The Indians have made it pretty clear that they are shopping Asdrubal Cabrera. With at least a serviceable fill-in on the roster in Mike Aviles and Cabrera’s trade value likely at its peak this winter, they’re attempting to use their 27-year-old shortstop to acquire more young pieces with an emphasis on future value. Arizona has been most often linked to Cabrera, as their never ending search for a shortstop makes them something of a logical fit. Reports this morning suggest that Cabrera could be the bait that gets them Trevor Bauer or could be part of a larger, multi-team trade that results in Justin Upton finally being traded.
Clearly, the cost for Cabrera is quite high, and before Arizona surrenders one of their best trade chips, they should be aware of what they’re getting – a decent-but-not-great hitter who might not really be a shortstop much longer.
Cabrera is basically the definition of the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none type of player. He is pretty much a league average player at every aspect of the game. Let’s start with his offense – below are his career numbers against the league average over the 2007-2012 seasons.
He strikes out about twice as often as he walks, but he doesn’t do either in particularly large quantities. He has some power, but he’s not a big time home run guy. His balls in play go for hits just slightly more often than average, but not enough to drastically alter his overall line. And he’s basically an average runner once he gets on base, being fast enough to steal some bases but not fast enough to avoid getting thrown out.
Of course, having a shortstop who can produce league average offense is, in theory, quite valuable, since shortstops as a whole are generally lousy hitters. His 107 wRC+ ranks as the fifth best mark any regular shortstop has put up during his time in the Majors, with only Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, Derek Jeter, and Jose Reyes coming in ahead of him. Cabrera’s not in their level, but you don’t have be a monster to be a top-tier offensive shortstop.
But, offense isn’t the only thing a player does to add value, and Cabrera’s skills are being pushed to the limit by sticking him at short. In 4,400 innings at the position in his career, he’s racked up a -34 UZR, which grades out to -10 runs per full season. This isn’t a case where the team’s internal evaluation of the player is just in stark contrast to the numbers, either, as Mark Shapiro publicly discussed their evaluation of Cabrera as a poor defender at the SABR Analytics conference last March. And, there’s been some talk that other teams interested in acquiring Cabrera were doing so with plans to move him to another position. There’s a general consensus here that Cabrera gives back a decent amount of the value that comes from playing shortstop by being quite poor relative to his peers.
So, instead of referring to Cabrera as a shortstop, it’s probably better to look at him as an average 2B or 3B who has just been playing out of position for the last few years. And an average hitting, average fielding 2B/3B is basically the definition of an average player.
Because Cabrera’s offense has been a little better than average the last few years, he’s been more of a +3 win player than a +2 win player, and perhaps its fair to expect him to sustain that level of performance for the next couple of years. Noting that he’s been an average player in his career probably undersells his next few years, since his recent performances are better than his career numbers and he’s headed into his age 27 season. But even as a +3 win player, he’s more of a nice piece than any kind of true star.
And, with two years and $16 million left on his contract, Cabrera’s a value relative to the market, but he’s not exactly free. A +3 win player is probably worth around $15 million per year, so Cabrera’s getting paid around half of what he’s worth for the next two years. There’s certainly some extra value here, probably in the $20 million range, depending on how you evaluate the right to negotiate a longer term extension or make him a qualifying offer in a few years. But, $20 million of surplus value also doesn’t make him the kind of asset who should be commanding a monster return in trade either. If Cabrera was under team control for more years, or if he was a better player, then maybe these reported demands would fit, but teams should view him as more like the infield version of Angel Pagan, and giving up the farm for that kind of player — even on a solid contract — probably isn’t the wisest choice ever.
Cabrera would be a nice player for the Diamondbacks, perhaps splitting time between 3B and SS so that the team can run a semi-platoon of newly-signed Eric Chavez and previously acquired Cliff Pennington. And perhaps there are valid reasons for Kevin Towers and his staff to be ready to move on from Upton and Bauer. But, these are two of the better trade chips that are actually on the market, and after those two, the Diamondbacks aren’t going to have many assets left that they could use to make substantial upgrades to keep up in the NL West. If they’re going to cash in Upton or Bauer, they have to make sure they get something substantial in return. And Cabrera probably isn’t quite good enough to be that substantial piece.