Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos made an appearance on the Jeff Blair Show on Friday morning and made some interesting points, most notably about soon-to-be free agent Melky Cabrera. Within the conversation, Anthopoulos noted that the team and Cabrera have engaged in conversations about a new deal, but that there was no deal imminent yet.
"“Clearly both sides right now can’t seem to get together for various reasons. I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to assume that there hasn’t been dialogue. I wouldn’t assume that there haven’t been proposals exchanged.”"
While it isn’t as encouraging to hear as a soon-to-be signed deal would, the news that the two sides are in fact discussing a new deal is certainly notable, especially for a fan base that is very interested to see the left fielder return next season. The question of course is, “what is holding up the happy marriage?”
Since we are still in the early stages, the Blue Jays and Cabrera are likely still trying to feel out what the market will bear for the outfielder. Obviously, the Blue Jays are very interested in getting out in front of the market and locking up Cabrera before the open market determines his value, but they also want to secure a deal that makes sense for the team and still allows them to resolve other needs this winter.
That means the Blue Jays need to properly determine Cabrera’s value, which could be difficult. The problem is that it may not be as simple as comparing Cabrera against other similar outfielders. At 2.6 wins above replacement in 2014, Cabrera is plagued by poor defensive metrics. That relegates him to similar values with fellow free agent Nick Markakis, Seth Smith of the San Diego Padres, and Adam Eaton of the Chicago White Sox. However, it also rates him below a non-luminary Desmond Jennings.
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That all said, we witnessed first hand that Melky Cabrera’s bat separated him immensely from this particular group. His offensive rating of 16.0 gives us a bit of a clearer picture, but still only ranks him 23rd among Major League outfielder, similar in value to that of Los Angeles Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun and Christian Yelich of the Miami Marlins. Additionally, if we are weighing Cabrera by wRC+, he ranks a bit better at 16th, tied with Calhoun and just behind much better hitters in Carlos Gomez of the Milwaukee Brewers and Matt Holiday of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Undoubtedly, Cabrera would like to be paid on par with the likes of Holliday, and will certainly seek more than Gomez’s $7 million average annual value. However, the two players just below Cabrera on the wRC+ ranking may in fact be a better target to aim for, with a deal for Cabrera falling somewhere in between. Those players are Hunter Pence of the San Francisco Giants and Alex Gordon of the Kansas City Royals.
Pence is going to be the richer of the two, pulling in $18.5 million in each of the next four seasons from the Giants. On the other hand we have Gordon, who is making what seems like a pittance at $12.5 million each of the next two seasons. That said, both players present much more overall value than does Cabrera, as both a much better defensively, especially Gordon, who is a perennial gold glover in left field.
However, both Pence and Gordon signd their deals as contract extensions and did not bear out their value on the open market either. In the case of Cabrera, the chances of him hitting the free agent market increase each day, and it appears apparent he would prefer to test his value with others bidding for his services. This is where Cabrera could justify a 4-year, $16 million deal, as the free agent market for hitters is just barren in 2014, and gets more limited when skewed to just outfielders. The likes of Markakis and Nelson Cruz will draw bidding, but Cabrera put himself into a good position to maximize his deal after a strong 2014.
That said, if Anthopoulos comes out and puts a strong 4-year deal on the table, approaching what Pence is making, Cabrera would likely accept it and stay in Toronto. However, there is no guarantee that the Blue Jays would invest that kind of money into Cabrera when they could sign a Markakis cheaper (if he doesn’t extend with Baltimore first) and reallocate the savings elsewhere.
It’s a gamble either way the Alex Anthopoulos views it, and will require some effort for him to sort through the muck and determine the best path for Toronto. Whether that involves Melky Cabrera returning to the Blue Jays in 2015 or not will come down to which side flinches first.