What a difference a year makes. When the Blue Jays originally signed Melky Cabrera going in to the 2013 season it was with a huge caveat: could Melky sustain the numbers he had early in his career after testing positive for drugs. DRUGS! Blue Jays players had never in their lives taken performance enhancing drugs…(insert chuckle here).
Aside from the ongoing Roger Clemens fiasco, the Blue Jays had flown under the radar in regards to drug users and here they were bringing in a freshly minted user who had drugged himself out of a job with the playoff bound San Francisco Giants.
It was a risk to sign him but with the dearth of available left fielders out there it was worth the 2 yr/$16M gamble in the eyes of Alex Anthopoulos. Melky was inserted into the lineup and proceeded to post a less than stellar campaign that was enunciated even more by the stiffness and lack of any speed that Cabrera showed during his adventures in the outfield. He had been labelled a bust. Another player who couldn’t perform without his needed drugs.
Then something funny occurred. It was discovered he had a tumor on his lower spine which had made running extremely difficult and truly painful. The whispers began that it wasn’t lack of juice he was suffering from but rather this tumor which was subsequently taken out.
Fresh and ready to go in spring training, Cabrera seemed like a new man and started to pound the ball. Could Cabrera be one of the first to prove he could still play at an elite level even after giving up on his beloved drugs? After the 2014 season ended I think it could be put that it was a resounding yes.
Let’s see. Slash line from 2013 (.279 BA/.322 OBP/.682 OPS). Aaaand here is the slash line from his 2014 season (.301/.351/.808). Definitely a difference but not as huge as some think. The biggest turnaround was that he was hitting the ball with authority this season as opposed to just hitting the ball in 2013. Cabrera was top five in hits. He ran better. He covered more ground in the outfield. He got himself on base it seemed almost every game. He brought his OPS+ from 88 to 126 last season to this season.
As a singles hitter with no range in 2013 he had a WAR of -0.3. This season he was up to 3.1 which is pretty tasty for a left fielder in the AL East. Cabrera proved that when healthy he is a pretty decent power threat. He hit 20 more doubles in 2014, 13 more home runs and drove in 60 more runs than the year before. It makes you wonder what kind of contract he could have mustered in 2013 if he didn’t go on the juice…
Cabrera was a pretty good player before the steroids took him out of the game. In the NL he was a force and a threat to a batting title. In the AL he is more of a complementary piece and perfectly suited for the number 2 spot. His defense was decent enough with a .992 F% but that was also the same as his line from last season. The difference was that he was able to stretch his coverage more now that he was more limber and not impeded by the injuries from the year before.
Cabrera was finally a major force in a potent lineup in Toronto. He didn’t strike out much and he walked enough to keep a pretty decent OBP for the season. Prototypical number 2 that’s what I says…
His .992 F%. seems like a respectable number but if you look deeper, Cabrera is not a defensive wizard by any incarnation. His dWAR was actually worse in 2014 than his injury plagued 2013 (-1 to -1.1). To be fair, left field is for the guy who really ain’t the best outfielder on any team.
He is there for offense and his oWAR (3.6) balances it out better but make no mistake. Melky has a weak arm and sometimes takes horrible paths to the ball where he makes what seems to be a great catch but it is more saving himself from bad routes.
Offensively it’s tough to find bad points but because of his Kirby Puckett-esque build he is not the fleetest of foot: 6 steals is pretty low for a number 2 hitter and his 19 GDP is very high compared to the 8 he grounded in to while with the Giants in 2012.
Currently the most burning question of the Blue Jays off-season is will Melky sign back with the Blue Jays after setting himself up as one of the premier free agent outfielders available? The tenure of Double A may hinge on whether he is able to keep him or not…hometown discount or not. Melky has proven that the steroid days were an aberration that really didn’t need to happen. Hopefully he has gained confidence in himself and will have an even greater breakout next season when he turns 30.
Looking at the prospects and available free agents, Melky is a definite must have. If he doesn’t re-sign it may lend more credence to the fact that the Blue Jays clubhouse was a fractured group that may be in need of a major overhaul. Was Melky a team player or just out to get himself the biggest contract he could? Either way he has played himself into a great position and it looks like he at least wants to give the team a chance…if he trusts the direction. Time will tell…