Anybody that watched a Toronto Blue Jays game last season is more than familiar with the adventure that was Melky Cabrera is left field a season ago. Hampered by a bad back, bad knees, and bad hamstrings, Cabrera looked like a man 10 years older than his 28 years.
Then the apparent cause of those bad wheels was located in September, when doctors removed a benign tumor from his spine that was pushing on his nerves and causing general weakness in his legs. The results of the removal have been outstanding, as Cabrera came into camp with renewed spirits and in great shape, and proof of the improvement has been evident in his movements in the outfield thus far this spring.
That improvement has helped to open a few doors for Cabrera and the Blue Jays alike, as manager John Gibbons indicated on Thursday. During a radio appearance with Fan 590’s Jeff Blair, the Blue Jays manager expressed adulation for Cabrera’s work in the outfield, particularly the flexibility that he’s added by being able to cover center field. This, from Shi Davidi:
— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) March 13, 2014
That’s quite the departure from where we were entering the winter, wondering if Cabrera’s usefullness in the outfield would limit him to being a platoon partner with Adam Lind at DH. Now we’re talking about the possibility of Cabrera being the starter in left and the primary back-up to Colby Rasmus in center field.
For those of you wondering at home, Cabrera does have experience in center field, having spent time at the position from 2005 through 2011 while with the Yankees, Braves, and Royals respectively. In fact, center field was his primary position while with the Yankees from 2007-2009 and again with the Royals in 2011. However, he’s never profiled as a plus defender at the position.
As you can see from the table above, Cabrera only once in his career had a positive Defensive Runs Saved rating in center field (2008) and twice had a positive UZR/150 (2008 and 2009). He makes a decent amount of out of zone plays, but still fell at about the half-way mark to what fielders like Rasmus or Adam Jones contribute currently.
Now, considering the Blue Jays have a very good center fielder in Rasmus already, it is easy to say that Cabrera’s chances to step out of the corner at Rogers Centre will be limited unless health dictates otherwise. What it does do though is allow the Blue Jays to add the out of options, and defensively challenged, Moises Sierra to the roster without having to expose him to center field duties. The Blue Jays will also have Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar in the wings should injuries dictate more of a permanent option is needed.
Still, it is good to have some flexibility on the roster, and if we can get some innings out of Cabrera in a pinch, that won’t hurt. Still, the images of Cabrera in left field last season will make a lot of parties uncomfortable until we see some aptitude that helps squash those fears.