There has been a lot of talk about how the Mets need to add an infielder this offseason. Names like Mike Moustakas, Todd Frazier, and Travis Shaw have all been mentioned as possibilities. It is my job to tell you that none of those players make any sense whatsoever and would be a horrible way to spend the Mets’ limited available funds.
The Mets have a third baseman, and that’s Asdrubal Cabrera.
You might be thinking, “Well Logan, if the Mets sign or trade for a third baseman, Cabrera can play second base.” To that I say, yes, Cabrera can play second base. Michael Conforto can play second base too, but neither of them should as neither can do it well.
Before we move on, I want to make sure we’re all on the same page regarding defensive metrics as I will be using them as my prime evaluators. Fangraphs defines UZR and DRS as follows: “UZR tells you how many runs better or worse that player has been relative to the average player at his position.” The site explains that a “0” rating is the average for a player at that position, with +5 being “above average”, +10 being “great”, and “+15 being “Gold Glove-Caliber”. Conversely, -5 is “below average”, -10 is “poor”, and -15 is “awful”.
For some perspective, in 2013 and 2014, Juan Lagares had 26 DRS both seasons with a 33.1 UZR/150 in ’13 and a 25.3 UZR/150 in ’14. On the other hand, when Lucas Duda played right field for the Mets in 2012, he had -15 DRS and a -41.3 UZR/150. At first base in 2017 between the Mets and the Rays, he was almost the poster boy for “average defender” as he posted -1 DRS with a -0.1 UZR/150. Hopefully that helps your understanding of the metrics. Now back to the man of the hour.
Asdrubal Cabrera, 32, was never really known for his defense other than the occasional mention on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays. In fact, in almost 9,000 career innings at shortstop, he’s accounted for -51 DRS with a -9.9 UZR/150, which is UZR averaged per 150 games. We all know he can’t play shortstop anymore, and he won’t, so let’s move on to the positions in question.
Cabrera has spent significant time at second base in five seasons: ’07, ’08, ’09, ’14, and ’17. The season in which he played the most innings at second (776.2 innings), 2008, was also his best when he tallied 11 DRS and a 5.3 UZR — above average/good. Keep in mind, that was 10 years ago.
In 2009 he regressed, with -4 DRS and a -2.4 UZR in 244.0 innings — below average. He would take a hiatus from second base until 2014 with the Nationals when in 432.0 innings he accounted for -10 DRS and a -2.2 UZR — below average/poor. Now on to 2017 where he had a horrible -6 DRS (in just 274.1 innings) but a barely positive 0.9 UZR. Overall, with 2017 included, Asdrubal Cabrera seems unfit to play second base.
Third base, however, is a different story. Aside from 1.1 innings at the hot corner in 2007, Cabrera had never played third base at the Major League level. He played 350.1 innings there in 2017 and tallied 1 DRS with a -2.6 UZR. Because he had never played there before, it is reasonable to assume an uptick in those metrics in 2018 is plausible. Even if that doesn’t happen, though, he would still be far better defensively than he would be at second base.
Defense must be a priority this offseason, and thankfully the Mets have publicly said they plan on making that a reality. Amed Rosario playing a full season at shortstop will certainly help. Juan Lagares will be playing center field until Michael Conforto gets back from injury, and the Mets signed Jay Bruce who is underrated in right field, posting 6 DRS and a 2.4 UZR/150 in 2017. Not to mention they signed four-time Gold Glover Adrian Gonzalez.
Let’s say the Mets sign Todd Frazier to play third base as many Mets fans are proponents for. He is a fine defender, in fact he is well above average though no threat to win a Gold Glove. He would surely be an upgrade over Cabrera at third, but would leave Asdrubal at second base where the overall level of infield defense would take a major hit.
“Being strong up the middle” is a saying for a reason. Juan Lagares in center field, Amed Rosario at shortstop and Asdrubal Cabrera at second base just doesn’t make much sense. Josh Harrison or Jason Kipnis on the other hand, now there’s a solid defense up the middle. Even Wilmer Flores is a better option at second base than Cabrera (something I touched on here).
It is known that the Mets almost acquired Gold Glover Ian Kinsler in a trade with the Tigers, but he chose to go to the Angels instead of the Mets. It is also known that the Mets almost got Kipnis from the Indians, who is an above average defender at second base, but the deal fell through due to money. It seems like the Mets correctly understand their need is not for any infielder, but for a second baseman. Luckily, many options still remain.