And after spraying my lunch all over my phone, I thought about it a bit. Could it possibly make sense to trade one of our core pieces and arguably our best offensive player while he’s still under club control for two more years at arbitration-level money? Are these people taking crazy pills? Maybe. But maybe not, too. Let’s discuss.
In 2011, Asdrubal Cabrera had something of a breakout season. From 2007 to 2010, he had a .284/.347/.394 line good for a .741 OPS. This made him a slightly above average offensive shortstop. But last year, he slugged an impressive .460, en route to a .792 OPS and a Silver Slugger award for the best offensive shortstop in the majors. It was quite a development.
On top of all that, Cabrera’s not a terribly expensive player to keep on board. Keep in mind that last season Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta were arguably the two best shortstops in the American League. Asdrubal was paid $2.02 million, while Peralta made almost three times that. For comparison’s sake, Derek Jeter made $15 million in 2011 to put up an OPS 50 points lower than Asdrubal.
Which is just another way of saying that valuable means two different things to a professional team: being good and being cheap. And that Asdrubal is both.
So why consider trading him?
Well, there are a couple of reasons. First, while it’s hard for us to stomach this, Asdrubal has rated pretty poorly as a defensive player. According to most advanced metrics, his penchant for the unbelievable play has masked some pretty mediocre range and a sub-par ability to make the routine play. In fact, Asdrubal ranked dead last in the AL among shortstops in UZR last season, and ahead of only Jeter and Scutaro according to Total Zone. While I find these conclusions a bit hard to believe, Asdrubal has now consistently ranked in the bottom half of the league for four years, and at some point, we’ve got to at least acknowledge that these metrics might have some significance.
Combine his questionably questionable defense with a starting rotation that might be more ground-ball prone than any in Major League history, and you start to see why moving Asdrubal could make some sense. Four of our five starters have above average groundball rates, and if the team hopes to optimize this arrangement, they might think of boosting their defense by looking for a more proficient shortstop (this argument is, indeed, predicated that the defensive metrics are—if not absolutely correct—then at least notionally correct in judging Asdrubal as a sub-par defender).
On top of the defense, there is the issue of Asdrubal’s salary. While it’s true that he made only slight more than $2 million last season, it’s also true that he’ll make considerably more in every future season. He’s entering his second year of arbitration eligibility, so even if he hadn’t played well last year, he likely would have netted a considerably raise this season. But he did play well. So he’s likely to be making something like $5 million in 2012, regardless of whether he makes it in arbitration or a new contract. In other words, the “affordable” component of his value is likely to evaporate going forward, so there’s that caveat as well.
So yes, perhaps there is some reason to think about moving Cabrera. As they say at presidential debates, all options must remain on the table.
The question, of course, comes down to what we might be able to trade him for, and here’s where details get murky. There aren’t any specific deals I’ve heard mentioned, so we’re left to speculate away on what the Indians would be after.
The easy answer is a right handed, corner outfield type who could play first base. But because of Asdrubal’s immense value to the Indians discussed above, it would have to be a player who is both cheap and good. Someone who is young and projectable. Someone with leadership skills and a high ceiling, who is a few years away from free agency. Someone like, well, someone kinda like Asdrubal Cabrera actually.
Which brings me back to where we started. Would I trade Asdrubal? Of course I would. I would trade every single player on the team, for the right return.
But given what I think we might get for him? Not in a million years. If 2012 really is going to be a year of contention as the front office seems to hope, I think we might have to dance with who brung us. And perhaps more than any other offensive player, Dribble brung us.