With Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez headed to Boston, and two more big bats off the free agent market — and two guys the Jays were reportedly interested in, to some degree — the pressure for Alex Anthopoulos to get to work addressing some of the holes on his roster was ratcheted up a notch on Monday.
Some might say that the pressure to get a deal done specifically with Melky Cabrera has gone up, but that remains crazy talk.
A certain subset of Jays fans have somehow convinced themselves that Melky is a whole lot more valuable than reality would indicate. Sure, the fact that he’s a high-contact switch hitter, his defence is passable in left, and that he appears to be well-liked and wants to be here are all terrific points in his favour. And he hit a tonne in 2014 — something the Jays could certainly use, especially without Adam Lind, without a viable second base option (apart from a guy who hasn’t seen a pitch above Double-A), and with Dalton Pompey seemingly set to take over in centre.
He’s projected by Steamer to post a 116 wRC+, but because of his deficiencies with the glove they have that working out to just a 1.7 WAR.
There are certainly ways you can poke at that figure. This season Cabrera produced 2.6 WAR (3.1 by Baseball Reference), so the projection sees quite a bit of a drop, and that’s from a 2014 in which he spent most of the final month on the Disabled List. As noted, a lot of what’s dragging the number down is his defence — though his bat was actually only in the upper-middle of the pack among left fielders (120 wRC+, ranking 11th of 24 on the FanGraphs leaderboard among those with at least 450 plate appearances) — and while both UZR and DRS do tend to agree that he’s below average, you could argue that defensive metrics are a bit shaky to begin with, and Melky’s defence looks fine enough. His projections are based on data that includes his tumour-ridden 2013 season, which might help to deflate them a bit, though I suppose there arequestions about inflated numbers in the previous seasons, as well, so maybe that evens out.
Still, it’s not unreasonable to think you could argue that 1.7 wins looks a bit light. Devon Travis, for example — the guy who hasn’t seen a pitch above Double-A — is projected to 2.5 wins, so… while I’m sure there’s basis for that in the data, and while position certainly plays a part in the discrepancy, that number probably suggests that we definitely can’t just take these as gospel.
It’s just, even if we don’t particularly like what Steamer is telling us, how far off do we think it might realistically be? A win? Two wins? Obviously we can’t see the future, and Melky has produced as much as 4.5 WAR in the past, but banking on a pretty reliably predictive formula to be that far off isn’t a great idea. And even if it is and you think you’re getting a 3.7 WAR player, while undeniably very, very valuable, that’s not exactly a break-the-bank, get-him-or-we’re-fucked kind of player. In 2014, 57 position players produced that much or more value.
Melky, in other words, is replaceable. Nori Aoki was worth 2.5 WAR last season, projects to 1.5, and will be available at much less the cost. Nelson Cruz, though he’s better suited to DH, was worth 3.9 wins last year and projects to 1.5 as well. Nick Markakis produced 2.5 but projects to just 1.3. Michael Saunders, who is reportedly available, produced 1.9 and projects to 2.4, albeit assuming a level of health he’s yet to demonstrate he’s capable of.
Of course, a guy like Saunders would cost the Jays an asset in trade, as would whoever else is out there that we may not yet be thinking of. Melky would simply cost money, and would also allow them to explore deals involving Andy Dirks or John Mayberry or maybe even Kevin Pillar, or to hold those guys as nice depth pieces, rather than thinning out their on-field assets. So there are certainly some major advantages to bringing Cabrera back, it’s just not an at-all-costs kind of a thing, and the Jays have smartly played it this way.
Best yet, the market may actually be playing into their hands, especially with Hanley Ramirez suddenly becoming an outfielder, and Boston therefore adding at least one more name to the market. Cuban Yasmani Tomas, who the Jays haven’t been linked to at all, is a possibility for clubs as well.
The market playing in their favor certainly appears to be the suggestion being made by Richard Griffin in a piece from Sunday night at the Toronto Star, as he writes that “The Blue Jays should not yet be discounted in the chase for free-agent Melky Cabrera. He might be back in blue.”