There are a few ways to ponder Melky Cabrera. There’s Cabrera in the context of how he was acquired: i.e. the Giants traded Jonathan Sanchez. There’s Cabrera in the context of how he impacts the Giants — in pure terms of how much better they’ll perform with Melky, as opposed to how they’d do without him. And then there’s the simple one: Melky Cabrera, free of context. These are three different perspectives, and as such, through each lens, the view — whether positive or negative — will inevitably differ. I don’t like the trade, and it’s because had the Giants merely non-tendered Sanchez, I believe they could (or should) have done a better job spending that $6M. Moreover, with Brandon Belt, I see Cabrera as somewhat excessive. I think the Giants are in a similarly good position without Melky as they are with him, because that would just give Belt more plate appearances (and I expect him to prosper with frequent playing time). This had led me to be quite pessimistic about Melky. But it’s largely irrelevant at this point. The deal has been made. It’s looking like Belt will get a couple months in Triple-A Fresno to start the season. Now we’re down to a pretty straight-forward question, and that is, how good is Melky Cabrera? Upon reflection, I’m not feeling so pessimistic about the answer.
This is all comes down to what is defined as “good.” I don’t expect Melky Cabrera to repeat his 2011 season (.305/.339/.470, 121 OPS+), and I’m sure most others are on the same page there. For the first five seasons of his career, he was mediocre, and I don’t think one season — as excellent as it was — erases that fact. I’m especially skeptical because, in spite of his success, Melky’s 2011 saw his walk rate fall to a career low (5.0%), and his strikeout rate rise to a career high (13.3%), neither of which bodes well for the future. But Melky has one important thing going for him: his age — he’s just 27 years old, and that’s right around when players begin to peak. Couple that with the fact that his most recent season should be given more weight than any other season (I believe a 5/4/3 weighting system is used as the simplified standard for projecting players based on their previous three seasons), and things aren’t starting to look so bad. For whatever reason though, fans seem pretty pessimistic about Cabrera. In fact, Fangraphs’ FAN projection system is more pessimistic about Cabrera than any other system, which is quite telling — as they’re typically more optimistic. They have him at a .318 wOBA, whereas the other projection systems all have him within the .325-to-.336 wOBA range. If he hits those numbers and does reasonably well with the glove, he’ll be putting up average (or even slightly above-average) production. Considering how much the Giants struggled even to get that kind of production out of most of their hitters last season, it’s certainly nothing to dismiss.
Melky Cabrera hit two home runs today. One was off Ted Lilly, and if I’m not mistaken, Ted Lilly home runs go down in the official scorebook as .25 real home runs. Besides, I need not explain the insignificance of Spring Training stats. What he’s done so far (5 for 9 with two home runs, I believe?) means absolutely nothing. But it was nice to see. And even though it seriously does not mean anything, it does sort of serve as a reminder that perhaps Melky is better than we’ve all given him credit for. On one hand, I seriously doubt 2011 Melky is the Melky we’ll see in 2012. But on the other hand, I’m fairly certain that he’s not going to “suck eggs,” as Jay Jaffe suggested in his 2012 NL West preview.