What to Make of Melky Cabrera

I saw a post on mlbtraderumors.com today linking to this Joel Sherman article which states that few major league executives see Melky Cabrera remaining in the ranks of baseball’s elite players for long.  At this point, it seems extremely hard to know whether Cabrera is for real or not.

Obviously, there is nothing about Melky’s past performance that would make you think that his present .373 batting average is anything but a fluke caused by the fact that Melky is now 27 years old, the age at which major league players are most likely to have their peak performance, and he’s having an exceptional and unrepeatable season.

I guess the question is whether, going forward for the rest of the 2012 and the two or three seasons after that, Melky is the player who has hit .322 since the start of the 2011 season, or the player who hit .267 in the first five years of his major league career.

I had high hope for Melky when he first came up with the Yankees.  Any player who plays regularly in the major leagues at age 21 usually has a bright future ahead of him.

Nothing about his sophmore slump year in 2007 convinced me otherwise; and although he played poorly in 2008, he bounced back well enough in 2009 to think that he would eventually develop into a star.

Basically, it’s just taken him a long time to do it.  I thought it made sense for the Braves to take a chance on Melky in 2010 and even more so for the Royals in 2011.

I wasn’t thrilled about the Giants acquiring him for Jonathan Sanchez, not because I was overwhelmed about losing Sanchez, but more that a team can never have too much pitching, and I wasn’t convinced that Melky’s 2011 season didn’t have a lot to do with playing half his games in Kansas City, which is great place for hitters.  AT&T Park in San Francisco unquestionably is not.

It certainly looks like I was wrong.  Melky is a gap-to-gap hitter, and AT&T Park has big gaps.  Melky is on pace to hit 13 HRs this year, compared to 18 in 2011, but he’s also on pace to hit 19 triples, compared to five last season.  His projected 41 doubles is pretty close to last year’s 44.

While it seems fairly certain as I write this that Melky will end up hitting .322 or better this year, I don’t really see him as a .322 hitter in future seasons.  He doesn’t walk much or hit many homeruns, so he’s likely to have years in the future when more of the balls he puts in play are caught by fielders than has happened so far in 2012.

My guess is that he might hit .322 or better once between 2013 and 2015, but he’s also going to have at least one season when he doesn’t hit .300.  After 2015, his speed will be less than it is today, which will cost him hits, although its likely he’ll be hitting for more power than he has right now.

Should the Giants re-sign him at the end of this season?  If he continues to hit anywhere near what he has done so this year, i.e., finishing with a batting average over .340, he will likely command a huge contract in the $100,000,000 range given his relatively tender age, the fact that more young stars are being locked in long-term by the teams for which they first became stars, which means fewer top-level free agents for teams to bid on, and the fact that he’d be coming of his second fine season in row.

Like every other Giants fan (and probably Giants management), the memory of Randy Winn still lingers with me as I consider whether re-signing Melky makes sense.  Winn had an incredible two months for the Giants in 2005, hitting .359 with .1.071 OPS in 58 games after the Giants acquired him from the Mariners around the trade deadline.

The Giants signed Winn to a three-year deal that off-season and then regretted the fact that he never hit anywhere close to that again.  In fairness to Winn, given his excellent defense, he was a real asset to the Giants in 2007 and 2008, when he hit .300 and .306, and the team ultimately got its money’s worth on the deal.

Melky is four years younger than Winn was after the 2005 season, but that only means that Melky will likely get four more years on his next contract than Winn got in 2005.  Fangraphs does not like Melky’s defense, however.

Actually, Winn’s 2002 through 2008 is probably about what any team that signs Melky will get with the bat over the next seven years, assuming that’s how long his free agent contract runs.  That might well be worth $100 million in today’s game.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners

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