July 30, 2011
A Slightly Offensive Upgrade
Neal was a hot prospect after the 2009 season, when he hit .337/.431/.579 for High-A San Jose, but in the end, he’s another ugly lesson in getting too excited about California League numbers. After hitting 22 bombs for San Jose, Neal smacked only 12 in the Eastern League last year, and has hit just two in 220 at-bats at Triple-A Fresno this year while batting .295/.351/.409 overall. Neal, with a career .296 average in the minors, does have a good hit tool, but he often hurts himself by expanding his strike zone when behind in the count, and his dead-red approach leaves him susceptible to off-speed stuff. He’s bulky and a bit on the slow side, and while he has the arm for right field, he doesn’t have the range, which has limited him to left. Neal consistently does most of his damage against left-handers, which will limit him to a bench or platoon role, if not simply a long career as an up-or-down guy. —Kevin Goldstein
Acquired 2B-R Orlando Cabrera from the Indians for OF-R Thomas Neal. [7/30]
In my write-up of the Carlos Beltran trade, I noted that as beneficial as the outfielder’s bat would be to the Giants, it wouldn’t help address the Giants’ glaring offensive holes at shortstop and catcher. Brian Sabean rightfully felt that his team needed an upgrade in the infield even after landing the top talent on the market, but—with all due respect for the GM’s successful dumpster-diving last season—this isn’t it.
Cabrera is no stranger to deadline deals, having been swapped on July 31st in both 2004 (from the Expos to the Red Sox) and 2009 (from the A’s to the Twins). With each trade, he’s become progressively less useful to his new employers. In ’04, Cabrera was charged with the unenviable task of replacing Nomar Garciaparra, but he handled it with aplomb, solidifying the Sox’ infield defense, holding his own at the plate, and adding the better part of two wins to Boston’s ledger down the stretch. If Sabean is hoping for a repeat performance, he’s certain to be disappointed.
Cabrera was once an above-average hitter for a middle infielder, but those days are long behind him; he’s managed only a .218 TAv in 344 plate appearances this season. What’s more, the glove that might have made him attractive to contenders in previous years has been in storage for the better part of a decade. Cabrera seemingly expended the last of his leather while doing his part to secure a long-awaited World Series win for the Sox; since ’04, he hasn’t once posted a positive performance in the field, sinking over 30 defensive runs into the red. This season, he’s been worth nearly a win below replacement to the Indians, who made a curious decision to sign him in the first place. It’s telling that as Cleveland raids other teams’ rosters in support of an unexpected playoff run, Chris Antonetti was only too eager to dump Cabrera on a potential October opponent.
Cabrera was subpar even at second base this season, so a move back to shortstop, where he’ll see the bulk of his playing time in San Francisco, won’t be pretty. Miguel Tejada, Mike Fontenot, and Brandon Crawford have set an extremely low bar at short for the Giants this season, but it’s doubtful that Cabrera is capable of clearing it. The aging infielder has made the playoffs in seven of the last eight years, and he’ll likely make that eight of nine this season, albeit in spite of his own play, not because of it. The Giants aren’t better off with him than they were before, but if it helps him get through the lineup card, Bruce Bochy can tell himself that variety in sub-replacement shortstops is the spice of life.—Ben Lindbergh
Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @ben_lindbergh