Aug 4, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz (17) warms up in the on deck circle against the Oakland Athletics in the sixth inning at O.Co Coliseum. The Rangers defeated the Athletics 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Have Melky Cabrera’s Struggles With Blue Jays Impacted Nelson Cruz’s Market?

When the Toronto Blue Jays inked outfielder Melky Cabrera to a two-year, $16 million deal on November 19, 2012, thy shocked the world. The deal was seen as a market win for Toronto, securing an All-Star outfielder in his prime for roughly $8 million a year and for two years to boot. Of course, Cabrera’s market was set for him based on a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing substances, but it was seen as a low-cost risk at the time.

After one-year, that deal doesn’t carry the same shine that it did when the ink was still wet.

Cabrera struggled through much of the 2013 season, sapped of his power and beset with injuries to his hamstrings, quadriceps, and knees. He would finish the season playing in just 88 games, his lowest total as a full-time player. In 372, plate appearances, Cabrera would tally a .279 average, a .322 on-base percentage, and .360 slugging percentage. His .313 BABIP was relatively decent, but his ISO of .081 was horrendous and his -1.72 WPA was a five-year low.

It was revealed at the end of the season that Cabrera was suffering from a benign tumor on his lower spine, which many of his leg issues were likely attributable to. The tumor was successfully removed, but what that means for Cabrera’s 2014 season remains to be seen.

Cabrera’s struggles took a lot away from the 2013 Blue Jays, and as such, made the two-year deal with him seem like more of a curse than a blessing, especially when many can imagine better ways of spending that $8 million on the 2014 team. But has it affected other teams as well?

Like Cabrera, Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta carried with them the same stigma of a steroid suspension coming into the hot stove season. Unlike Cabrera, Peralta was able to maximize on his stellar 2013 season, inking a four-year, $53 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals this winter. The Cardinals apparently saw past Peralta’s troubles and saw their own need at shortstop as a much bigger motivator to make a deal with the devil.

Nelson Cruz hasn’t been so lucky.

The 33-year-old outfielder makes his living off of his power, and unlike Peralta, did not get the luxury of enjoying receiving a showcase via a successful playoff run with the Rangers or create a team player image by changing positions to best help his team during that push. The last impression that Cruz left was a 50-game sentence for cheating the game and choosing to take his suspension to preserve his free agency rather than aid his team in a pennant push.

The ghost of Melky Cabrera is apparently playing a big part in how teams are viewing Cruz, and the risks they are willing to take in signing him. Granted, the two players bring different styles to their teams, but the stigma of the suspension was going to bite at least one of the high-profile players involved with Biogenesis. Peralta skirted that role because he plays a position that was very much in demand this winter. Cruz, not so much.

Cruz is also two years older than Peralta, and four years older than Cabrera. At 33, Cruz is already showing advanced stages of decline in the field and should start showing the same with the bat in coming years, especially with increased scrutiny from the positive test.

A four-year deal would seem to be a stretch at this point, so a team-friendly two-year pact seems a bit more likely. The ghost of Cabrera may not be enough to scare a team off, but it could certainly provide a standard for another team to follow.

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  • david s

    Kyle, good story. Would you care to take a stab at what Melky’s WAR stat will be this season? I am going to speculate that Zips will give him a two. I think he might go so far as a 4 in 2014. It is end of his contract and he may feel he has to prove himself. What say you?

    • Kyle Franzoni

      If the tumor really was to blame for his down season, then Melky should be worth at least 2.5 – 3 wins in 2014. Steamer has him estimated at 1.3 wins next season, so I imagine the true player falls somewhere in between, depending on if he can keep himself on the field.

  • JaysHopeful

    Melky was worth the $8 mil risk. He busted his butt and worked hard, but had a tumor on his spine. He put up decent numbers for a guy who couldn’t run. (Pretty much 2008 comparable production). I think he is a way more reasonable risk than the +4 year, +14 mil a year Cruz is expecting.

    Melky seems like he’s got a lot to prove to himself, over and above what he has to prove to MLB. I think he’s gonna be just fine in 2014. If not, he’s a hobbling deterrent for why not to do drugs. He’ll become a minor league batting couch, and the Jays learned a valuable $16 mil lesson.

    • Kyle Franzoni

      Problem there was that Melky wasn’t a good player in 2008 either, Or in 2010 with Atlanta, where his numbers also compare. I wouldn’t give Cruz the money either, but someone will, deterrent or not.

      • JaysHopeful

        Oh yeah, agreed. There is always a team with the money to spend on Cruz-level risks.
        Question concerning Melky: he’s had 2 stellar seasons, 3 adequate-to-solid seasons, and 3 seasons where he could be considered not good. Varying production history. What is the minimum production that would redeem him? Like 750 ops, 50 rbi, 70 runs? Or does he have to be 2012 Melky?

        • Kyle Franzoni

          Somewhere between 2009 and 2011 would be a pretty good return.

          • JaysHopeful

            Right on. Thanks for the insight.

  • iains

    The article needs a minor edit. Melky would be over the moon if he had a .682 slugging percentage.

    • Kyle Franzoni

      Thanks for the head’s up, grabbed the wrong number. It has been fixed.