6 Reasons Asdrubal Cabrera Should Replace Derek Jeter as Yankees' Shortstop
It's not all roses, though. Jeter is essentially just a singles hitter at this point in his career, and he rates as the worst defensive shortstop in baseball as far as the advanced stats are concerned (see FanGraphs).
There's also the reality that the clock is ticking on Jeter's career. Jeter will likely be finished as a Yankee after the 2014 season, and he could even be finished as a Yankee after 2013 if he chooses not to exercise his option (not likely).
The dilemma the Yankees are facing is that they don't have an heir apparent for Jeter at shortstop. Since they don't have a ton of time between now and the inevitable end of Jeter's career to go and develop one, the best option for them is to go acquire an established shortstop from outside the organization.
How about Cleveland Indians All-Star Asdrubal Cabrera?
Jason A. Churchill of ESPN.com suggested Cabrera as a possible replacement for Jeter in an Insider post speculating on how the Yankees are going to choose to tackle the situation. Cabrera is a sensible option because he's due to hit free agency after 2014, the same year Jeter's career will probably come to a close.
Or the Yankees could trade for him before then and move Jeter to the outfield or third base, which is a possibility that should not be completely disregarded.
Regardless of how they acquire him, I'm on board with the idea of the Yankees eventually replacing Jeter with Cabrera. Here's a look at a few reasons why.
Note: All stats come from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Ability to Be an Above-Average Defensive Shortstop
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Ever since he moved to shortstop on a full-time basis in 2009, Asdrubal Cabrera has become known for highlight-reel plays. It's no surprise, then, that the perception among fans and some pundits is that Cabrera is one of the league's elite defensive shortstops.
Um, no. Not yet, anyway.
Despite all the Web Gems he's made over the years, Cabrera has a career UZR of -32.1 as a shortstop, according to FanGraphs. This year, he's sitting on a UZR of -6.7 and a DRS of -7.
This technically makes Cabrera a below-average shortstop, and no doubt many Tribe fans will vouch that this actually makes sense. He makes brilliant plays, but Cabrera is by no means the next coming of Omar Vizquel.
The bright side is that he does seem to be progressing in the right direction. His UZR/150 has gotten a little better each of the last three seasons and his RF/9 (Range Factor per nine innings) has jumped from 4.08 in 2011 to 5.04 this year.
So he seems to be improving in the field as he accumulates more experience. He certainly should be given his athleticism and his arm (which is good enough).
Jeter, on the other hand, is only getting worse.
Per FanGraphs, Jeter's -13.5 UZR and -17 DRS are the lowest marks among all qualified major league shortstops. His RF/9 is well under 4.00.
Jeter has long since become a defensive liability at shortstop. Just imagine how much worse he's going to be in 2013 at the age of 39 and in 2014 at the age of 40.
The sooner the Yankees can replace him at shortstop, the better.
Dynamic Offensive Player
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Cabrera's numbers don't look all that great right now, as he's hitting just .280/.344/.437 with a .781 OPS.
This is because, much like he did in 2011, Cabrera has fallen into a slump following the All-Star break. In 32 games in the second half, he's hitting just .267/.294/.366 with two homers and nine RBI.
Jeter is trending in the other direction. He's hitting over .350 since the break with an .845 OPS, and is now batting .320 with a .784 OPS for the season.
Here's the thing, though: Jeter's batting average may be significantly higher than Cabrera's, but that doesn't mean he's a significantly better offensive player than Cabrera. The advantage he has in that department is actually very slight.
You can tell by looking at the two players' weighted on-base averages, which you can naturally find over at FanGraphs. Jeter's is at .343. Cabrera's is at .337.
And this is with Cabrera's post-break slump factored in. Before the break, his offensive numbers put Jeter's to shame.
Cabrera will probably never be a perennial .300 hitter like Jeter, but he certainly has it in him to hit over 20 home runs with around 20 stolen bases on an annual basis, something Jeter had the ability to do when he was in his prime.
Plus, Cabrera is a switch hitter, and his main power alley when he bats left-handed is out to right field. Playing in Yankee Stadium 81 times a year would surely give his power numbers a boost.
Already a More Valuable Player Than Jeter
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Jeter is regarded as something along the lines of a god by Yankees fans, and the fact that he's hitting .320 and leading the league in hits at the age of 38 would seemingly make it hard to argue with that perception.
In reality, he's not that great.
Jeter definitely gives the Yankees good value on offense, but his defense at shortstop is such a negative that his offense almost isn't worth playing him every day. He's a very good hitter, but a surprisingly mediocre overall player.
On the flip side, FanGraphs has Cabrera's WAR calculated at 2.4. Baseball-Reference.com has it at 2.2.
Yes, WAR is an imperfect statistic, but the fact that it tells us that Cabrera is more valuable than Jeter makes perfect sense if you stop and think about it. The two of them are about equal in terms of hitting and baserunning, but Cabrera is significantly better defensively than Jeter.
The point is that Cabrera would be an immediate upgrade over Jeter if the Yankees were to pursue him in a trade as soon as this winter. By the time the two of them are free agents following the 2014 season, going from Jeter to Cabrera will be a huge upgrade.
Cabrera's not the only shortstop out there who's an upgrade over Jeter, to be sure. But what makes him such an appealing option is that he's a player who would fit into the Yankees' financial plans for the immediate future.
Cabrera Is Relatively Cheap
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The Yankees are changing. We're used to seeing them with a payroll over $200 million, but Hal Steinbrenner made it clear before the start of the season that he wants to get the club's payroll under the $189 million luxury tax threshold.
Getting under that threshold won't be easy, as the three biggest contracts on the club (belonging to CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez) still have a lot of years left on them. Plus, they're going to have decide very soon whether they want to sign Curtis Granderson and/or Robinson Cano to extensions.
By the time the 2014 offseason rolls around, however, the Yankees should have some payroll space to work with if they play their cards right in the next couple years. Having Jeter coming off the books will only help.
Whether they choose to pursue Cabrera in a trade or as a free agent following the 2014 season, the good news for the Yankees is that locking him up will not require a massive financial commitment.
Cabrera is making under $5 million this season. He's due to make $10 million in 2014, and by then he should be well worth that kind of money.
At the rate he's progressing as a player, though, he's not about to become a superstar worthy of an annual salary of $15 million or more per season, dollar amounts that the Yankees want to avoid. He'll be more like an $11 or $12 million-per-year player, at most.
That's a lot of money for most teams, but not for the Yankees. They're paying Jeter $16 million this season and $17 million next season, all for a player who technically is less valuable than Cabrera.
So if the Yankees move from Jeter to Cabrera, they won't have to worry about him compromising their plans to stay under the luxury tax threshold. They'll be able to squeeze him in.
Not Totally Inexperienced in the Spotlight
A shot of Cabrera from the 2007 ALDS.
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Whenever a player leaves a small-market club to go play for the Yankees, there's always the fear that he'll crash and burn playing under the bright lights of New York.
That fear will be prevalent if the Yankees do end up bringing Cabrera aboard. After all, he'll be coming from a team with one of the lowest payrolls in the league, not to mention some of the worst attendance numbers in the league.
Cabrera's not a complete stranger to the spotlight, however. He's been around long enough to have played under bright lights on several different occasions.
Case in point: Cabrera was a rookie when the Indians went to the postseason in 2007, and the two teams they faced that year were the Yankees in the ALDS and the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS.
He was thus exposed to the two harshest environments in the American League, yet he performed admirably. He only hit .217 with a .528 OPS in 11 games, but he managed to collect six RBI in those 11 games.
At this point, Cabrera is also no stranger to either Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park. He has a career OPS of .726 at Yankee Stadium, and a career OPS of .850 at Fenway Park.
Come to think of it, his career OPS against the Red Sox is .842. That should definitely appeal to the Yankees.
There's Still Plenty of Room for Cabrera to Get Better
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In case you've been wondering all this time, other names floated by Churchill as possibilities for the Yankees include Ian Desmond, Jed Lowrie, Yunel Escobar, Jose Reyes and J.J. Hardy.
Forget Desmond. He doesn't hit free agency until 2016 and the Nationals probably won't be willing to part with him anytime between now and then. Not while they have such a good thing going.
As for the others, Lowrie is injury-prone and it's debatable how high his ceiling goes. The ceiling question also applies to Escobar, and he also has a reputation for being a bad clubhouse influence. Reyes is too expensive, too injury-prone and too unpredictable. Hardy is solid, but really nothing more than solid.
No doubt you can see why Cabrera stands out as the most intriguing option. Of all the shortstops the Yankees could pursue in the next few years, he's the one guy who's still young, not overly expensive and still getting better as a player.
The signs are there that Cabrera's defense is getting better, and we know from the way he performed in the first halves of 2011 and this season (OPSs in the .830 range both seasons) that he has it in him to be one of the league's elite offensive shortstops.
At some point, you have to figure that he'll find his footing on defense and that he'll manage to be productive throughout a whole season.
The path Cabrera is on suggests that this will happen within the next couple of years, and that many more good years will follow.
If not, well, there are plenty of other fish in the sea for Brian Cashman to pursue.
For the time being, he should be keeping a close eye on Cabrera.
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