What Will Melky Cabrera Make On The Market?

Melky Cabrera is having a career-year. After posting 4.2 WAR last year, Cabrera has once again been effective. The 27-year-old outfielder has already passed that total this season, accumulating 4.8 WAR so far.

Cabrera’s performance comes at a great time for him. At the end of the season, he can become a free-agent. And it looks like he’ll have a chance to hit the market, since the San Francisco Giants have put off negotiations with him until then. Cabrera’s two-year breakout is also interesting since he’s never produced like this before. All of those factors make Cabrera one of the most unique players to hit the market in quite some time. Because of that, no one is really sure how much he’ll make.

For the purpose of this article, I’m not going to focus on whether Cabrera’s performance is sustainable. Many teams will likely be cautious with Cabrera considering his past performance never gave any indication that he would breakout like this. I’m going to focus mainly on how much value he’s produced recently, and compare it to similar contracts.

Trying to find similar players to Cabrera is difficult. Sorting by players who accumulated similar value throughout their careers may not be helpful since Cabrera is mainly going to be paid for what he’s done the last two seasons. At least it gives us a starting point, and more examples of potential contract ideas for Cabrera. Over his career, Cabrera has been worth 11.6 WAR. His first year in the league with significant playing time came when he was 21-years-old, and he’s 27-years-old now. Sorting with those parameters gives us a good starting place. (You’ll have to skip to page three on that list to find Cabrera.)

As expected, the list doesn’t give us many great comparisons. Most of the players on that list were average players who never signed long-term deals, or younger guys who accumulated the same amount of WAR in less time than Cabrera. There were three players that stood out on the list.

Player First Year WAR Deal
Justin Morneau Age-23 12.0 Six-year, $80 million
Torii Hunter Age-23 12.6 Four-year, $32 million
Alex Gordon Age-23 11.8 Four-year, $37.5 million

All of these players produced similar value to Cabrera during their careers, and signed deals at age-27. This list is far from perfect, though. All three players on the list experienced their first seasons with significant playing time at age-23, two years later than Cabrera. All three players also signed extensions with their teams, which means they probably took less than they could have received on the market. This also gives us a wide range to work with. Gordon and Hunter made around $30 million, but Morneau made $80 million. The most comparable player of this bunch is probably Gordon, who experienced a similar surge in value right before he signed his extension. And that could be a fair starting point when you consider Cabrera’s breakout has lasted two seasons, and Cabrera will be able to test the market. At the very least, Gordon’s contract gives us the floor for a Cabrera deal.

In order to account for Cabrera’s recent performance, we can use the same criteria, but sort to only include players during their age-26 and age-27 seasons. That should give us players who experienced similar value just before receiving a new contract.

In his last two years, Cabrera has accumulated 9.0 WAR. There’s a good chance he’ll add to that number before the season is out, too. Using the new list, there were two players that produced similar value, and signed a deal after their age-27 season.

Player WAR Deal
Jimmy Rollins 9.3 Five-year, $40 million
Alex Rios 10.6 Seven-year, $70 million
Melky Cabrera 9.0 ???

Again, these deals are not completely ideal as both were actually extensions. Still, they give us an idea of what might happen. What’s interesting is that Jimmy Rollins made $40 million while signing an extension in 2006. That could suggest that Cabrera is sure to make more this off-season.

The more interesting comparison here is Alex Rios. Rios had a decent career before exploding for two straight seasons of +5 WAR before signing his extension with the Toronto Blue Jays. Cabrera is highly unlikely to receive a seven-year deal on the market, but should make more per season since he’ll make it to the free agent market. In the first two years of his extension, Rios made less than $6 million both years. Since Cabrera is already making $6 million this season, he’s unlikely to take a pay cut with his new team.

So, let’s put together the information that we have and estimate a contract for Cabrera. Since Gordon was our most recent example, let’s assume Cabrera signs a four-year deal. We’ve also determined that Rios’ deal is too long, and too cheap early on. The Blue Jays were able to make those two seasons relatively cheap since Rios was an extension. That won’t happen to Cabrera on the market. So, we’re going to sign Cabrera to four years of the Rios contract, but drop the first two seasons. That gives us a four-year, $46.2 million deal for Cabrera. And Assuming Cabrera demands five years, we can add in the final year on Rios’ deal, giving us a five-year, $58.7 million deal. Either way, Cabrera will make slightly over $10 million per season.

Going back to Gordon’s deal, this actually makes sense. Gordon is our most recent comparison and he only made $37.5 million over four years. But since Melky will hit the market, he’ll likely command a larger salary. It looks like anywhere between $45 million to $60 million is what it’s going to take to sign Cabrera.

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

48 Responses to “What Will Melky Cabrera Make On The Market?”

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  1. Herbalist says:

    I am sure he will demand at least “The Rowand” 5 year 60 million. His agent will say he cannot play in SF for less than Rowand.

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  2. jcxy says:

    this calls for a contract crowdsource!

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  3. JWTP says:

    Cwik, that prediction was waaaaaay to close to the Rowand not to make a reference. Definitely always had that in mind as Melky surged, but haven’t done a full comp of the two at the time of signing.

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    • Chris Cwik says:

      I definitely thought about that, but Roward was two years older than Melky when he signed his deal.

      I see the comparisons, but I didn’t want to use it in the article because of the age difference.

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  4. nik says:

    Bourn is getting all the press, but Melky will be the better free agent signing.

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  5. jp_on_rye says:

    If the Giants can get Melky back for that price, at this point, I’d be pretty thrilled.

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  6. Matt P says:

    Do you realize that Rios and Gordon signed their deals while still having arbitration years remaining while Cabrera doesn’t? Do you think that just maybe that may have an impact on how much money they made? Presumably, reasonable people can agree that guys in arbitration make less than guys in free agency?

    Obviously, you can’t use the whole contracts as that includes arbitration years. Instead, you have to look at the non-arbitration years. Rios got 12 million per non-arbitration year as did Gordon. Given that a player generally takes a discount when he buys out arbitration years(why else would a team take the risk of an injury), we can assume 12 million is the minimum.

    However, there’s another outfielder who recently signed a deal called Adam Jones. Adam is one year younger than Cabrera and had one more arbitration year than Cabrera. On the one hand, AJ has a high average fWAR but Cabrera has had a high fWAR the past two years. They both are guys who can play Center Field but UZR thinks should play Left Field.

    Something like 5 years and 60 to 75 million is probably more likely to happen.

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    • Baltar says:

      Nice research, and I agree with your conclusion.
      Another factor in Cabrera’s favor is that there will be a huge amount of media and fan pressure on the Giants to sign him, just as there was leading to Cain’s mildly overpriced extension early in the season.
      I’m surprised the G’s haven’t already tried to extend him while they still have the monopoly, but, then again, poor strategy from that team’s management is nothing new.

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    • j cheatman says:

      yup! You got it right!

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  7. josh m says:

    I’d think 12 per would be the starting point.

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  8. MrKnowNothing says:

    he’s gonna get penalized simply because the narrative on him was he was a bust, but in reality he was just going through growing pains while playing in the majors. if he’d been called up a year or two later, like a lot of prospects, he may have had more development time in the Mi and been major league ready sooner. instead, he had to learn on the fly.

    i’d still be nervous about signing him, as a giants fan, because i can’t shake those early years from my memory, but i’m not sure the last two years are flukes so much as they area guy hitting his stride.

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    • MikeM says:

      Watching him play in Atlanta, I think he went through literal “Growing Pains”. He came to camp very overweight and pretty much looked like he destroyed every clubhouse spread. The slimmed-down Melky of the last year and a half looks like a different player. Wonder if teams will be cautious if he’s only an offseason of Big Macs away from blowing again.

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      • TKDC says:

        He’s lucky that there are 30 teams, because I’m sure a fair number would not touch him with a ten foot pole. However, a few teams with money to blow will give him a contract based entirely on the kind of player he looks like right now (and ignore the very real possibility that he reverts to Atlanta-Melky), which will be at least the Roward 5, but I’d guess he gets more like 5/75.

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  9. chuckb says:

    Dave said 5/$75 in his chat yesterday and that seems a little high to me. That’s probably what he’ll ask for. I’d see something like 4/$50-55 but I guess I could see him getting a 5 year deal from someone…maybe. In that case, 5/$60-65 could be what he’s looking at.

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  10. Peyton Daniel says:

    I don’t think it’s fair to compare Rowand and Cabrera at all..If you do remember when the Giants signed Rowand, it was off his career year in a hitters ballpark in philly. We signed him with expectations but seemed to be obsessed with Rowand’s leadership skills. Obviously after years with no production it didnt work out. After last year I was wondering if it was one of the Career years or flukes for Cabrera but if you look at his numbers this year and last they are outstanding. In 2011 he hit for .300 for the first time and collected 200 hits, 44 doubles 86 rbi and 100 runs scored. He has carried that into this year and then some. He will get heavy consideration for MVP along with Posey and Andrew McCutchen. In the time Melky has been in SF, he has been consistent at the plate day in and day out. Consistency should not be put in the same sentence as Aaron Rowand. Even in his best years he was streaky with a good glove with an average arm. Melky is becoming a dynamic force on both sides of the ball. I would be willing for the Rowand deal for Cabrera, he is well worth it. He can flat out hit and score runs which is something the Giants need while their phenom pitching is still all together.

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    • Phrozen says:

      Rowand was certainly coming off a career year, but CBP is about as neutral as a ballpark can be.

      Rowand’s contract has to be, at least, the baseline for negotiations.

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    • EricR says:

      “Consistency should not be put in the same sentence as Aaron Rowand.”

      In 2011, Aaron Rowand swung at and missed every slider with great consistency.

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    • placidity says:

      Your top 3 MVP candidates are Cutch, Posey, and Melky?

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    • Matt says:


      The comparisons to Rowand are a joke. Melky Cabrera has a swing that can produce line drives like a lawn sprinkler. The underlying talent level isn’t even close. Melky is BY FAR the more skilled player. The only worry is motivation and fitness. And it seems as though he’s matured in regards to both those categories.

      Comparing the talent is pointless. Rowand vs Melky?

      Please…just stop it.

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  11. Shankbone says:

    Seems to me the only two questions holding Melky back from a monster deal are consistency in his career and the SGL %s. He is really a corner OF with moderate power. He has lifted his career BABIP up to .310 now, fueled by a fearsome .390 this year so far. That BABIP falls, the SLG gets more attention, and there is the rub.

    I think the Rowand deal is the basement. If the Gints really did offer up a 3/27MM, that is a nice cautious first offer. 5/75MM sounds like a nice middle ground based off the two issues. If the Giants (or another team) can carve off a year on the deal, that would be a big time score. Maybe the historical performance can be emphasized. But if I know my Sabeanz I bet he is getting ready to grab his guy. Always bird in the hand for Brian. Just remember to offer that 1/13.5MM as well, some team might get a little loopy here if Melky picks up any more hardware. Draft picks? What are those?

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  12. Greg says:

    I would be shocked if he got more than Rowand did. The current ROS ZIPS projection for Melky is about the level I’d expect him to perform over the next few seasons: something like a .340-.350 wOBA player. That gives us a ~4 win guy, but I think teams will be hesitant to give a guy like Melky, who has struggled with his commitment to baseball in the past, big money. I think 4 years/$50 million would be a fair deal for him. He sure picked a great season to have a ridiculous BABIP spike.

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  13. Sabey Sabes says:

    haha, i poop on all of you!!!!

    we offer Melky Melkman 3 years for $27 mil AND NOT A PENNY MORE!!! HAHAHA


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  14. Hurtlockertwo says:

    As long as the Giants re-sign him I’ll be happy, if he gets Rowand money
    good for him. Zito will be gone soon enough.

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    • david says:

      yeah, but that zito money is reserved for lincecum

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      • Kellin says:

        It used to be, until Buster Posey

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      • well... says:

        the Giants are paying Zito $18MM this season and Timmeh $20MM this season as well, so the Zito money is irrelevant.

        Giants can afford Melky without affecting the Timmeh money, in fact, there is no way Timmeh makes $20MM AAV in FA now. He still isn’t right, despite better numbers, and has shown how quickly he can disintegrate. Probably won’t sign any more than a 4 year deal, ever.

        the Zito money goes toward keeping Pablo and Posey long-term.

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  15. bg90027 says:

    I think the estimates here might be a fair estimate of value but I’d bet that he gets more than 5/75. With all the lucrative TV contracts, teams have a lot of money to spend and this is a pretty weak free agent class. Hell, Ethier who is about a 3 WAR corner outfielder just got 5/85.

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  16. Doug says:

    Would you do the same comparison for Bourn?

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  17. Brad Johnson says:

    While the two players are completely different, Melky’s breakout from seemingly nowhere is reminiscent of Jose Bautista. I think that 5 year, $65 million deal is a good fit. Of course, you have to adjust for free agency.

    With Bourn and Upton poised to get paid much more than that, Melky could see his price escalate.

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  18. Matt says:

    “And it looks like he’ll have a chance to hit the market, since the San Francisco Giants have put off negotiations with him until then.”

    So it’s the Giants that put off negotiations? What? That’s not the reality. From ALL reports, It was Melky and HIS people that put off the negotiations.

    If the author can’t get that VERY basic information correct then I have to wonder about the rest of his work.

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    • Jason B says:

      YOUR use of capital letters REPEATEDLY shows your douchey-ness…URRRR…consternation VERY well. I bet the author will NEVER make a mistake like THAT again. How DARE he…

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  19. Matt says:

    Getting it 180 degrees wrong is a glaring mistake. He’s made it out sound like the Giants are LETTING him hit the market. Like they are the ones walking away. It’s ridiculous to get that wrong.

    So yes you’re right….How DARE he. And as far as douchey-ness. I’m quite sure you’ve got that market cornered.

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  20. jose says:

    Anyone think that the Yankees will be in play for Melky? With Gardner’s injury and given that Melky is a NYY product, it would appear that they might be interested in bringing him back. He has also demonstrated, based on two solid seasons worth of data, that he finally gets it in terms of keeping fit and focused.

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  21. 5 years 70m. Get it done Sabes!!!!

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  22. Sizzle says:

    Remember Jayson Werth? Some desperate team WILL give Melky 8/120. Expect the unexpected with this guy also.

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  23. rickeycanstillplay says:

    less now.

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  24. DRock says:

    How about $0!

    What a fraud this dude and his numbers are. Any team paying him next year should count on production akin to 2009 and 2010.

    How many other guys are getting away with cheating?

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  25. fergie348 says:

    Doubt he’ll get more than a 3 year deal considering the suspension. Probably 3/36 or thereabouts.

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