Friday, the Mets announced that they would be picking up the $8.5 million option on Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera, who started at shortstop, second base and third base at various times last year, batted .280/.351/.434 with 14 home runs and 59 RBIs last season.
It’s unclear what this says about what’s to come for the Mets this offseason. Perhaps this means that they’ll spend a bit of money; they picked up the option on Jerry Blevins as well, and his $7 million option is a pretty penny for a left-handed specialist. Maybe this is a good sign.
But knowing the Mets, erring on the side of optimism almost always leaves one disappointed. This could also mean that the Mets plan to do little at second or third base (or both), and are keeping Cabrera because he’s relatively inexpensive. Keeping Cabrera reportedly doesn’t rule out a re-signing of Jose Reyes, so it’s possible the infield in 2018 could look identical to the infield in 2017. Yes, you read that correctly.
While Cabrera is a solid player, and keeping him on the roster is not necessarily a bad thing, this cannot be the end of the Mets’ search for infield improvement. To do this would be to set the Mets on a path to repeat the failures of last season. They are going to need to improve on at least one infield position if they are to contend — perhaps two — so it won’t bode well if this marks their largest move on the infield this season.
And no, re-signing Reyes or bringing in some scrub on a minor league deal doesn’t count as improvement.
Preserving the same lineup that was ninth in the NL in runs last season isn’t going to cut it. Opening up next year with Cabrera starting at second and Reyes starting at third doesn’t exactly drive optimism for a return to contention or offensive dominance. In fact, this would put the team in an even worse spot than it was in 2017, considering contributors like Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson and Neil Walker will no longer be on the team.
The Mets have to ensure this will not be the case. They can’t stop here.
Such a scenario would bode perhaps even worse on defense. Cabrera posted a -4.6 UZR last year, per Fangraphs. Reyes posted a -1.0 UZR. The Mets were 11th in the NL in UZR last season, so this is another area that could use improvement rather than regression. Defense doesn’t sell season tickets, but it could save the Mets pitching some runs — and given the state of the rotation, they could use some saved runs.
On the other hand, if the Mets bring in a Todd Frazier, a Dee Gordon, or even a Walker to improve the infield, and Cabrera remains part of that equation as a starting second or third baseman, things will be looking much better for the Amazins.
Cabrera’s 107 OPS+ last season indicates he’s an above-average hitter, so he is definitely capable of being a positive contributor in the lineup. He just can’t be the only contributor in the lineup.
In short, picking up Cabrera’s option is not truly a good or bad move in and of itself. Its success or failure will likely be contingent on the Mets’ commitment — or lack thereof — to improving the rest of the infield this Winter.