Melky Cabrera: Why Giants' Breakout Star Is Not Worth Big Money in Free Agency
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Melky Cabrera picked a great time to have his best season. Going into Friday night's play, the San Francisco Giants outfielder leads the National League with a .363 batting average. His 91 hits are more than anyone else has in the majors.
Cabrera is set to be a free agent after this season and figures to be in demand by any team looking for outfield help. He could play left field for the Dodgers, Yankees, Tigers, Braves, Blue Jays, Phillies or Indians. The Red Sox could use him in right field. He'd give the Nationals the center fielder they've wanted for years. Cabrera might look good patrolling center for the Marlins, as well.
But just how much is he worth on the open market with the likes of Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton, Shane Victorino and Carlos Quentin also likely to be available? Can he get a six- or seven-year deal? Is he a $100 million player?
There are several factors to consider for any team interested in making a long-term investment in Cabrera. Collectively, they might be enough to keep him from truly cashing in this winter.
Are Two Good Seasons Enough?
Cabrera had a good season for the Kansas City Royals last year, batting .305/.339/.470 with 18 home runs and 87 RBI. His performance so far this season shows that his 2011 breakout may not have been a fluke.
At 27 years old, Cabrera is also in the middle of his prime. Whichever team signs him will be getting him at his best.
But can a team make a significant financial investment in a player based on two good seasons? Two years ago, Cabrera hit .255 with a .671 OPS. Signing any player to a long-term contract is a risk, but shouldn't prospective suitors be afraid of Cabrera regressing to that level of production?
Does Cabrera Feel Lucky? Well, Does He?
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Is he benefiting from a lot of batted balls dropping in that hadn't previously in his career? As Fangraphs explains, an average BABIP is .290 or .310. Cabrera's BABIP is .404 this season. That's a number likely to go down.
Sure, it's possible that Cabrera is just drilling the ball where defenders can't get to them. Joey Votto's BABIP is .422. Are analysts going to point at him and scream "Unsustainable?" (Well, they probably should.) Perhaps a better example is Carlos Ruiz. He's batting .361 with a BABIP of .369. There's not much wiggle room there.
Cabrera's .404 BABIP indicates that he's benefiting from some luck, as those balls just keep finding open grass. That doesn't mean he's not having an excellent season, but it also shows how much luck can be involved in hitting success.
Is Cabrera Really Standing Out?
Cabrera's league-leading batting average looked more impressive when he was far ahead of the competition. But other top hitters are closing in. Votto and Ruiz are right behind Cabrera for the NL batting average lead. Paul Konerko is actually ahead of him in the American League, batting .364.
By this time next week, Cabrera might not even lead the NL in hitting, which is his most impressive number on this season's resume. He's not hitting for much power with five home runs, and his RBI total of 31 is tied for 16th in the league. Will his numbers look as spectacular without a batting title?
Again, this isn't to discount the numbers Cabrera is putting up. But is what he's doing so special as to warrant a $100 million free-agent contract?
Jack of All Trades, Master of None
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According to Fangraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, Cabrera is a below-average defender as a left fielder. In center field, he's actually been terrible—far below average and failing to save 19 runs over his career. (If they were interested, the Nats and Marlins may want to rethink using him as a center fielder.)
As a right fielder, however, he's above average. But if a team prefers power more than defense from a corner outfielder, is Cabrera that guy?
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