Free Agent Target: Asdrubal Cabrera

Despite names like Troy Tulowitzki and Alexei Ramirez being floated on the trade market in the past couple of weeks, free agency is still the simple way for the Yankees to add a shortstop. There are a few guys available, although many of them are probably better off elsewhere defensively. Hanley Ramirez, Jed Lowrie, and Asdrubal Cabrera all fit that mold, though all three have varying offensive talent. Stephen Drew, who I’ve already discussed this offseason, is really the only guy that can be considered a true shortstop in this market. Nonetheless, it’s plausible that the former three will be starting shortstops somewhere in 2015. Today, I’ll examine the case for Cabrera being the guy to replace Derek Jeter.

Celebrating his 29th birthday yesterday, Asdrubal is the youngest of the free agent crop at short, with a year and a half edge on the second-youngest Lowrie. That might allow Cabrera to remain at the position longer than the others, despite the fact that he’s below average according to most metrics. Then again, the Yankees have tolerated some pretty poor defense at short for a long time, so Cabrera would be an upgrade with the glove anyway. And hey, maybe being a below average defensive shortstop is more like being one of the “worst of the best”.

Offense is the hallmark of Cabrera’s game. I don’t mean that in comparison to all hitters, but rather to his shortstop peers:

Asdrubal Cabera vs. MLB Shortstops, wRC+
Year PA Cabrera wRC+ League wRC+ Difference
2007 186 107 90 17
2008 418 94 88 6
2009 581 112 87 25
2010 425 88 83 5
2011 667 119 88 31
2012 616 112 86 26
2013 562 94 86 8
2014 616 97 87 10

At a position where offense is scarce, Cabrera has consistently been ahead of his fellow shortstops. That should continue in 2015, with Steamer pegging Cabrera for a 101 wRC+, which would make him roughly league average overall but far better than other major league shortstops once again. That in itself is very valuable, especially for a Yankees offense that’s had disappointing offensive outputs from premium-bat positions the past two years.

Despite his ability at the plate, Steamer isn’t enamored with Cabrera once defense is considered: he’s projected to be worth only 1.5 fWAR in a full season. Note: I’m using Steamer600, a 600 plate appearance prorated projection, as the system does not project playing time until a player is on a team’s roster. It looks reasonable, though, as Cabrera hasn’t had much issue staying healthy in recent seasons. Back on topic, that’s enticing considering the Yankees had a league-worst -2.3 fWAR at short in 2014. That doesn’t mean this would truly be a 3-4 win upgrade, as internal option Brendan Ryan is forecast to be replacement level. An upgrade either way, yes, but probably no more than two wins.

The Fangraphs’ crowd thinks Asdrubal will receive a three-year contract for $33-35M, which seems reasonable for his age and skillset. Looking at dollars per WAR, the annual salary falls right in line with a one or two win player. Even if he had to move to second base, one or two WAR is probably reasonable given that the league’s offensive performance at the keystone is similar to shortstop. Doing so at the hot corner would be a taller task. Relative to the Yankees, Cabrera would need to stick at short, which isn’t a given. Plus, with Martin Prado, Rob Refsnyder, and Jose Pirela around, there isn’t much need for a second baseman.

I’ve already stated my preference for Ian Desmond next season or Troy Tulowitzki in a pure salary dump, but those two scenarios are stretches. Hoping Desmond doesn’t sign an extension is risky, and the odds of a deal for Tulo look remote. Maybe an trade can be swung for Alexei Ramirez, but that would probably be more difficult and costly than signing a free agent. That said, Cabrera is a sensible target, but I think the Yankees will instead kick the can down the road by signing Stephen Drew to a one-year agreement.

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