Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 2/3/12

After remaining relatively quiet all off-season, the Cleveland Indians have been busy in recent days. They signed Casey Kotchman to a one-year contract yesterday, and it appears they’re working away at locking up their young shortstop:

SS Asdrubal Cabrera in town and talking multiyear deal with #Indians. GM Chris Antonetti says deal must align “in value and term.”

— paul hoynes (@hoynsie) February 3, 2012

Asdrubal Cabrera is a bit of an enigma. It’s not that he’s a dark and mysterious character — although this leaves some room for debate — but that his performance over the past few years makes him a difficult player to project. He had a down year in 2010 after breaking his arm early in the season, but he was a +3 win player in both 2011 and 2009. In both of those years, though, there were some questionable spikes in his stats; his 2009 performance was helped along by an unsustainable .360 BABIP, and his 2011 “breakout” was fueled by a  dramatic increase in his homerun rate (13.3% HR/FB).

Since Cabrera grades out as a below-average defensive shortstop (according to UZR, TZL, and DRS), the majority of his value comes from his offense. He walks at a decent rate (~7 percent), doesn’t strike out too often (~16 percent), and hits for around a .270-.280 average, so the big question is about his power. As Mike Podhorzer pointed out, a large percentage of Cabrera’s home runs last season just barely cleared the fence — “Just Enough” shots according to ESPN Hit Tracker — so we should expect some regression. Maybe his power increases going forward due to him getting older and stronger, but as of right now, there’s reason to believe Cabrera will end up with closer to 15 homeruns in 2012 than 25.

Even with a projected drop in power, Cabrera is a solid bet to be a +2.5 to +3 win player, with the upside to be even better. The comparison isn’t perfect, but there are two other +3 win shortstops who have signed contract extensions before their Arb2 year in recent years:

Stephen Drew Yunel Escobar Arb2 4.7 5 Arb3 7.8 5 FA1 10* 5* FA2 5*

*Team or mutual option.

Escobar’s deal was exceedingly team friendly, and we probably shouldn’t use that as a comparison considering Cabrera is already asking for $5.2 million in arbitration. Drew’s contract seems like a good match, though. It would pay Cabrera close to what he’d likely receive in arbitration, while giving him a bit of security in case he regresses hard this season. From the Indians’ side, they would be able to lock up a +3 win shortstop for the next three (or four) years at a below-market rate.

There’s some risk involved in signing Cabrera long-term, but even if his power doesn’t improve going forward, he’s a valuable offensive player who would be well worth locking up.

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