On Wednesday, I suggested the Mets should not trade one of their starting pitchers for offensive help this winter. Today, I offer an alternative: Melky Cabrera.
According to reports, the Mets have not expressed interest in Cabrera to date. However, I feel they should have a change of heart and go after the controversial outfielder. Before his 50 game suspension in August for testing positive for testosterone, Cabrera was on pace to receive a multi-year contract for a good chunk of change that would have been way out of the Mets price range. Now, he will most likely have to settle for a 1-year deal at a much lesser amount. ESPN’s Jim Bowden predicts Cabrera will land a 1-year, $7.5 million contract. While it would be cutting it close, I believe that is doable for Sandy Alderson’s budget, and he could possibly land Cabrera for even less. But it’s not just the low risk-high reward of such a contract that makes Cabrera appealing to the Amazins. When you look at the numbers, it makes perfect sense.
Solving the Lefty Problem
One of the biggest problems for the Mets offense last year was their lefty-heavy lineup and their inability to hit left-handed pitching. Cabrera would solve both issues. A switch-hitter, Cabrera would provide balance in the lineup vs. lefties as well as valuable production. Over the past three seasons, Cabrera has posted an .831 OPS (.356 OBP/.475 SLG) vs. LHP. Compared to Lucas Duda’s .657 OPS (.299 OBP/.358 SLG) or Andres Torres and his .691 OPS (.345 OBP/.346 SLG) vs. left-handers over that same time period, Cabrera would be a huge upgrade. While Torres actually hit better from the right side of the plate in 2012 (.758 OPS), you have to wonder if that’s more of an outlier rather than a trend that will continue. Of course there is a decent chance the Mets non-tender Torres, which would leave the center field duties to Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who produced a measly .516 OPS (.286 OBP/.230 SLG) in 61 ABs last year vs. LHP. Granted that’s a pebble-sized sample, but Nieuwenhuis wasn’t exactly a lefty killer coming up through the minors either.
As for hitting from the left side of the plate, Cabrera has produced well there also. His .782 OPS over the past three seasons vs. right handed pitching would be a welcome addition to a lineup that produced a collective .715 OPS vs. right handed pitching in 2012.
Cabrera is not going to win a Gold Glove Award anytime soon, but he has shown the ability to play all three outfield positions. In his career, Cabrera has started 302 games in left field and 522 in center field. And while he’s only started 60 games in right field, that has been his best position defensively according to Fangraphs (1.6 total UZR in RF, as opposed to a -3.0 in LF and -23.8 in CF). With such flexibility on defense, that would give Terry Collins plenty of options when filling out a lineup card on a daily basis. As of now, I would guess Duda is probably the starting left fielder. If the Mets want to give him more opportunities to hit lefties, they could stick Cabrera in center. If Duda struggles, they could just move Cabrera to left. If both Duda and Nieuwenhuis (or Torres, if he returns) are producing, then they could get away with starting Cabrera in right. And if neither are producing, Cabrera could just take over everyday duties in either position.
I understand Cabrera isn’t the most liked player, and he comes with baggage. Would he be a negative influence in the clubhouse? Maybe, but the beauty of having him on a 1-year deal is that the Mets would only have to deal with it for one season. Plus, I find it hard to believe the team would rebel or quit just because one guy is a Debbie Downer, especially if he produces on the field.
The off-season is still young and tons of things could happen that would make everything I just wrote a moot point. The Mets could trade for an outfielder, or someone could be very bullish on Cabrera and give him a deal the Mets can’t compete with. But right now when looking at the landscape of things, I feel this may be the best option, and a good option at that.