Baseball Prospectus Needs Your Help! Check out our call for contributors!
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed OF-L Melky Cabrera to a three-year contract worth $42 million. [12/13]

There was once a time when Melky Cabrera was considered one of the worst regulars in baseball. From 2006-2010 he averaged 142 games played and posted a slash line of .267/.329/.380, good for an OPS+ of 86, while playing average, at best, defense in center and left field.

In 2011, Cabrera joined the Kansas City Royals and everyone scoffed, “Haha, silly Dayton Moore signed the worst regular player in baseball! He must miss Yuniesky Betancourt!" Cabrera went on to slash .305/.339/.470, but many still weren’t believers. It wasn’t an outrageous suggestion, but most leaned to a lucky season, rather than a young player making adjustments, figuring some things out, and really coming into his own.

Right on cue, the always battered Brian Sabean acquired Cabrera and once again people mocked, “Oh Sabean, he lucked into one World Series and now he’s giving up a good young pitcher in Jonathan Sanchez after Melky comes off a career year. Tsk tsk.”

Of course, Cabrera came out and appeared to really win over all the remaining critics in 2012, putting up an impressive 157 OPS+ in 113 games, before being suspended in one of the more bizarre attempted PED cover-ups in recent memory. Cabrera’s star had fallen, the Giants wanted nothing to do with him, yet he somehow still snagged a two-year, $16 million deal with the Blue Jays in the following offseason (don’t do drugs, kids).

He struggled through 88 games in 2013, but bounced back in 2014, delivering an .808 OPS with 35 doubles and 16 home runs. Whether you cared about his previous PED incident or not, whether you believe he is currently clean or not, the fact is, when he’s been on the field of late, he’s been quite productive. From 2011, when things seemed to click for Cabrera, through 2014, he’s delivered a 124 OPS+. During that span, he’s tied with Shin-Soo Choo (who signed with Texas last offseason for seven years and $130 million); just ahead of him, each with a 125 OPS+, are recent Red Sox signees Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez (who signed for five years, $95 million and four years, $88 million, respectively).

When looking at those deals, it’s hard to see the Melk-Man’s three-year, $42 million deal as an overpay for the White Sox, and the fact that he didn’t require a fourth year makes it all the more palatable. Of course, Cabrera still has some warts. He’s not strong defensively, his monster 2012 was driven by a .379 BABIP (which he hasn’t shown to be repeatable), and his 7 percent career walk rate is a tick below average, making him more batting average and power reliant.

But even with those negatives, it’s clear that the White Sox have significantly improved themselves in left field. Since becoming a regular in 2012, Dayan Viciedo's offense has stagnated at around a .255 True Average, below-average even if he weren't a corner outfielder. Furthermore, after watching Viciedo patrol left, you'll think Cabrera is a Gold Glover in the making. Cabrera actually walks at a higher rate than Viciedo and strikes out significantly less. In fact, though it didn’t result in a lot of walks, Cabrera’s plate discipline has been quite impressive, especially in 2014. He struck out in a microscopic 11 percent of his plate appearances, swung at just 46 percent of the pitches he saw, while posting a very strong 88 percent contact rate.

With the addition of Cabrera, the White Sox continue an impressive offseason makeover that includes bringing in Jeff Samardzija to fit in between Chris Sale and Jose Quintana in the rotation, Adam LaRoche to take over for the retired duo of Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, and Zach Duke, Dan Jennings, and David Robertson to try to solidify an impossibly bad bullpen. It’s been a strong offseason for the South Siders, but there is still more work to do. Second and third base look to be issues, and depending on how you feel about Tyler Flowers and the magic glasses that fueled his impressive second half (.891 OPS), catcher might need an upgrade as well.

Regardless, the White Sox don’t have terrible options at those positions, and even with no more upgrades made to their roster, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them in the thick of things come September. That would certainly be a welcome sight for anyone who’s suffered through Chicago baseball over the past few years. —Sahadev Sharma

Fantasy Impact

Melky Cabrera
Not a ton changes here with regard to Cabrera’s fantasy projection. Even including the numbers from his essentially lost year in 2013 (slow start, knee injury) he's still averaged .309 with 12 home runs and 139 R+RBI on a per-550-PA basis over the past four seasons. Last year he snuck into both the top 25 AL hitters and top 50 mixed league hitters, and the move to the South Side should offer him the opportunity to return similar value again in 2015. The White Sox offense posted a fairly mediocre composite line in 2014, scoring the 13th most runs in baseball and checking in 18th in team TAv. But the recent addition of Adam LaRoche, coupled with the return of an ostensibly healthy Avisail Garcia and a (fingers crossed) full season of healthy Adam Eaton leading off provides ample upside for an improved lineup context. The ballpark jump is pretty much a best-case scenario for a hitter leaving Rogers Centre, as U.S. Cellular actually plays as a slightly better offensive environment. And for what it’s worth, Cabrera has posted excellent career numbers in the park, slashing .336/.366/.591 over 147 career plate appearances. The speed that was once a significant part of Cabrera’s offensive profile isn’t likely to return to double-digit stolen base levels again, but a strong AVG, mid-teens HR, and above-average R+RBI production should be a reasonable expectation for managers investing on draft day. That package adds up to a solid complementary OF2 or OF3 depending on the depth of format.
Dayan Viciedo, Jordan Danks
Viciedo is the relevant one in this equation, as it appears his clock has run out as a starter in Chicago. He’s shown impressive raw power in his nigh-on three full seasons as a starter in Chicago, but his aggressive approach and contact issues have limited the utility of that power. Coupled with his defensive limitation (-18.6 FRAA in LF over the past two seasons) the overall real world value has been quite limited, to where he actually posted a negative WARP last season despite his notable-for-fantasy 21 homers. He’ll play next season at just 26 years old, and he did make some progress in reducing a chronic platoon split against right-handed pitching last season. So there’s theoretically some untapped upside here if he gets traded or injury opens up a return to the starting lineup. For now he appears ticketed to a reserve role, however, which means he’ll be best left for a speculative power play in AL-only leagues. Danks, meanwhile, was pretty much irrelevant before the deal when he slotted in as the likely fifth outfielder for the White Sox. But with Viciedo sliding to the bench and Leury Garcia’s superutility profile on the roster his spot becomes more or less obsolete. —Wilson Karaman

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
Melky's numbers over the past 4 years are even more impressive when you consider his 2013 down season was a result of a tumour in his back.
I don't think anyone questioned trading the walk-prone Sanchez for a Melky who had hit .300 the previous year.
I remember a bunch of it -- felt like selling low on Sanchez and buying high on Cabrera. Memories are weird, though. Maybe I'm remembering wrong.
Considering that there was a lot of talk prior to the trade that the Giants were going to non-tender Sanchez that offseason, yeah, I think you are misremembering a bit.
We've all got our memory biases. I'm a native New Yorker and Yankee fan so I have some attachment to Melky, and I was living in San Francisco at the time the Jonathan Sanchez trade happened.
I follow the Giants and I remember that I was not the only one who thought it was a terrible deal at the time.
"Whether you cared about his previous PED incident or not, whether you believe he is currently clean or not, the fact is, when he’s been on the field of late, he’s been quite productive."

Does this statement represent progress in that BP has finally gotten past the 'PEDS have no effect'?

If you can't connect the dots with Melky ....
Any chance Viciedo could be worked out as a second baseman? It sure would be nice not to ship him out so young and have him come on as decent someplace else. Maybe he could be Uggla-light.
Dayan Viciedo was originally a third baseman but didn't make it there defensively. The only spot on the infield where he might play would be first base.