|CHICAGO WHITE SOX|
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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