Melky Cabrera has enjoyed an incredibly productive season in 2014 for the Toronto Blue Jays. Unfortunately, that season officially came to an end the left fielder broke his pinky finger sliding back into first base on Friday night, dealing a blow to the Blue Jays line-up during a crucial stretch for Toronto.
Let the offseason dance between Cabrera and the Toronto Blue Jays officially commence.
There is no doubt that there is mutual interest between the Blue Jays and Melky Cabrera about a possible return next season or beyond. The 30-year-old outfielder held up his end of the bargain by posting a 2.5 win season built off the back of a .301/.351/.458 slash, 35 doubles, 16 home runs, and 73 RBI. That’s enough to make him one of, if not the most attractive bat in the upcoming free agent free-for-all.
The question is what will the Blue Jays do about it?
While Cabrera may have voiced his desire to return to Toronto next season, he isn’t likely to hand the Blue Jays a discount either. Cabrera’s 2012 suspension for performance-enhancing substances already cost him a big payday that offseason and he settled for a 2-year reclamation deal with Toronto instead. Now 30-years-old, Cabrera will be looking for what will likely be his last big free agent deal, something we can hardly fault him on based on his performance at the plate this season. That likely means at least a 4-year deal, and perhaps 5 years from the highest bidder, somewhere in the range of $14 million a season.
Of course, the entire process starts with the Blue Jays deciding to extend Cabrera a qualifying offer. That’ll be the first sign that the Blue Jays are serious in retaining him. Given the team’s perceived financial constraints, Toronto’s willingness to extend the offer would be a clear signal to squash that theory. Given the success rate of players turning down the qualifying offer in recent years, the Jays will obviously realize that there is a chance Cabrera accepts the offer, as he may feel that teams will be unlikely to hand him a large contract and forego a 1st round draft pick in order to land him. With the qualifying offer expected to be around $15 million in 2015, that becomes a solid one-year commitment for the Blue Jays to eat.
Now Toronto may choose to not extend the offer as a favor to Cabrera, and take their chances in trying to re-sign him on the open market. That is also a dangerous game to play, as they already have to figure out how to fill the hole in center field with Colby Rasmus expected to depart this winter. That puts the Blue Jays at the mercy of a market that is deprived of solid bats and would lack a replacement should they lose him to a higher bidder.
That puts the onus on the Blue Jays front office to correctly determine the real value of Melky Cabrera, both to the Blue Jays and to the open market. While the annual dollar figure may not be a problem, knowing the contracts of Colby Rasmus, and the declined option on Brandon Morrow will free up some funds, the Blue Jays would prefer to avoid that type of length on a contract,. Considering Cabrera’s short-comings in the outfield. a 3-year deal with an option year or two is perhaps the maximum the Blue Jays would prefer to extend, even in the face of a market that will likely top that.
Needless to say, Alex Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays will have their work cut out for them this winter, and with news of Cabrera’s season being over, it may not be out of the realm of good decisions to start the ball rolling as soon as possible, extending their negotiation period with Melky by a few weeks. Regardless, it isn’t likely to end quickly, or cheaply for the Toronto Blue Jays.