"Let the kids develop." That is what I said on this website just about a month ago. That was said in regards to the Indians signing Orlando Cabrera to play second base for $1 million for one year. I was against the signing from the start. I will now put my pride aside and admit I was wrong.
Some people liked the signing, but most didn't. I was one of the dissenters. Why were Indians fans against it? Because we had seen the desperate veteran signing over and over again, with little to show for it. It seemed like 2011 was the year to "bottom out," if you will, and let the young guys play and get experience under their belts. Through 13 games, it looks like bottoming out was a terrible idea.
The Tribe have looked very good so far in April, and Orlando Cabrera has been a big reason for it. He has looked solid at second base, which isn't the position he has played for the majority of his career. As a shortstop, Cabrera has been perhaps one of the most underrated players in baseball over the last 10 years.
He was a member of the Expos until mid-2004 when he was traded to the Red Sox. Playing shortstop for the Red Sox in 2004 was no easy job. He was taking the position previously played by Nomar Garciaparra, who was beloved in Boston. Cabrera exceeded expectations in Boston, becoming a key piece in their magical championship run.
From Boston he went to Anaheim, where he was starter for the Angels playoff teams of the mid-2000s. After Anaheim he went to Chicago, where he hit .281 and was a member of their 2008 AL Central championship team.
He then went to Oakland for half of a season, and was traded to Minnesota, who won the AL Central in 2009. After his brief stint in Minnesota, he spent last season in Cincinnati, where he played a big part in the Reds' first playoff appearance of this millennium.
Anybody notice a trend on the teams O-Cab has played for? They have all won. The guy knows how to win. He has won in Boston, Chicago, Anaheim, Minnesota and Cincinnati. That is five different teams, five different approaches, that he has had the benefit of learning from. Learning how to win is a lesson that is invaluable on a young team like the 2011 Indians.
His effect in Cleveland through 13 games has gone beyond his own contributions on the field. The most evident side effect of Orlando Cabrera being in Cleveland is the play of Asdrubal Cabrera. Orlando is hitting .271 on the young season and Asdrubal is hitting .302 with four home runs and 14 RBI. Asdrubal's approach at the plate seems different this year.
The Indians announcers commented just the other day about how Orlando Cabrera has been helping Asdrubal with that approach. He told him to take one at-bat a game and try to hit the ball as hard as he can, almost like a batting practice approach.
While this may seem like obvious advice to some, many infielders like Asdrubal tend to not let it loose at the plate as much as they should. How much has Adrubal taken this to heart? Only he knows, but it sure seems like O-Cab has had a positive impact on him.
As for the other infielders, like Matt LaPorta and even the AAA guys like Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall, having a veteran like Orlando Cabrera around is a great thing. I am sure Cabrera knows he is not the future second baseman of the Indians, but he will sure push someone like Kipnis to work hard to take his job.
He can also show a youngster like LaPorta what it means to be a major league infielder on a winning team. LaPorta may be off to a slow start, but now he has an experienced veteran in the same infield to help him straighten it out.
The season is young. Things could turn bad real quick for the Tribe, as it could for any team off to a good start. But through 13 games, Orlando Cabrera has won me over. He has played hard, has looked smooth at bat and in the field and appears to be having a positive influence on the young players in the Indians lineup.
Unlike the last two years, I don't consider the second baseman for the Indians an automatic out. Cabrera has been every bit the professional ball player he was billed as.
The Indians front office brought in Trot Nixon in 2007. I wasn't crazy about that signing either, and Trot didn't have an exceptional statistical season for the Indians. However, his influence in the clubhouse was invaluable. He was one of the players who gave that AL Central championship team their personality. He was a member of the "Idiots" 2004 Red Sox team. Remember who else was a member of that team? Orlando Cabrera.
"Rebuilding" or "bottoming out" doesn't seem to be on the Tribe's agenda in 2011. They appear to be a hungry, scrappy team that has their sights set on shocking the baseball world and making a run at the playoffs. If it doesn't look like it will happen by midseason, O-Cab may be on his way out to make room for Jason Kipnis at second.
But if the hope appears alive, I have a feeling Orlando Cabrera will be a big reason for it, and all of us doubters of a month ago will be pretending we loved the signing from the start.
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