Indians

On Asdrubal Cabrera, Francisco Lindor and wanting good things too soon

Asdrubal-Cabrera

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.

Final thoughts

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.

  • Benny the Jet

    “Francisco Lindor will be a very solid – albeit probably not much more than a fringe All-Star – MLB player for a very long time.”

    I’ll save this one in the record banks for this joke of a piece.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’ve seen enough of Asdrubal it’s unfortunate Francisco isn’t quite ready. It’s even more of a shame the Indians are basically stuck with Cabrera now but maybe he’ll figure out to hit one day again like before the end of his final season with the Indians.

  • nj0

    Amen. Really think Lindor’s ceiling is being undersold here. Think it’s a mistake to assume his offensive game a.) is currently lacking and b.) will not improve. Power regularly develops later for many players. Plate discipline, speed, lot of doubles, some power… League average hitter? Really?

    I understand not over-hyping a prospect. And I get preaching patience on Asdrubal. But, I very well think Lindor could be ready this year and I very well think ACab could play himself out of a job by the end of May. Doesn’t mean they both happen.

  • Kildawg

    I’m part of the consensus that Cabrera needs to go (continually rolling over on the first pitch, especially with RISP and killing rallies fast), but that Lindor isn’t ready yet. Give him a real shot next year to EARN the starting SS position. Aviles is a handy insurance policy to have since he can play everyday at SS (if he could do it in Bahston, he can do it here in Cleveland as well).

  • nj0

    Ugh… the thought of Aviles playing every day makes me shudder. He’s not that good. Asdrubal is going to have to play pretty poorly for a few months to make Aviles seem like the better option. But knowing ACab, I wouldn’t put that past him.

  • Zeff

    I think you’re misconstruing what Jacob is saying with the All-Star comment. You realize that’d make him one of the 3-4 best shortstops in the AL, right? That’s not necessarily a slight. He’s just trying to make the point that maybe we should temper our expectations. Lindor looks phenomenal, but I haven’t seen anything that indicates he’s the next Mike Trout, have you?

  • nj0

    There will be no “next Mike Trout”.

  • WFNYJacob

    Francisco Lindor projects to be a .270-.290 MLB hitter with maybe 5-10 HRs and very good plate discipline. He’s not expected to be much more than a league average MLB hitter, which is valuable for a shortstop, of course. In terms of WAR, his defense will carry him. His value as a prospect is not in his ceiling, it is in his remarkably low floor. At worst, many expect him to be a long-time starter. At best, a couple-time All-Star and a really, really solid piece of a good team.

  • Zeff

    Fine, I haven’t seen anything that indicates he’ll be an MVP type candidate or even the best SS in baseball. And while power certainly comes with time, it doesn’t normally do so with slight shortstops. He has the potential to be a very solid hitter, and a great defender. I don’t think the article misrepresents that at all.

  • mgbode

    Let’s just say why we are really excited about him:

    At best, he’s our next Omar Vizquel.

  • BisonDeleSightings

    Agreed. No SS since Ozzie Smith has consistently made All-Star teams based predominantly on defense (remember Omar’s struggles to get there?). So if he is an Elvis Andrus type offensively, a couple ASGs seems about right.

  • Kildawg

    I said Aviles can be an everyday SS, not that he should be. Solid bench player though that can handle numerous positions adequately. That being said, next year should be fun with Lindor at SS and batting 9th (to start out anyway, he could be like a second leadoff hitter).

  • mgbode

    Omar was up against Jeter, Nomar, and A-Rod in the PED-prime too though.

  • nj0

    AL batting average last year was .256.

    So being .15-.35 points above average, with above average plate discipline, and some power at SS probably puts him into a near .800 OPS range. Which, going off last year, puts him at an OPS+ of 120. Which is about equal to what Acab has done in his best years. If he does that, along with play top defense, he’s like a six win player.

  • nj0

    I guess my point is – if he does what you say he’s going to do, he’s not going to be a league average hitter. If you hit .290 and have above average plate discipline, you’re well above league average hitting.

  • nj0

    True, but I think we can all agree All Star teams are a popularity contest at this point. And the solid defense guy (or all around guy) will lose out to the high HR/RBI/AVG guy every time. I just don’t care about All Star teams.

  • Steve

    At best? Either we’re way overrating Omar or we’re way underrating Lindor’s potential at the plate.

    Omar was a career 82 OPS+, 90 in a Tribe uniform. If that’s all Lindor does, a lot of scouts missed on their projections.

  • Steve

    On top of agreeing with many of the comments here, I don’t think the super two deadline will be much of a determining factor. I think they’ll game his service time to keep him around an extra year, which I believe means two weeks in the minors to start 2015, but this is the kind of guy they look to lock up very early – like Sizemore.

  • WFNYJacob

    Baseball Prospectus in November: “balanced at the plate,” “clean path into the ball,” “constant contact from both sides of the plate,” “hit tool might lack impact,” “contact can be soft and slappy,” “well below-average power.” Mentioned that bat could fall short of projection and be “(only) solid-average.”

    FanGraphs’ Marc Hulet was a little higher in February, saying “At the plate, he projects to develop into an above-average, if not plus, hitter capable of producing a high average because he uses the whole field and makes outstanding contact.” It noted his “excellent contact rates.”

    ESPN’s Keith Law said “he’ll produce against all types of pitching.” Noted his “Exceptional lowe-half strength and his swing will allow him to eventually get to that power even though he doesn’t finish with a ton of lift.”

    So perhaps they’re a bit more optimistic about his offensive projection. All noted he has major league-ready defense. But my main point is that compared even to the fastest risers in MLB recently, he hasn’t had enough above Single-A experience.

    Elvis Andrus’ career numbers: .274/.339/.349 in 770 games. He averaged 3.3 WAR the past five seasons. Lindor might be a bit better, have some more doubles power and walk a bit more. But yeah, that sounds generally about right. I’d never project a player to be a 6 WAR guy regularly.

  • nj0

    But like I said below, if he does what Jacob is saying he can do in the article – hit .290 with above average plate discipline and some power plus top tier defense – then he will be the best SS in baseball (for at least a season or two).

    What’s weird is I think we’re in agreement with our assessment of what Lindor’s ceiling is, but disagree over what that assessment means.

    Last year, Andrelton Simmons had a 4.6 WAR based all on his outstanding defense and hindered by an OPS+ of 86. Now granted, Simmons defense last year isn’t something anyone can easily replicate, but….

    If we’re saying Lindor can be a top-tier defender who can do something like that PLUS post an OPS+ of 110-120: those are best-shortstop-in-the-league, MVP-contending numbers.

    Now, I do not think he will necessarily do that. And even if he does, it would only be for a season or two. But, it is in line with the assessment we all seem to agree on.

  • Steve

    Andrus is putting up that line in Texas, a hitter’s paradise. That’s 3.3 WAR from an 85 wRC+. Give him a league average bat, and you’re adding another win per year.

  • nj0

    Fair enough. I’m in agreement. I do not expect anyone to be a 6+ WAR guy regularly. I just don’t think we can say all this great stuff about Lindor (and read all the glowing reviews) and then discount that he can be an MVP type player at his peak. Sure, assuming that is dumb, but saying it is possible isn’t.

    Though I would point out that Andrus has put up those numbers in the tatter box in Arlington. If Lindor does what some think he can do, he will have an OPS+ significantly higher than Andrus’ 86.

  • CB Everett

    You never know, he might have a son. Although I read the Keith Law report saying that the probability in the Trout family of producing a “next Mike Trout” is only at 43%.

  • Hopwin

    I was at the day game last week and ACab couldn’t get the ball to first from short. The ball skipped in the dirt in front of Swisher who was max stretched and rocketed up into the stands. Not sure if this is a common occurrence for him but I am going to be watching his defense more closely.

  • nj0

    Those are the insights you get when you pay $29.95 a month for an Insider account.

  • mgbode

    ’96-’02 Omar was in his prime and is the guy I remember most:

    .287/.358/.388 93OPS+ — those numbers seem to be somewhat in line with a lot of these projections. it puts Lindor a little ahead in the power but likely even in speed (Omar had ~6HR, 6x3B, 30x2B, 30xSB per season in that stretch).

    but, I am obviously going deeper than the pure numbers there. most of us loved what Omar gave us. he was an absolute magician defensively and he was not a weak spot in the lineup.

    maybe that ends up over-rating Vizquel, but I’m not going to care much. that’s what I want from Lindor over the next 7 years.

  • Steve

    I’m not going to defend ESPN past this post, but Law and Pelton are worth the regular cost. And you get always find deals to get Insider for $5/year.

  • mgbode

    you better do it like an eclipse through a pin-hole. don’t look directly into his defense or you might go blind.

  • mgbode

    and you also get ESPN the Magazine which makes great lining if you happen to have a birdcage.

  • Hopwin

    Hmmm why?
    1) His defense is so dazzling
    2) His big butt blocks the sun like an eclipse
    3) I might put out my own eyes if I saw how truly terrible he is

  • Steve

    That is some clever snipping of Omar’s career. 1994, 1995, and 2003, he was a weak spot in the lineup. Just a thought exercise – imagine if Hargrove didn’t bat Vizquel and Baerga, the worst and third worst hitters in the lineup, second and third on that offense.

    Anyway, those seven years ended up as 3.1 WAR/year. I’ll roll the dice on Lindor outplaying that.

  • nj0

    Ah, but a .746 OPS in 2013 is not a .746 OPS in 1995.

    Indians team OPS last year was .737 which translated to a 109 OPS+.

  • Steve

    You can also get it sent to the troops overseas.

  • mgbode
  • mgbode

    Omar was a terrible hitter for the first part of his career. I don’t think you will get any argument from anyone on it. Whether it was PEDs or figuring out pitchers, he came around until he was in his late 30s when he fell off again (as happens to batters in their late 30s).

    nothing clever about it. I don’t think you will find anyone pining for the 1-D player of Omar in ’94 or ’95. that is now how he is remembered, nor should it be.

  • mgbode

    Did not know that. I’ll have to look into it when it’s re-up time.

  • Steve

    Sure, sure, remember all the good things about a guy. Maybe one day, we can just remember the good things about Asdrubal too.

  • mgbode

    unfortunately, his nice 4 year run happened at a time when the team was terrible. not his fault, but it will affect how he is remembered.

  • left out

    i never thought a few years back that acab would eventually regress in his D. now that it seems he’s losing it at the plate. he looks like he’s swinging too hard.

  • Armpit Johnson

    So, someone was comparing Lindor to Trout? I see a lot comping him to Omar, which is bad enough. I suppose the problem here is that there’s someone projecting Lindor based on, from what I can tell, unsubstantiated nonsense, and I suppose we’re just supposed to buy the assertion that Lindor might be a fringe all-star at best because why again? Asdrubal Cabrera is a hole on this team, and I’d be willing to take a chance on anyone at this point, but not willing to project the career of one of our best prospects in years based on this riff-raff of a piece. I’m sure that while Rosen can’t barely take the fact that people are sick of Asdrubal and hoping our best prospect can make a difference, I think he’ll ultimately be okay without writing a poor article. You know what they say…Opinions are like as…er…armpits..everyone has some…

  • bupalos

    Indeedy. Every year I feel like the value of defense is more and more forgotten by the average fan. There’s a reason banjo hitting SS’s have pretty much been the rule for the past century.

  • wyllis gordon

    Asdrubal sucks

  • Martygit

    It is now May 5. Cabrera just struck out (again) in a clutch situation, this time to end the game with a runner in scoring position. This piece is a joke in the assertion that Cabrera is destined to return to the form that once made him an All-Star and this his ceiling offensively is higher than that of Lindor, who is only 20 and tearing it up in Akron.

    The only reason in my view Cabrera is still in the lineup and batting sixth (Murphy AND Gomes should absolutely be batting ahead of him) is the hope that he will hit well enough to increase his midseason trade value.

    The greater the pressure, the worse Cabrera hits. I would be using Jose Ramirez there every day – he has experience playing short – or bring up Lindor now. That would create excitement and I can’t imagine Lindor being less productive, particularly in clutch situations.