Every deal begins as a rumor and remains so until there are names on the requisite dotted lines. That said, there are rumors (Twins scouting Roy Halladay) and rumors with serious life to them (Twins pursuing Orlando Cabrera).
Needless to say, this iteration of the Twins Trade Target series is based on substantially more than my sense of what this team needs and what they are willing to spend.
When asked about Cabrera, manager Ron Gardenhire said "I’m not allowed to talk about players, but I like Cabrera. ... I can answer a direct question. I think he’s a great player."
As we all know, it is critically important for Gardy to like any player the Twins are thinking about acquiring, or else that player will ride pine, so that quote is not without serious consequence.
So, if acquired, Cabrera will play. The question is: Is that a good thing?
Once an elite defender, Cabrera is beginning to show his age. At 34, Cabrera is posting a career worst UZR, -7.0, just a year after posting an excellent UZR of 14 (seventh best for any defender, second best among second basemen).
Cabrera has always been known more for his glove than his bat, and while that is still the case, he isn't a horrible hitter. His .276/.313/.366 line is below average, good for an EqA of .246, a VORP of 9.5, and an OPS+ of 85, none of which are all that inspiring.
He is in the midst of his best month of the season so far, as he's hitting .373/.395/.530 in July and .389/.436/.528 after the All-Star break.
In determining the quality of any deal, but especially this one, two things are important to look at: what was given up and how much of an upgrade the team will see.
Guessing what the Twins will have to give up to get Cabrera is pretty hard to guess at this point. It will depend on how much Billy Beane thinks he can extract from Bill Smith, and how many players are involved.
There is a strong sense among insiders that any deal with Oakland would include Michael Wuertz, who would command a much higher return, since he's Oakland's best reliever with respect to expected wins above replacement.
He's also under team control (read: cheap) through 2011.
So, given that the first aspect of the equation remains a variable, looking at the second becomes the task at hand.
The Twins are currently working a sort of middle infield rotation with Brendan Harris, Nick Punto, and Alexi Casilla, with the latter two getting the majority of the reps.
Below is a table of the EqA, VORP, and UZR of the four players in question: Punto, Casilla, Harris and the hypothetical addition of Cabrera. (Punto is listed as a 2B, but the majority of his starts have come SS where he's posted a UZR of-1.0)
Offensively, a middle infield of Harris and Cabrera stands the best chance of making a reasonable contribution, but Gardy's love of defense would almost certainly make that impossible. Chances are good that the acquisition of Cabrera would push Harris to the bench or to third base if Joe Crede is hurt long term*.
*If Crede is out for more than a standard DL stint, the calculations change wildly. Adding a middle infielder becomes much more important, unless the Twins believe Danny Valencia is ready right now.
The point here is that, as I've said before, the upgrade isn't from Punto to Cabrera, Johnson, Sanchez, or any other trade target you can come up with. The guy who loses out is Harris, with less of Casilla hopefully coming as a happy byproduct.
So, what this deal comes down to, besides the cost, is whether Bill Smith thinks Cabrera will continue his July production.
If so, then he's an upgrade over Harris and the Twins should pursue him.
If they believe, as I do, that Harris would produce just as well as Cabrera, given the playing time to do so, then they shouldn't add the salary.
If I was Bill Smith, the only reason I would actively pursue Cabrera would be as a throw-in in a deal centered around Wuertz.