What Is Asdrubal Cabrera?

The Indians have made it pretty clear that they are shopping Asdrubal Cabrera. With at least a serviceable fill-in on the roster in Mike Aviles and Cabrera’s trade value likely at its peak this winter, they’re attempting to use their 27-year-old shortstop to acquire more young pieces with an emphasis on future value. Arizona has been most often linked to Cabrera, as their never ending search for a shortstop makes them something of a logical fit. Reports this morning suggest that Cabrera could be the bait that gets them Trevor Bauer or could be part of a larger, multi-team trade that results in Justin Upton finally being traded.

Clearly, the cost for Cabrera is quite high, and before Arizona surrenders one of their best trade chips, they should be aware of what they’re getting – a decent-but-not-great hitter who might not really be a shortstop much longer.

Cabrera is basically the definition of the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none type of player. He is pretty much a league average player at every aspect of the game. Let’s start with his offense – below are his career numbers against the league average over the 2007-2012 seasons.

Name BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA
Cabrera 8% 16% 0.137 0.319 0.279 0.342 0.416 0.333
Average 9% 18% 0.154 0.301 0.264 0.333 0.418 0.328

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, in theory, quite valuable, since shortstops as a whole are generally lousy hitters. His 107 wRC+ ranks as the fifth best mark any regular shortstop has put up during his time in the Majors, with only Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, Derek Jeter, and Jose Reyes coming in ahead of him. Cabrera’s not in their level, but you don’t have be a monster to be a top-tier offensive shortstop.

But, 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 4,400 innings at the position in his career, he’s racked up a -34 UZR, which grades out to -10 runs per full season. This isn’t a case where the team’s internal evaluation of the player is just in stark contrast to the numbers, either, as Mark Shapiro publicly discussed their evaluation of Cabrera as a poor defender at the SABR Analytics conference last March. And, there’s been some talk that other teams interested in acquiring Cabrera were doing so with plans to move him to another position. 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 his peers.

So, instead of referring to Cabrera as a shortstop, it’s probably better to look at him as an average 2B or 3B who has just been playing out of position for the last few years. And an average hitting, average fielding 2B/3B is basically the definition of an average player.

Because Cabrera’s offense has been a little better than average the last few years, 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. Noting that he’s been an average player in his career probably undersells his next few years, since his recent performances are better than his career numbers and he’s headed into his age 27 season. But even as a +3 win player, he’s more of a nice piece than any kind of true star.

And, with two years and $16 million left on his contract, Cabrera’s a value relative to the market, but he’s not exactly free. A +3 win player is probably worth around $15 million per year, so Cabrera’s getting paid around half of what he’s worth for the next two years. There’s certainly some extra value here, probably in the $20 million range, depending on how you evaluate the right to negotiate a longer term extension or make him a qualifying offer in a few years. But, $20 million of surplus value also doesn’t make him the kind of asset who should be commanding a monster return in trade either. If Cabrera was under team control for more years, or if he was a better player, then maybe these reported demands would fit, but teams should view him as more like the infield version of Angel Pagan, and giving up the farm for that kind of player — even on a solid contract — probably isn’t the wisest choice ever.

Cabrera would be a nice player for the Diamondbacks, perhaps splitting time between 3B and SS so that the team can run a semi-platoon of newly-signed Eric Chavez and previously acquired Cliff Pennington. And perhaps there are valid reasons for Kevin Towers and his staff to be ready to move on from Upton and Bauer. But, these are two of the better trade chips that are actually on the market, and after those two, the Diamondbacks aren’t going to have many assets left that they could use to make substantial upgrades to keep up in the NL West. If they’re going to cash in Upton or Bauer, they have to make sure they get something substantial in return. And Cabrera probably isn’t quite good enough to be that substantial piece.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Pinstripe Wizard
Member
Pinstripe Wizard
3 years 7 months ago

Cabrera is a nice piece, but maybe the fact that Arizona is considering throwing Bauer into a deal for him sheds more light on their opinion of Bauer. He may have fallen back in their starting pitching plans behind the likes of Skaggs and Corbin, so maybe they are trying to deal Bauer before his stock falls. We’ve all read how difficult Bauer is to work with, and maybe the Dbacks have just have enough.

Ron Burgundy
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Ron Burgundy
3 years 7 months ago

Well, I could be wrong, but I believe Asdrubal Cabrera is an old, old wooden ship that was used during the Civil War era

Well-Beered Englishman
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Well-Beered Englishman
3 years 7 months ago

Best gimmick post ever.

semperty
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semperty
3 years 7 months ago

Wow…definitely thought A-Cab was better than this. Definitely sheds some light on Arizona’s opinion of Upton and Bauer.

andys
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andys
3 years 7 months ago

A miserable pile of secrets.

Jaack
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Jaack
3 years 7 months ago

I feel so nerdy for getting this right away. You have no idea.

Ron Burgundy
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Ron Burgundy
3 years 7 months ago

touche

Ed Harken
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Ed Harken
3 years 7 months ago

Ron, I would be surprised if the Diamondbacks were concerned about the lack of an old, old wooden ship, but nice try.

Bitter Mariners Fan
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Bitter Mariners Fan
3 years 7 months ago

Cabrera may not be great, but he is a hell of a lot better than Eduardo Perez. I still hate Bill Bavasi.

jpg
Guest
jpg
3 years 7 months ago

Dave isn’t it fair to say that using a five year sample to judge Cabrera’s offense compared to the league average is a bit misleading since his offensive profile has drastically changed in the last two seasons? The guy has gone from a zero power hitting SS to a guy with 41 HR the last 2 years with an ISO of .153 last year and .187 the year before. His wRC+ these last two years has been 118 and 112. He is no longer the mediocre to poor hitter he used to be.

Chris
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Chris
3 years 7 months ago

I whole heartedly agree, his more recent years need to be weighed more aggressively then past years. Don’t forget that he was hurt in 2010.

Chicago Mark
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Chicago Mark
3 years 7 months ago

I was thinking that while reading the whole article. Good job jpg.

Balthazar
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Balthazar
3 years 7 months ago

Agreed, jpg. Asdrubal raked in the high minors when still a teenager too. He came up young, and hasn’t been particularly willing to take a walk, so a learning curve against the league to utilize his contact an pop should be expected; which is what we’ve seen. Asdrubal’s best years with the bat are likely ahead, and he may have an outstanding season or two in there.

This does nothing to alleviate the problem that Asrdubal is playing badly out of position, and has been almost his entire career in the bigs. Cabrera is a second baseman, and would shine if teams could bring themselves to play him there where he should be. Yes, AC was a shortstop all the way up in the minors. No, he’s never had the arm for it, and has never turned in a particularly good season in the majors there. He’s young, and quick, and teams keep hoping, but he’s not going to ever really get it done. So Dave’s main point in marking Asdrubal’s future value down a bit remains valid. An acquiring team that is going to insist on playing Asdrubal Cabrera at SS is going to _turn him into a 3 win player_ by playing him there. And if Cabrera is the only option of an acquiring team for SS then he’s not as valuable as he might be if someone dealt for him, put him at second, and let his bat do the talking. Hence, Towers of the D’backs swapping top chips to force less return out of a guy not suited for the putative position filled doesn’t make a bunch of sense. —But to me, I think this is all just mirrors-‘n-motions to get Texas to geek and give up Elvis Andrus, which is how I expect it all to turn out in the end.

I say all that as someone who has always loved Asrdubal Cabrera. Bill Bavasi’s trading of the guy was what sealed my contempt for that particular front office. They had made numerous bad deals, but moving Asdrubal for a broken platoon bat was so completely doofus I couldn’t stand to give that org any more of my coin until the perps were gone.

malcolm shelley
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malcolm shelley
3 years 7 months ago

He is trade bait for Eduardo Perez!

chuckb
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chuckb
3 years 7 months ago

As a Cards’ fan, I’ve been petrified that we were going to trade for him this offseason. It’s not that I’d mind him playing SS for us — God knows we need a SS — but my fear is that we’d give up Trevor Rosenthal + in order to get him. He’s just not worth that sort of deal and I’m really hoping that this trade with Arizona goes through.

I still don’t know what the team has planned for SS but I certainly don’t want to overpay for the right to play a league average 2B at SS for 2 years. Great article.

YanksFanInBeantown
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YanksFanInBeantown
3 years 7 months ago

He’s 27. His age 25 and 26 seasons should be weighted much more heavily than his 21-24 seasons. And his age 23 season is nothing worth sneezing at. 23-26 his wRC+ is 110 and the last two years it’s 116, the second best among qualified shortstops. He was also injured in 2010, which clearly hurt his numbers.

It’s more reasonable to say that he’s a well above average hitter than that he’s “a shortstop who can produce league average offense”

Ed
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Ed
3 years 7 months ago

I think the Indians also have concern about his Cabrera’s motivation. He came into spring training last year out-of-shape and had to work his way into shape during the season. Oddly though, Cabrera got off to a great start and then slumped later in the year.

First half OPS: .832
Second half OPS: .676

First half BB/K rate: 34:45
Second half BB/K rate: 18:54

BTW, this is the second year in a row in which Cabrera has struggled in the second half, which is another reason the Indians are willing to trade him.

erik p
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erik p
3 years 7 months ago

Word has it he actually GAINED weight this season, which is a little peculiar. One would expect an athlete of his caliber to stay the same or even lose a little weight over 162 games.

Alex Trebek
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Alex Trebek
3 years 7 months ago

I’m sorry, we were looking for WHO is Asdrubal Cabrera, not what.
Mr. Cameron you still have control of the board.

Sleight of Hand Pro
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Sleight of Hand Pro
3 years 7 months ago

sigh….

Steve
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Steve
3 years 7 months ago

yeah, let’s trade Upton who had a .388 woba at age 22 for a slightly above average SS? Am I the only one seeing the stupidity here?

Ian R.
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Ian R.
3 years 7 months ago

Cameron: “If they’re going to cash in Upton or Bauer, they have to make sure they get something substantial in return. And Cabrera probably isn’t quite good enough to be that substantial piece.”

So… no. You’re not the only one who sees that Upton for Cabrera straight-up would be stupid. Including Cabrera in a package to acquire Upton, though, could theoretically make some sense depending on the other players in the package (and potentially the other team involved).

Jim S.
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Jim S.
3 years 7 months ago

Dave, I was in the room for Shapiro’s Q&A at the SABR analytics conference last March and I think it would be more accurate to say that Shapiro mentioned or inferred that Cabrera’s fielding was poor, rather than saying it was “publicly discussed.” Sorry if you think that is splitting hairs, but I think it’s a distinction worth mentioning. I enjoyed listening to your panel discussion BTW.

Ben
Guest
Ben
3 years 7 months ago

D Cameron: “What Is Asdrubal Cabrera?”

A Cabrera: “I am not an animal. I am a man – a human being.”

Jason and the Ergonomic Chair
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Jason and the Ergonomic Chair
3 years 7 months ago

A writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist, a theoretical philosopher, but above all he is a man. A hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you.

James
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

Cabrera is a steady SS with avg range. But is very capable of pulling out athletic, astounding plays regularly. Decent bat who was misplaced in the weak Cleveland lineup at anywhere from 3 to 5. Switch hitter with pop. Carried the Indians in 2011 in the first half. Does not get injured a lot, save the broken arm in 2010. I’ve watched Cabrera as an Indian fan for a few years and he has played hard and performed well considering the young talent and washed up vets surrounding him. Hate to see him go.

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
3 years 7 months ago

This is off the topic, but Jeter is a terrible shortstop by any measure. (except gold gloves) Do the Yankees keep him there just because of his offense? Does the good offense make up for the bad fielding in runs over a season? Since Asdrubal is improving as a hitter, maybe just leaving him at shortstop is still a plus?

wobatus
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wobatus
3 years 7 months ago

I wish there was a site where we could see objective statistical evidence of whether Jeter’s hitting makes up for his fielding. You may say I’m a dreamer.

Just kidding. Sorry.

Bab
Guest
Bab
3 years 7 months ago

Based on recent reporting, the A’s are still casually clinging to the idea that Drew might come back to Oakland. Not likely. Given the A’s will have some extra cash to throw around, Cabrera could be an interesting option, especially if their FO somehow forecasts him
As coming into a late 20s production peak. His walk rate wouldn’t worry them so since the organization has switched gears and bucked the OBP craze in favor of radical platoon ISO hoarding.

It’s an interesting thought, particularly in light of the possibility that Perrino seems slated to get time at SS this year, who is, by the way, a thoroughly unknown quantity in the majors despite being a strange amalgam of both athletically gifted and a proverbial “grinder”.

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