Five thoughts on the Blue Jays' signing of Melky Cabrera to a two-year, $16 million contract, as first reported by ESPN Deportes.
1. Melky's soft landing
Two years after bottoming out with a .671 OPS and a non-tender from the Braves, Cabrera hit .305 with 44 doubles last year with the Royals and was on pace for his best season, by far, with the Giants in 2012. In 113 games he had a .346/.390/.516 slash line with 46 extra-base hits; he was named All-Star MVP in his first appearance at the Midsummer Classic; and if not for voluntarily withdrawing, he would have won the National League batting title.
That, of course, was all before his 50-game suspension for elevated levels of testosterone, ending his season prematurely in mid-August. His baseball life got much, much worse after that. The New York Daily News reported that a consultant for his agency paid $10,000 to acquire a website selling supplements, which was then doctored as part of an elaborate scheme to receive an acquittal on appeal. That idea failed miserably, and the Giants chose not to welcome him back on their way to a World Series win even though he had served his suspension.
Despite all that, Cabrera found a team willing to give him more than just a one-year flier, where he doesn't have to be a star (like in San Francisco, where he was the team's second-best player behind only Buster Posey) and where there may not be as much pressure as in some other major league markets.
Cabrera has thus found a favorable location to make his comeback from a PED suspension. But which player will he be? How much of his success the past two seasons was a result of the banned substance he ingested and how much was merely his maturation as a hitter?
Even if Cabrera doesn't repeat his outstanding 2012 numbers (.906 OPS) and settles closer to his production with the Royals (.809 OPS), he will be a worthwhile signing for the Blue Jays. Given their reluctance to sign players to contracts longer than five years and given the high salaries they've already assumed in their recent trade with the Marlins, the Jays were wise to gamble on a medium-risk, high-upside contract like Cabrera's than to splurge on one of the elite players available.
2. Blue Jays' binge
In a span of four days, Toronto has added starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, shortstop Jose Reyes, second baseman Emilio Bonifacio, catcher John Buck and now Cabrera; only Bonifacio hasn't made an All-Star team within the last four years.
Last winter it was the Marlins who made headline after headline with their free-agent spending spree. They've dismantled that roster, even sending their two biggest acquisitions to the Jays, but there's no reason to think Toronto will suffer a similar fate, given its more stable financial backing, not to mention a more promising core of players on the roster. The projected starting nine is all signed for at least two years.
Certainly there are lingering question marks -- Jose Bautista's wrist, Ricky Romero's inexplicably awful season, Adam Lind's viability as an everyday player, the new additions' adjustment to turf and the American League and the as-yet-unfilled manager job, to name a few -- but every team has similar concerns this time of year.
The reality is that, barring major overhauls elsewhere in the division, the Blue Jays may well enter 2013 as the favorites in an AL East that will be as wide open as it's been in years. Next season will be their 20th since their last postseason appearance, which ended in their second straight World Series title. In the two intervening decades Toronto's relevance in baseball has slowly waned, but now it's back in a big way.
3. Filling a gap with gap power
In 2012, Toronto's left fielders had a .656 OPS, which ranked 26th in the majors, and hit only 10 home runs, which was tied for second-fewest -- coincidentally, with Cabrera's old team, the Giants. Cabrera is not a slugger but a good hitter with gap power (25 doubles and 10 triples last year) more than home run power (11 homers last year, nine while playing left field and two while playing right).
If Bautista is healthy and Edwin Encarnacion nearly or fully repeats his 2012 season, Toronto should have a sufficient amount of pop in its lineup. Cabrera has the skill set to slot in nicely in as the Nos. 2, 5 or 6 hitter in the order.
4. PED ban? No problem
Both Cabrera and A's starter Bartolo Colon were prospective free agents last year who were caught midsummer with elevated levels of testosterone, prompting 50-game suspensions. Surely their reputations would be so tarnished that they'd struggle to find employment this offseason, right?
No. Colon, who made $2 million last year, re-signed with Oakland in the first week of free agency for a pay raise -- he'll make $3 million in 2013.
And now Cabrera, who signed a $6 million contract last year in his final year of arbitration, will make $8 million each of the next two seasons. His situation isn't an apples-to-apples comparison of compensation, as he's now a free agent. He certainly lost out on the huge payday many expected -- some estimates were as high as five years and $75 million -- but there was a New York Post report just last week that "at least five teams" were interested in Cabrera, sufficient bidding that he received a two-year deal. He'll only be 30 when it ends, meaning he could still get a blockbuster contract down the road.
The words "rebuild value" were prevalent in the wake of Cabrera's suspension, and while it's true that he's not receiving nearly as much guaranteed money as he would have, it seems he's well on his way toward rebuilding his value.
5. Outfield market
Cabrera is a corner outfielder who doesn't hit for much power and is somewhat less than a sure thing to hit for much of anything following a PED suspension, yet he still received $8 million per year.
Torii Hunter, meanwhile, received an average annual value of $13 million for two years with the Tigers after having a career year at age 36. He's also a very good defensive outfielder and he's one of the venerable good guys in the game, but that contract at that age has set a high bar for his younger counterparts.
The forthcoming influx of a new national television contract into the game is supposed to net some $20-25 million per team per year by 2014. That, combined with a depleted free-agent market, already had available players licking their chops. Now, on the backs of the Cabrera and Hunter deals, the outfielders in particular -- headlined by Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton, Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher -- have even more high-salaried data points for their agents to present in negotiations.