On Those Melky Cabrera Extension Talks

As of this writing, Melky Cabrera leads the major leagues in hits; frankly, nobody’s even all that close, as Melky has a seven-hit advantage over the next-best in hits, Derek Jeter (67). Overall, Melky is hitting a red-hot .369/.412/.556 on the season, good for a .417 wOBA and 168 wRC+. It’s nearly June, and here we are, with Melky Cabrera in the top-ten in the majors in wRC+.

Naturally, with all of the buzz Melky has created, the topic of contract extension talks has come up. Cabrera is set to hit free agency after this season, and he’ll only be 28 years old. Do the Giants really want to let a player like that walk away?


In 2010, he was the laughing stock of baseball. He barely slugged .350, wasn’t much of a threat on the basepaths, and his defense was poor at best.

Then 2011 happened. And he collected 200+ hits en route to a .305/.339/.470 season with the Royals. He had a couple things going for him: for one, he was 26 years old, which would qualify as a typical breakout point. And secondly, he had been a productive everyday major-leaguer at age 21, something that should be recognized. At an age when many promising future stars are playing A-ball, Melky was in the majors putting up league-average numbers. Yes, that was quite a while ago, but that tells me that there’s an underlying special element to Melky; it’s something that takes a lot of talent.

Still, I was among the many that felt Melky’s 2011 season was an outlier of sorts — that he was a slightly below average player playing a couple notches above his true talent level. And, clearly, I was wrong. You can only learn so much from a couple month’s worth of play, but Melky’s .400+ wOBA is evidence enough for me to conclude that 2011 was more than just a fluke.

Many have made note of the fact that Melky’s success has been rooted in his batting average on balls in play. Through 2010, Melky’s career BABIP stood at .290. Since then, he’s maintained a .350 BABIP. There’s a tendency in the baseball community to dismiss all BABIP fluctuations as products of luck and randomness, but that’s a gross misapplication and oversimplification; in Melky’s case, I think it’s just flat-out false. While Melky is obviously not going to continue seeing 40% of his balls in play fall for hits (his 2012 BABIP sits at an astounding mark of .406), his dramatic improvement in this area shouldn’t be dismissed. BABIP is dependent upon factors of luck, but also upon skill-related factors like speed and type/strength of contact. Melky’s improvement, while probably boosted a bit by luck, signals that he’s hitting the ball harder and probably running harder, too. In fact, this is right in line with all of the news about his improved fitness level following his dreadful 2010.

ZiPS projection system has Melky posting a .331 BABIP over the rest of 2012, which seems pretty reasonable. That’s not ridiculously high, but at the same time, it’s a significant step up from league-average BABIP. I think Melky has done enough over his last 900 plate appearances to warrant an adjustment of expectations.

That said, I don’t think that Melky Cabrera is a superstar. I think he’s an above-average player. And it makes sense that the Giants are considering handing him a contract extension. If we’re talking 2/$20M or 3/$25M, the figures that Matt Klaasen suggested, I see no reason why the Giants shouldn’t hammer out a deal. In light of Melky’s phenomenal start to 2012, I don’t think those figures are all that realistic, though.

If we’re talking Aaron Rowand money, um…no.

It sounds like Brian Sabean is taking the perfect approach with Melky. According to Andrew Baggarly, Sabean has said that the “stars would have to align” for the Giants to extend Melky during the season, but that it hasn’t been ruled out. Sounds good to me.


6 thoughts on “On Those Melky Cabrera Extension Talks

  1. I disagree. Melky is worth Rowand money. Rowand never was. Melky is entering his prime, fully dedicated to the game and physical conditioning, with the fire and desire to be in there every day. Therefore, I would give him the five years at $60M. Atlanta 2010 was his nadir, and Melky is determined never to go there again!

    • That’s easy to say in hindsight. But before coming to the Giants, Aaron Rowand had a career 108 wRC+, and was coming off a season better than Melky has ever had (and probably ever will have).

      By Fangraphs WAR, Aaron Rowand — in the five seasons prior to coming over to San Francisco — was worth 18.9 WAR.
      By Fangraphs WAR, Melky Cabrera has been worth 7.7 WAR since 2007.

      Now, Melky is two years younger — which is a pretty significant difference in baseball terms, but there’s still a very real possibility that giving him Aaron Rowand money right now would yield disastrous results.

  2. I agree with Sabean’s approach. A contract is very contingent on how the Giants and Melky do later in the season. As bad as the Huff contract might seem, I can still live with it knowing the Giants won the 2010 World Series. Did Huff’s contract hurt us last year? Yes, but the real deathblow was losing Posey, Sanchez and Sandoval for extended periods of time, and Carlos Beltran in August.

    I’m always skeptical when fans imply Melk Money = Rowand Money, because Rowand’s contract has handicapped the team, albeit not as badly as Zito’s has. I wouldn’t fault the team for giving out Rowand money, though, because there’s a lot that falls in Melky’s favor-

    1. He’s 3 years younger than Rowand was in his contract year.
    2. His toolset fits AT&T Park better, and he has proven success in this park.
    3. He’s a former Yankee prospect, and the Yankees have good talent evaluation but the premium on playing for the Yankees means even promising ones can be dealt (Ian Kennedy).

    But even with those advantages, I’d still be hesitant to hand Melky cash without respect to the environment around him. I’d like to see the amateur draft pick results first to make sure Melky doesn’t potentially block a prospect, or how Gary Brown improves in the minors (with respect to Angel Pagan).

  3. “If we’re talking 2/$20M or 3/$25M, the figures that Matt Klaasen suggested, I see no reason why the Giants shouldn’t hammer out a deal.”

    I think that is the right approach. He shouldn’t be given Rowand money. If the contract is going to be longer than 3 years, then the money per year needs to be lower. Honestly, I think Melky would be delusional if he wanted Rowand money. He’s good, but he’s not THAT good. If it’s three years, I won’t complain. He should be able to put up 3 to 4 WAR numbers over the next couple years or so.

    • Rowand wasn’t “that good” either. His contract was widely acknowledged to be an overpay, as it was a tight hitter’s market and the Giants had to save face following the departure of Bonds. There was absolutely no leverage in the Giants’ favor except to throw money at Rowand.

      While pitching will (and for this decade) be the talk of next year’s free agency class, everything except 3B will be in big demand. A fair comparison of Melky Cabrera’s situation would be Carl Crawford. The two have similar toolsets, but Crawford was a far superior defender, and that’s not a slight against Cabrera. Crawford was better, longer than Cabrera and had huge career year before he signed with the BoSox in his prime. 2011 came and he slumped badly, then got injured. Even though Crawford’s contract was a huge overpay, it was driven by the scarce market for hitters that drove up his value. It also represents both faces of the worst case scenario, a huge slump/regression and/or injury.

      Cabrera won’t get Crawford money under any circumstances, but he’ll likely get something in Rowand’s range because of market demand. To a contending team, they’re paying a premium against good risk amidst fierce competition for bats.

      Ergo, I don’t think the Giants should resign him if they fail to make the postseason. Brown is not ready, Panik is not ready. Outfielders are easier to replace than middle infield, it would be prudent to resign Gregor Blanco and gamble on the OF again through trade.

  4. Pingback: Melky’s Impressive May » Giants Nirvana | SF Giants Blog

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