Mitch Maier is over two years older than Melky Cabrera. Alex Gordon and Jeff Francouer are within a month of being the same age: both are half a year older than Cabrera. Heck, Jarrod Dyson and Melky Cabrera are within four days of being the exact same age, which makes them both eighteen months older than Lorenzo Cain. Just for fun, everyone mentioned so far is still older than Billy Butler.
Of course, age isn’t everything. We think of Cabrera and Francouer as more veteran, not-part-of-the-future type players because, despite being the same age as Alex Gordon and perilously close to the age of the Royals’ centerfielder of the future (Cain), they ARE veterans. Cabrera is closing in on 3,000 major league plate appearances while Francouer is well over 3,600. Alex Gordon will not top the 2,000 mark until late June .
Technically, both Cabrera and Francouer are embarking on that magical ‘age 27′ season. You know, the year when it all comes together, but the truth is that we already know who and what Melky and Jeff are: 3,000 major league at-bats do not lie.
That said, both players are having seasons that currently border on being among the best of their careers. In the case of Francouer, he also brings excellent defense in rightfield and is an undeniable positive influence in the clubhouse. His situation is a discussion for a later time. Today, let’s talk Melky.
Cabrera wakes up this morning sporting a .281/.313/.459 slash line, which puts his current OPS (.772) and OPS+ (115) well above those of his previous best season which happened to be his rookie year. Melky has compiled these solid, for him, numbers a little differently than when he was younger: relying more on slugging and less on OBP, but the numbers are what they are.
According to Fangraphs, Cabrera currently has a WAR of 1.0, which would likely put him on a pace to surpass his previous highs in both 2006 and 2009 of 1.7. That is not exactly ‘sign him to a long term deal now’ territory, but it is tolerable for a team slowly fading into the lower reaches of the AL Central.
The bottom line on Melky Cabrera is that he is pretty much the player who compiled a .268/.327/.385 line over 3,000 major league plate appearances. In 3,656 career innings played in centerfield, he has a UZR/150 of -7.0. Melky is a decent baserunner who will get you a stolen base now and then (56 of 72 in his career) and a player who actually is in much better shape than he was the past two or three seasons. Also, unlike many free agent acquisitions of the past, Cabrera (signed to a 1 year/$1.25 million deal) is under team control through 2012 and unlikely to break the bank with any arbitration award this coming off-season.
All that said, Lorenzo Cain is hitting .294/.361/.476 in Omaha, wowed people in Spring Training with some plays he made in center and sports a career minor league line of .291/.365/.419. In a brief 43 game stint in the majors in 2010, Cain hit .306/.348/.415, stole 7 bases and posted a WAR of 1.3. I know what you’re thinking, because I’m thinking it, too: Lorenzo Cain is better than Melky Cabrera.
Here is the surprise, however. I don’t think the Royals should call up Cain right now.
Simple fact: Cabrera is tolerably okay right now. Maybe enough so that a contending team with outfield injuries might find him interesting. After all, Melky still really is a young ballplayer (in age if not in experience), he is cheap and he comes with an additional year of team control free of charge.
The Royals, who did a remarkable job of promoting the supposed prowess of Yuniesky Betancourt (with a straight face and everything, mind you), need to play Melky Cabrera every day and rave about his clutch hitting, solid defense and general overall good attitude and great shape. Somebody might find that intriguing.
The Royals can play Cabrera everyday for the next two months, rattle around about still being in the race and avoid the appearance of yet another mid-summer fire sale. They can wait for a quasi-decent offer for Cabrera and, should that offer never come, decide how to deal with the cheap and serviceable Cabrera after July 31st.
While I think Lorenzo Cain is going to be an above average player for the Royals (think David DeJesus with better speed and far better centerfield defense), we can wait a couple of months to see him in Kansas City.
Four games under .500 and eight and one-half games behind Cleveland, the Royals do not have to rush into any decisions at this point.