In life, we often yearn for what we don’t have. “The grass is always greener on the other side” mentality. It happens. We take for granted what is right in front of us. In sports, the same thing often plays out. Fans fall out of favor with certain players, wish for a former star to return, desire another team’s starter or hope for the highly touted prospect to finally arrive.
This is happening right now for the Cleveland Indians, and I just couldn’t take it any longer. It’s not really fair; fans are underrating the player that exists right now. And they’re forgetting just how young a certain prospect happens to be.
If you couldn’t tell yet, this is the tale of Asdrubal Cabrera’s lame duck final season with the Cleveland Indians. He’s making $10 million. He’s in the midst of a 13-month offensive slump. And he’s still more valuable currently – although obviously not per dollar – than a certain Francisco Lindor, who deservedly remains in the minor leagues for now.
Oddly enough, Cabrera is exactly eight years and one day older than Lindor. The MLB veteran was born on November 13, 1985; the prospect was born on November 14, 1993.
Cabrera is in his age-28 season this year. He should still be in his athletic prime. He’s being paid “so much” because the Indians locked themselves into set dollar figures back in April 2012. They could have gone year-to-year in arbitration with him, but regardless, he’s expected to leave following this season anyway with the prospect soon to arrive as an MLB regular.
Lindor was drafted only in June 2011 out of high school. He’s starting the 2014 season back at Double-A Akron and through Monday, now has played only 31 games above Single-A for his professional career. He might be seasoned beyond his years and amazing defensively, but it’s not like he’s tearing up the place for the RubberDucks right now.
There’s an interesting dynamic going on now with fans. They complain daily about Cabrera on Twitter, yet aren’t paying attention to where Lindor needs to improve or the actual specifics of his expected timeline. It’s a frustrating back-and-forth.
Asdrubal Cabrera’s major league value
Asdrubal Cabrera has had a long career in Cleveland. He now has appeared in 830 games for his only franchise. By the end of the season, he should jump into the top 25 in games played for franchise history among infielders. He recently passed Victor Martinez. Soon, he’ll pass Mike Hargrove, Jhonny Peralta and Carlos Baerga.
Just because he’s 28 and eight years older doesn’t alone mean he’s better than Francisco Lindor right now, of course. That’s an argument because Cabrera actually has been one of the game’s best offensive middle infielders and better all-around infielders throughout his career. He’s struggling now, but mostly in relation to his past successes.
He joined the organization in the infamous June 2006 trade for Eduardo Perez from the Seattle Mariners. He was one of many gifts from Seattle to Cleveland in the mid-2000s. By the time of the trade, Cabrera already had skipped Double-A and had 66 games of Triple-A experience. He would finish the 2006 season with the Buffalo Bisons and then go back to Double-A Akron in 2007. In total, he finished with 257 games of non-rehab games above Single-A.
Then, there was the sensational debut at second base during the 2007 playoff run. He batted .283/.354/.421 in 45 games. He looked like a sure-fire future major league regular, even at only 21 years old.
From 2008-12, Asdrubal Cabrera averaged 2.9 jWAR in 127 games with a .278/.341/.415 offensive line. His 108 OPS+ was rare for a shortstop. His defensive metrics varied widely; Baseball-Reference’s stats had him as mostly average, FanGraphs saw him as one of the game’s worst shortstops.
FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron wrote in November 2012 about how Cabrera could be viewed as an average second or third baseman playing out of position at short. He was a value for his production, but shouldn’t be considered any type of MLB star.
Last year then, he undoubtedly had his worst season. He regressed to a .242/.299/.402 offensive line. His defensive metrics got even worse. In 136 games, he finished with 0.9 jWAR. He was below average for a major league regular.
This year, he’s off to a slow start again. He’s batting .188/.264/.354 in 13 games. Wahoos on First’s Brian Heise wrote about his regression in first-pitch at-bats. It’s been frustrating to watch for fans. He has a reputation for being a “dog,” for not caring that much out on the field.
But Asdrubal Cabrera’s a darn good offensive shortstop, a pretty bad defensive shortstop and his 2014 expectations should have leveled again as an average shortstop overall. He’s off to a slow start, yes. But he’s gotten hot in May and June many times before in his career. On average, he should be average, and that’s valuable.
The case of Francisco Lindor
Five months ago yesterday, Francisco Lindor turned 20 years old. That’s an important item to remember throughout all of this talk about him being a natural star in the making. He’s a full 20 months younger than Kyrie Irving.
Yes, he had a walk-off homer last weekend. Cabrera himself said of Lindor this winter: “He’s got everything he needs to play this game now” and has way better conditioning at the same age. Lindor is rated as a consensus top-10 prospect in all of baseball.
But he’s never going to be necessarily that valuable offensively. At Single-A, he batted .257/.352/.355 in 122 games. In High-A, he batted .306/.373/.410 in 83 games. Through 31 games in Akron, he’s batting .277/.377/.420. At best, I’d expect him to maybe be an average-ish league hitter with very good plate discipline. That’s for sure valuable for a shortstop, but he’s not there yet. Cabrera’s offensive peak is better.
Defensively, woah. This is Lindor’s strength. Many have compared him to Texas’ Elvis Andrus. He probably won’t be as sensational as Atlanta’s shortstop wunderkind Adrelton Simmons, but he’ll be only a tier below that kind of production. He might be average offensively, but he’ll make up for it here.
There remain two issues with bringing up Lindor right now: He simply hasn’t had enough minor-league experience yet and he shouldn’t be promoted until after the Super-2 deadline. I’d add that Asdrubal Cabrera likely better keeps the Indians in contention right now, although Lindor could provide only an emotional boost.
The last eight position players to play substantial time in the majors before their 21st birthday are Jurickson Profar, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Satarlin Castro, Jason Hayward and Ruben Tejada. Combined, they averaged 110 games above Single-A before making their big-league debuts. Half of them mostly skipped Triple-A. Lindor would need a few months more to catch that average.
In terms of the Super-2 deadline, that means that the Indians have a distinct argument against promoting Lindor until early-to-mid June. That allows them to keep his arbitration eligibility under control for an extra season. Teams disobeyed that advantage when it came to Trout and Harper, but they were once-in-a-generation offensive talents.
My expectation is that Lindor will remain in Akron until sometime in June. Then, he’ll get some limited time in Triple-A Columbus. Whether he gets promoted before the end of the minor league playoffs (early September) depends upon how the Indians are doing. He certainly could use some more seasoning just to be sure.
The #FreeLindor campaign on Twitter has just been too much, too soon. Francisco Lindor will be a very solid – albeit probably not much more than a fringe All-Star – MLB player for a very long time. The Cleveland Indians will control his services through at least 2020. He’ll get his time in the spotlight.
Asdrubal Cabrera is a veteran infielder, off to a slow start after his worst season yet, but based on everything we know, he should provide more value right now than the 20-year-old prospect. He’s getting paid way more, of course, but that doesn’t mean much in a vacuum during the middle of a season when the Indians are expected to compete.
If the Indians aren’t doing well, I could certainly buy into trading Cabrera after mid-June and giving Lindor the early experience. It doesn’t make sense for Lindor to go to Cleveland without the full-time job. He should be playing as much as possible.
Until then, fans should be a bit more patient and understand that things aren’t too bad right now. The grass isn’t too green here in Cleveland today, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to hand the reigns over to Lindor just yet. He’ll be just fine.