White Sox Sign Melky Cabrera To A Three-Year Deal

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Prepare for certain Jays fans to lose their minds: Melky Cabrera is going to the Chicago White Sox.

Or so tweets Bruce Levine of Chicago’s 670 The Score, who says that it’s a three-year deal, pending a physical. No dollar figure has been reported just yet (Update: MLB.com’s Scott Merkin tweets that his colleague, Jesse Sanchez, has been informed that the deal is between $42- and $43.5-million), but that no team was willing to go to four years, and that Melky was willing to settle on three and not keep waiting, maybe says something about the soft market for his service — one that said certain Jays fans will be upset that the team didn’t get harder in on, despite the fact that they already have filled his position much more cheaply, and with a player who has been more valuable on a per-plate-appearance basis, and that Melky has a say in it too.

Even if the Jays were close, if you’re Melky, do you want to bash about on the Rogers Centre turf for three years before hitting free agency again at age-33? Probably not.

It was a good run here — especially 2014 — and a good bit of business that Alex Anthopoulos did in taking a chance on Cabrera the way that he did coming off his P.E.D. suspension in 2012, but he just wasn’t as invaluable to the club as a lot of folks want to believe. A really good player, mind you, but one whose defence and base running pissed away enough of the value of his bat to make him, in the overall, not quite as great as just the offensive statistics alone made him look.

Which isn’t to say that the Jays wouldn’t have been better off bringing him back — they certainly would be — it’s just not as bad as it seems. Nor was it their choice anyway (theoretically, at least, though they did choose to not offer him enough money above and beyond his value to make him change his mind).

And this, of course, means that the Jays have added back a decent draft pick — it will fall between the end of the first round and the beginning of Competitive Balance Round A (which precedes the second round) — after having lost theirs for signing Russell Martin.

All that simmering down stuff said, though, it really sort of does look like a pretty damn nice deal for Chicago, and one the Jays probably ought to have been in on, Saunders or not. If, y’know, the money was there to do it — COUGH — and everything else they still need to do. COUGH COUGH

But before you get too conspiratorial about it, so should a bunch of other teams at that price, no?

Image via Keith Allison/Flickr

The Value In Adding Saunders Is As Much Budgetary As It Is On-Field

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So… Michael Saunders.

The Jays traded J.A. Happ on Wednesday afternoon — a completely understandable move, considering his $6.7-million salary for 2015 and the existence of Aaron Sanchez and Dan Norris. In exchange they got out-of-favour Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders — a Canadian (from Victoria, BC), who in 2014 was nearly as valuable as Cabrera (1.9 WAR to Melky’s 2.4 according to FanGraphs, and 2.4 to 3.1 per Baseball-Reference) in about two-fifths the number of plate appearances (263 to 621).

Comparing WAR totals over a sample size that small isn’t a great idea, though. Digging deeper, you especially notice that Saunders benefited from a .327 BABIP last year, which is nearly 40 points higher than his career rate. If he were to regress, as expected, back from the inflated 126 wRC+ he posted, he wouldn’t look nearly as comparable to 2014 Cabrera as it maybe seems on the surface.

Looking at projections, Melky doesn’t fare as well, in a 580 PA season, as Saunders (1.7 WAR, according to Steamer, compared to 2.4), but that’s mostly because of defence — and part of what’s holding back that element of Melky’s projection is the fact that he was so poor in 2013, thanks to the tumour on his spinal column that he dealt with. The tumour year also depresses Cabrera’s projection with the bat, one assumes (though maybe the P.E.D. years help to even that out), and just assuming Saunders is going to be good for more plate appearances than he’s ever amassed in a pro season isn’t exactly easy to swallow either.

So, have the Jays upgraded in left field by moving on from Melky Cabrera — which, don’t kid yourself, they have absolutely done with this move — and going to Saunders? All things considered, probably not.

I mean, if we’re going to dump on Brett Lawrie on his way out of town largely for his trouble staying on the field, we can’t exactly ignore the issues Saunders brings.

But the bigger question is have they upgraded in the aggregate?

For now the answer is probably no, too. The defence Saunders will bring to left field will be better than Melky’s, and with a 118 wRC+ over his last 508 plate appearances against right-handers, he should be a fine enough replacement in the lineup — especially with Kevin Pillar available as a platoon partner — if he’s able to stay on the field.

More importantly, though, is the fact that Saunders still has two years of service remaining, and projects to earn just $2.9-million this year. That might be as much as $12-million less than Cabrera will end up earning this season, and in the overall will make a huge difference in savings — both in the short- and long-term.

He may be a risk, and he may not be Melky — even if the projections say he’s better! — but with Happ off the books and Saunders on, the Jays now have a shade under $118-million committed for 2015, and one less potentially very expensive position to fill. They could spend $20-million and still be about in the range of last season’s $137.2-million payroll — and they might even have more.

That means that at least a couple of bullpen arms should be in play, or maybe even another starter, or a second baseman, or some combination of those four possibilities.

If they actually use the money to obtain such things, the difference in terms of on-field value between Cabrera and a platoon of Saunders and Pillar will be fairly easily offset. If they use it.

Image via Keith Allison/Flickr

Olney: Melky Prefers To Play Elsewhere And Avoid The Turf

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Well… yeah.

I mean, obviously, right?

Here, specifically, is what’s rumbling:

Olney, in conversation with Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet concedes that his guess “is that it’s an all-things-being-equal situation,” and if the Jays’ offer is “far and away the best, well, that changes things.”

Fair enough, no?

And while I’m sure this is a blow to anybody who actually swallowed it when Melky said all the right things on his way out of town, it makes total sense.

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Today In Melky Cabrera – Tuesday, November 25th

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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.”

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