For being virtually a B-list outfielder for much of his career, Melky Cabrera has made a name for himself as a consistent run producer. Though it’s no guarantee that the Dominican will be the hitter he was in San Francisco last year, the Blue Jays will probably get their money's worth out of Cabrera in 2013.
This is mainly because Cabrera's ability is not the type that can be conjured up by an injection to the blood stream.
Cabrera's made a living off of a decent average, runs batted in, scoring runs and drawing walks—skills that are more concerned with clutch performance and smart plate habits than muscle size. He has never in his life hit more than 20 home runs, peaking at 18 and otherwise never breaking past 13. His performance enhancing drug (PED) use had little to do with turning this scrappy base hitter into a home run champion.
The “real”, presumably clean Cabrera, can be observed in his five seasons with the New York Yankees: A string of seasons where a young player faced struggles and found success, signed as an undrafted free agent and went up and down in the depth chart until ultimately winning the starting centerfield job by 2009.
These years of development, presumably drug free, were spent driving in runs (50, 73 and 68 RBI in 2006, 2007 and 2009 respectively) and scoring them on the base paths (75, 66, 66 runs in 2006, 2007 and 2009).
Most seasons, Cabrera has walked more than 40 times, his lowest being in 2008 with, his weakest season as a Yankee. At his best, he's hit for average. He's careful with his swings enough to draw a walk and he's made contact at the right time and place, as the RBI total suggests.
After acknowledging the success Cabrera found with the Yankees in particular, one should take a look at the monster year he had in San Francisco. Even on PED's, Cabrera only hit 11 home runs through August 14th. He didn't come close to reaching his career high of 18 home runs, though he might have if he’d had time to finish the season.
Cabrera didn't gain new talents with his use of PEDs. He merely amplified the attributes he already he had.
Therefore, as a Blue Jay, Cabrera will probably be the same consistent, smart hitter that he was for the Yankees- maybe a little better because of his experience, but definitely less powerful than the player fans saw last year in the Bay area.
As for the new environment, how Cabrera reacts to the tough pitching in the division.
Strangely, whenever Cabrera’s played in the American League East, he’s been on the team with the arguably the best pitching in the division, whether it’s the Yankees or the Blue Jays.
This time around, however, he’ll be dealing with the stress of hitting in Yankee Stadium from the visitor’s perspective.
It will be the first time he’s played in an AL East where he’ll be dealing with tough pitching in the regular series' with both Tampa Bay and Baltimore. Don’t discount John Lester, Clay Buchholz and Ryan Dempster in Boston, either. Arizona has it’s share of great pitching, but the AL East remains the best, and Cabrera will feel it. It should be the most consistently difficult pitching Cabrera has faced in his career.
Cabrera will get some slack from the big names in the Blue Jays lineup, though.
He's leaving one World Series championship lineup to join possibly another (That's what Vegas is telling you, not me). If Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie and Edwin Encarnacion remain healthy, then Cabrera will be well protected in 2013. He'll be set up to score plenty of runs, both with his feet and his bat.
Cabrera won’t have a season like last year's, mainly because of the pitching in the division, but he'll be effective for the Blue Jays. He might be good enough in 2013 to be named an All Star once again, though he's been in this division before and failed to earn that honor.
Maybe the clean (presumably), 28 year old Cabrera is going to be significantly better, but I suspect he'll be only a few notches above the Cabrera who played center field for the Yankees in 2009. He'll be a reliable work horse who has a good eye at the plate and can drive in runs. He should be well worth the $16 million, and the Blue Jays should not regret this signing.
And if he finds a way to beat the system and cheat again, then the Blue Jays definitely won't have anything to worry about, as long as he doesn't get caught.