren’t even paying Cabrera to repeat his 2011. According to our numbers, the last two years Cabrera has been worth 8.8 WAR over 268 games. If the Blue Jays were paying Cabrera to be that sort of player, they might’ve guaranteed $16 million over one year or $32 million over two years. They’ve opted for half that, and Cabrera has accepted.

Do you know what an outfielder needs to be to be worth $16 million over two years as a free-agent acquisition? Something in the general neighborhood of league-average. Even slightly worse than that, or league-average and injury-prone. Cabrera was that sort of player in 2009 with the Yankees, when he posted a 94 wRC+. He was just kind of average at everything. If Cabrera could be that guy for two years, the Blue Jays wouldn’t have made a bad investment, and if Cabrera could be better than that guy for two years, the Blue Jays would have made a solid investment.

To say nothing of the Blue Jays’ current position on the win curve — extra wins to them right now might be worth more than extra wins for many other teams. The Blue Jays see an opportunity to compete in the AL East right now, and they’re going after it, which makes the Cabrera move a lot more interesting than it would be if Cabrera signed for a year with some cellar-dweller. Cabrera could once again play a prominent role in a pennant race.

In Toronto, he and Bautista will flank Colby Rasmus, in an outfield with massive error bars. You might be wondering why Cabrera signed this deal in the first place. For one thing, we don’t know much about Cabrera’s market. For another thing, the Blue Jays are obviously a lot more appealing than they were a week or a month ago. And for a third thing, is it that bad a deal for Cabrera, really? Let’s say he signed somewhere for a year and $6 – 8 million. Let’s say he performed well. What would he expect a year from now? $10 million a season? $12 million a season? And what if he didn’t perform well? Then his value would be shot and his next-year expectations would be drastically lowered. This gives Cabrera some degree of security, and since he’s only 28 years old, it’s not like this is his last chance at a big free-agent contract. If he plays well with the Blue Jays, he’ll get paid well in 2015 and beyond.

For the sake of contract comparison, earlier this week Torii Hunter signed for two years and $26 million. Last year, Carlos Beltran signed for two years and $26 million. Jason Kubel signed for two years and $15 million, and Coco Crisp signed for two years and $14 million. The suspension obviously dealt a blow to Cabrera’s market value, and you can see how the Blue Jays might feel they have a potential steal on their hands. And they probably don’t even have to worry about potential PR fallout since whatever negatives might accompany Cabrera will be offset and then some by the excitement of seeing a front office work aggressively to build a winner. Blue Jays fans aren’t going to be worried about Cabrera’s suspension; they’ll be thinking about how Cabrera might help them get to the playoffs for the first time since Paul Wilson and Nomar Garciaparra were drafted.

We don’t know what effect Cabrera’s PEDs had on his performance. We don’t know if PEDs contributed to his big 2011, with the Royals. We do know that Cabrera’s hitter profile hasn’t really changed that much over the years — he has the same tendencies as ever, and the last two years his BABIP has skyrocketed. Cabrera’s 2010 with the Braves was particularly ugly, and it stands as a reminder that Cabrera isn’t guaranteed to be a decent investment, but if Cabrera meets only his career totals, he’ll be fine, if not better than that. And if he exceeds them, he’ll be an asset paid less than Chone Figgins.

We were waiting to see who might take a chance on Melky Cabrera. The answer is Toronto, where Alex Anthopoulos doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything. Not that there’s a whole lot here in particular to be afraid of. At two years and $16 million, Cabrera doesn’t even have to be good to be worth it. And Cabrera could be really good.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

70 Responses to “Melky Cabrera Follows Marlins to Toronto”

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  1. Bad Bill says:

    They will “flank” Rasmus in center? You’re sure this doesn’t lead to Raz just quietly getting benched and disposed of?

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    • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

      i agree that its hard to expect a contender to play a guy like rasmus everyday. he does nothing well.

      but, then, who plays center?

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      • out of the woodwork says:

        Josh Hamilton.

        Or…a platoon. Rasmus shouldn’t hit against lefties and davis shouldn’t hit much vs righties.

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      • Jamie says:

        Actually he fields pretty well and has some pop. Not ideal but not “does nothing well” either.

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      • DEG says:

        still vying for josh hamilton?
        I think the blue jays have done enough work to their lineup but I guess you can’t please everyone.
        Rasmus will have Bonifacio to platoon with if struggles against lefties again. He is a better fielder and much better contact hitter than Davis will ever be.

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      • Grammarpolice says:

        He does nothing well? He’s a 2 win centerfielder with still a hint of upside, Rasmus is nobody’s ideal player but to say he does nothing well is ludicrous.

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      • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

        jamie – he fields pretty well? this site’s metrics has him at exactly average, and that was after 2 very bad years. i wouldnt consider slightly below average overall as “well”

        grammar police – 2 wins is average. the fact that he plays CF is already built into WAR, otherwise his WAR would be much lower. having “a hint of upside” isn’t doing something well either.

        look at his stats and tell me what he does well. it isnt hitting fielding, stealing bases, plate discipline, etc. so what is it?

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      • Telo says:

        I’m actually with Sleight on this one. How does he field well when his career UZR is negative? A little pop sure… he’s a 20 homer guy. But looking at the numbers, I was surprised and will admit I expected better. He’s been in the league long enough where I feel like we can say he does not have a stand out skill.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        a slightly below average centerfielder is an average fielder overall. You people are just parsing semantics here and it’s dumb.

        Rasmus has averaged a little more than 2 wins per season over his career. He’s an average player who does plenty of things well.

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  2. Sage, 12 yrs old says:

    HOLY SH*T BLUE JAYS FTW (for the win)

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  3. Uh Oh Cordero says:

    AA: “Bluejays super team… Assemble!!!”

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  4. danktrees says:

    does this confirm that the trade will definitely go through? I doubt he signs this contract if his agents have doubts about the trade bring approved.

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    • MikeS says:

      No reason to believe it won’t. Enough people see it as similar to Red Sox-Dodgers (including Selig – quoted yesterday) that it will pass.

      Besides, Selig isn’t in the business of preventing owners from using their teams to make money. The only reason he forced out McCourt is he was about to sign a TV deal at way under market value in order to get his debts forgiven. That would have hurt negotiations for the other teams and cost them money. If McCourt would have managed to convince Los Angeles or California to give him an interest free, $500M, tax payer funded home equity loan on Chavez Ravine, Selig would have campaigned for him to be Executive of the Year.

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  5. rusty says:

    The Rockies look at the remaining 2 years and $21m left on Cuddyer’s contract, and scratch their heads. They’re sure there was a plan, at some point, they just can’t for the life of them remember what it was…

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  6. Grebe says:

    In Canada, Melky comes in bags…

    I’ll see myself out.

    +28 Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Braves Fan says:

    Why are we ignoring how dreadful he was with the Braves? Who’s to say he won’t go back to that?

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    • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

      that was before PEDs.

      were you looking for a different answer?

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    • Iccyh says:

      For the price the Jays are paying, who cares if he does? He’ll still be an improvement over the revolving door they had there this year.

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      • Joe says:

        UZR last 4 years 0, -8.8, -6.7, 10.2 Considering the 10.2 was 4 years ago and his career UZR is ~ -5overall, seems more average (at best) to me.

        He also has put up a cumulativs 2.4WAR over the last 2 years and has exceeded 3 WAR once in 4 years.

        He has a lot of tools and promise, but the production has not matched the potential. I think the perception of Rasmus still outpaces the actual Colby Rasmus

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      • Joe says:

        Sorry this was about an earlier Rasmus comment – not exactly sure how it ended up here.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        Dude are you a politician or something?

        “He also has put up a cumulativs 2.4WAR over the last 2 years and has exceeded 3 WAR once in 4 years.”

        Just flat out say he’s averaged 2.2 WAR for the first 4 seasons of his career and stop phrasing bullshit.

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      • gobdalin says:

        “Stop phrasing bullshit” I think you are way off there. Taking the average WAR over four years can be terrible misleading and you have to take it in context of trends and what has been done recently.
        A player with -2 War in his first year, then 2 war for the next three has an average of 1 WAR. However, it doesn’t make any sense tho say he is going to be a 1 WAR player next season. WAR has to be used in context, we are talking about active players, not retired players where the stats won’t change

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    • walt526 says:

      That’s certainly a possibility, although the odds seem to be that he will provide surplus value given his age and consideration of all of his past performance.

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    • Cubs Fan says:

      Why are we ignoring how good he is going to be in 2014 as a Chicago Cub? He will post a 5 WAR season along with 5 WAR seasons from Anthony Rizzo, Brett Jackson, Matt Szcur and Starlin Castro. The Cubs score 900 runs and win 104 games. In the playoffs, though, they will proceed to immediately lose to the 62 win Pirates after MLB expands to 16 wild card teams. It’s tough being a Cub fan.

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      • Pirates FAN says:

        1909, 1925, 1960, 1971, 1979. Which is to say, don’t throw my team under the bus.

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      • big red machine says:

        @ Pirates FAN. 20 *CONSECUTIVE* years of futility. Your team lost credibility a while ago….

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      • Pirates FAN says:

        Big Red Machine. I only have what I have. Before you respond to this think of the last time your team won anything important, like a playoff series, I believe it was something like 22, Consecutive, years ago.

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    • Kardshark says:

      If Torii Hunter got 26 mil for 2 years after declining and being below average in everything other than BABiP, then Cabrera for 8 mil, even if he regresses to his 2011 form, is an absolute steal.

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    • jim says:

      “Cabrera’s 2010 with the Braves was particularly ugly, and it stands as a reminder that Cabrera isn’t guaranteed to be a decent investment”

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  8. Slats says:

    Poor Rajai Davis.

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  9. chone! says:

    a chone figgins mention!

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  10. cs3 says:

    Obviously the Giants banished him to the most remote corner of the MLB world

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  11. Bab says:

    Anyone see this? Josh Hamilton’s getting a movie, written and directed by Casey Affleck

    I wonder if the climax will be Josh fumbling through the clubhouse blinded by energy drinks

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  12. Aaron Adams says:

    Rasmus is a fantastic fielder. His bat has a long way to come, for sure; but writing him off at this point would be insane.

    I’m not sure what to make of Melky. I don’t buy the argument that synthetic testosterone makes a guy hit .350+ for two-thirds of a season. But I also see a guy whose approach hasn’t changed considerably; his BABIP’s just skyrocketed.

    Of course, in this Jays lineup, he’ll see pitches. Lots of pitches. We’ll likely find out in a hurry if a clean Melky is still a good Melky.

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    • Bad Bill says:

      As regards Rasmus, I assume you mean “fantastic” here in the sense of “in some imaginary world”, rather than “extraordinarily good”.

      His fielding, like most everything else about him, is immensely promising based on his exceptional physical gifts, but highly erratic in practice. Anyone who’s ever seen him in the outfield knows that his arm is an absolute cannon, yet his assist totals are not exceptional (above average in 2012 but not at the top), and it isn’t because people don’t run on him — rather the contrary. He is very fast, but his routes are often not so good, and he makes lots of errors, with more errors than assists over his career to date. He isn’t terrible in the field, but he could be so much better. His defense won’t be sufficient to keep Cabrera from taking his job, if CF is where Toronto decides to put him.

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    • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

      It’s clear I’m out numbered in this thread, but I ask one more time…. what is so great about his fielding? The guy has plenty of career innings for a useful sample size and he’s got a negative UZR. I said he does nothing well (as in, doesn’t have a stand out skill) and I stick by it. Look at the guy’s fangraphs page. Being young isn’t doing something well.

      He’s not a good hitter, and an average at best fielder. To say otherwise is ignoring the facts.

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      • Bob says:

        From 2006 through 2010, Melky was worth a grand total of less than 3 WAR.

        Then he got much better — then was busted for PEDs.

        If Melky elects to get off the drug train, and he reverts to a well-below-average-regular, this contract will backfire in a substantial way. I believe the risk is being understated by many analysts, both professional and amateur.

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      • Antonio bananas says:

        Because AA made it, thus it’s good. Despite them not making the playoffs during that tenure or many deals really working out as good as they had hoped. But sure, 30+ often injured speed guys, mid 30s pitchers, often injured pitchers, and a guy who was terrible before a ped bust is universally seen as a great move. The risk here is HUGE. They could have another sub .500 year if a few get hurt and they unloaded a large portion of their farm.

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  13. Metsox says:

    Any chance for Napoli in Toronto?

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  14. WillC says:

    He can join Bautista and Encarnacion and use their hookups in PED in Toronto.

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  15. TheJoeFrom1993 says:

    Why would Melky Cabrera sign with Toronto? Perhaps because the negotiations went like this:

    Melky*: “No more Twinkies. Melky sad.” :(
    AA: “But Melky. In Canada….we still have Twinkies!!!”
    Melky*: “Melky happy! Melky sign!”

    (*May or may not be representative of how Melky Cabrera speaks.)

    Twinkies are indeed still being made in Canada.

    +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. Near says:

    The Jays have to be modestly thankful the Giants ate up the remainder of Cabrera’s suspension by going so far in the postseason. This is a fantastic deal with tremendous upside.

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  17. DrBGiantsfan says:

    Best value of the offseason. Melky will tear it up in Toronto and the AL East.

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  18. Antonio bananas says:

    Seems like the range of possible outcomes for the jays is large. Mostly guys who are at the tail end or past their prime, many with injury/consistency/real production question marks. Interesting.

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  19. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Melky will be an interesting case to see if the Roids really made him a better player. (the assumptions being that he took them the last two years only, and he stopped taking them now)

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