CF ∙ 2011
Heading into 2011, Dayton Moore signed a pair of 26 year-old outfielders coming off down years, buying low on what he hoped would be bounce-back seasons. Jeff Francoeur was the new right fielder, and Melky Cabrera the new center fielder. Cabrera reportedly was promised a starting role to entice him to sign (a promise the Royals kept despite getting Lorenzo Cain by trade a few days after signing Melky). 2011 was Alex Gordon’s first full season in left field, so it was a brand new look all over the outer garden. Cabrera’s peak so far had been some average-ish seasons with the Yankees, so really a bounce-back year would just mean returning to decency. Even Moore’s expectations were modest: “We just feel like he’s capable of playing more at that .270, .280 level and getting 10 to 15 home runs and playing solid defense.”[i]
Things started off on the right foot when Cabrera went 3-for-4 with a walk and a stolen base on Opening Day. In the fifth game, he had a walk-off hit, then another a few weeks later. The hits just kept coming. There was a grand salami in late July, and a career day in Denver when he collected a HBP, single, double, two homers, and five RBI. The switch-hitter had more than bounced back, he had suddenly become a well above average player. Gordon too had a breakout year, and Francoeur regained some of his form. The trio put together quite a year, perhaps the third best for a Royals outfield (behind the Damon-Beltran-Dye years of 1999 and 2000). All three hit at least 40 doubles, the only outfield in MLB history to pull that trick.
Cabrera was approaching the 200 hit plateau by the end of the year, and manager Ned Yost played him until he got numbers 200 and 201 before shutting Cabrera down for the team’s last couple games. Cabrera joined a short list of Royals players to knock 200 in a season (George Brett, Willie Wilson, Kevin Seitzer, Mike Sweeney, and Johnny Damon are the only others). The team’s hitting coach, Kevin Seitzer, was impressed with Cabrera’s season: “A great year, phenomenal. A most consistent hitter all season. He’s just been diligent, disciplined. His work ethic every day has been the same.”[ii]
Cabrera was still under club control for 2012 as an arbitration eligible player. But with Lorenzo Cain coming up, the Royals traded from a position of strength and sent Cabrera packing to San Francisco in an attempt to bolster their pitching by getting Jonathan Sanchez in return. Sanchez was a spectacular bust in KC while Melky kept right on tearing the cover off the ball in 2012—until he was suspended for performance enhancing drug use. That leaves open the question of how clean his 2011 season for the Royals was, but regardless, he did put together one surprisingly stellar year for the club.
[i] Dick Kaegel, “Royals sign Melky, proclaim him center fielder,” http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20101209&content_id=16289356&vkey=news_kc&c_id=kc, December 10, 2010.
[ii] Dick Kaegel and Adam Holt, “Melky hustles to reach 200-hit plateau,” http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20110926&content_id=25229176¬ebook_id=25239182&vkey=notebook_kc&c_id=kc, September 27, 2011.