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November 16, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Melky Flees To Canada

by Sam Miller

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TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Reportedly sign Melky Cabrera to a two-year deal worth $16 million. [11/16]

If you were playing Taboo and you drew the card for Melky Cabrera, what might the disallowed related words be? Scanning the web, probably these:

Cheap
Discount
Affordable
Steroids
Bargain

Nearly every site that writes about baseball suggested Cabrera could be a swell deal for a team that didn’t mind the PR hit of signing a known user/amateur web developer. What would constitute a swell deal? Without a pool of similar scenarios in the recent past, it’s hard to pin down:

  • Joel Sherman: "But in the group of executives with whom I spoke, one thought Cabrera could get two years at $10 million to $12 million, another said one year at $8 million to $10 million. But the large majority saw Cabrera having to take a one-year deal in the $2 million-to-$5 million range."
  • Jerry Crasnick: "Most executives expect Cabrera to sign a one-year, make-good deal for a base salary of $2 million on the low side to $7 million to $10 million on the high side."
  • Jim Bowden: One year, $7.5 million

As with most prognostications, the outliers turned out to be silly and the crowd got pretty close, though in the end the average undersold Cabera's appeal. He is reportedly in line to get two years and $16 million, which means the market treated him pretty close to a league-average player without much upside. That’s a discount for a player who was sitting on 5.1 WARP through just two-thirds of the 2012 season. But that discount could be tied to any number of factors, illicit and not: His MVP-level performance for four months was out of line with his history; his MVP-level performance was driven by an uncharacteristic BABIP; his MVP-level performance relied on a 21-run swing in defensive value from 2011 to 2012; and, of course, the positive test for testosterone.

Two years and $16 million might be about what Cabrera could have expected had he only modestly improved on his 2011 season, and the underlying performance suggests he mostly did, with ticks of improvement across the board:

Measure 2011 2012
UIBB rate 4.9% 6.4%
K rate 13.3% 12.6%
ISO 0.164 0.170
HR/FB rate 9.8% 10.7%

Those improvements are a shade less impressive for Melky’s switch to the weaker league, which outweighs the switch to the tougher ballpark. Sneaking an early peak at PECOTA, I see that our system isn't buying Melky’s turnaround yet. PECOTA forecasts his TAv to fall between Cody Ross and Shane Victorino among this year’s free-agent outfielders. Had Cabrera’s consumption not been discovered, you can bet he would have asked for a lot more money, but he probably would have been worth only a few million more; three years and $30 million, perhaps. The Blue Jays got a good deal, but, even after a positive test, there are very few outright steals available. Between this move and Bartolo Colon's raise this offseason, baseball's executives are signaling that they don't see PED use the way the average fan does, as a miracle elixir. 

Leaving the baggage-related discussion behind, Cabrera will fit nicely into Toronto’s newly competitive lineup. The Blue Jays, for all the talk of pitching injuries derailing their season, were actually the third-worst offense in the American League last year. (Jeff Mathis batted sixth in the lineup four times, the first four times of his career. He batted fifth once.) Excepting Jose Bautista, who missed half the season, the Blue Jays’ outfielders combined for -0.7 WARP. Cabrera strengthens one of those positions, and gives the Blue Jays an emergency option in center.

The Blue Jays aren’t quite a fully constructed team yet, but by getting the big moves done early Alex Anthopoulos has left plenty of time to fill in the edges. He also finds himself with a surplus of flawed options in center field, with Colby Rasmus, Emilio Bonifacio, and Anthony Gose (in that order) all potentially in line to get starts between Cabrera and Jose Bautista. The gap between Rasmus and the others might be small enough that the Blue Jays consider spinning him off in another trade. 

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Toronto Blue Jays,  Melky Cabrera

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