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MLB trade rumor analysis: Asdrubal Cabrera

MLB trade rumor analysis: Asdrubal Cabrera
June 27, 2013
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The 2013 Indians are currently two games above .500 and have won their past three series. However, they seem like a long-shot to overtake the Detroit Tigers, who are headlined by five of the best starters in the MLB and Miguel Friggin' Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Despite the Tigers' talent, the Indians have reasons to be hopeful going forward. They have both Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher on fairly-reasonable free-agent contracts and some exciting (read: streaky and unknown) young pitchers in Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Trevor Bauer. Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis look like small-market stars and Justin Masterson is solidifying himself as a true front-of-the rotation starter. There is clear potential for this team to really compete over the next few seasons.

With all that being said, an everyday player that sits in the top third of the Indians lineup finds his name in the rumor mill. Asdrubal Cabrera is a trade candidate -- despite the Indians remaining in contention or having few palatable, immediate alternatives to play SS. (No, Mike Aviles is not palatable.)

The Indians received Asdrubal Cabrera from the Mariners in exchange for Eduardo Perez on June 30, 2006. Eduardo Perez took in every single post-season game in 2006 from a broadcaster's booth, as his final Major League at-bat came only three months after being traded. The Indians called Cabrera up in 2007 and have enjoyed solid seasons ever since from the switch-hitting 2B/SS. In 2011, Asdrubal hit 25 homers, went to the All-Star game, won the Silver Slugger and amassed 3.5 wins above replacement. On April 4th, 2012, ten months after the 2011 draft, the team agreed to an extension with Cabrera that bought out one season of arbitration (2013) for $6.5 million and one year of free-agency (2014) for $10 million.

From 2011 to 2013, Cabrera has amassed 6.8 WAR (FanGraphs) which puts him in a dead-tie with Yunel Escobar and Marco Scutaro and right behind Alexei Ramirez. This is about where his perception as a player lies in my mind, so it was nice to get that validation on my own grasp of reality. He is affordable, fairly young, fairly durable and above-average at a premium position. This is not a typical trade candidate for a organization trying to win now.

Then again, typical organizations don't have Francisco Lindor in their minor league system. I mentioned the 2011 draft earlier because the Indians selected Lindor No. 8 overall in that draft. Lindor, who is currently hitting .311/.380/.417 in High-A is in contention to be the No. 1 overall prospect entering the 2014 season. He's a player who already has a very mature approach at the plate, potential for 10-15 homers per season and an absolutely spectacular glove at SS. The hypothesis is that he is just a little bit of seasoning away from being as valuable as Cabrera thanks to his plus-plus-defense. So, despite the solid performance and reasonable contract the Indians enjoy with Asdrubal Cabrera, there are some who are open to dealing away part of the present to plan for the future.

The argument for trading him is that his reasonable contract and recent performance will garner a big return. The argument against trading him is that the Indians are fringe-contenders. Other key considerations include Cabrera's projected performance, the market for shortstops and potential matches for a trade.

Player Analysis

Asdrubal Cabrera is an above-average offensive shortstop that has posted an wRC+ of 112, 88, 118, 112 and 107 from 2009-13. His fielding skills have ranged anywhere from +3.3 Fld to -11.0. Generally speaking, he is viewed as a below-average fielder, but not an abject liability out there. Additionally, he possesses enough youth and athleticism to keep up this level of performance at the position for at least a few more years. He has had one injury-marred season in 2010 that saw him play only 97 games, but he played in 151 and 143 games the following two seasons. Though he has missed a few weeks in 2013, he doesn't carry the label of being injury-prone and seems like a fairly safe bet to eclipse 130 games per season for the next few years. I will continue to use that assumption below.

To cut right to the chase, I project him as a 2-3.5 win player depending on his HR/FB%'s which range anywhere from 3.0% to 13.3% per season. To back up this assertion, I present to you a graph of his career WAR/130 and his career HR/FB%:


Hey, look, they correlate with one another!* In fact, taking out 2009 (where a .360 BABIP drove up his AVG and OBP 30 points apiece), that correlation becomes 0.81. So yes, it is safe to say that Asdrubal's ability to hit home runs is a key determinant, if not the key determinant, in his overall value.

(* - Note: r=0.50 to be exact)

Considering that his defense and base running are both slightly below average, and have been that way for the last few years, it is a fairly safe to assume that they will remain at that level. They certainly should hold steady during the rest of his age-27 season and his age-28 season in 2014. In conclusion, it is not a stretch to say that he will be worth between 1.0-1.5 fWAR during the rest of 2013 and 2.0-3.0 fWAR during 2014. In total, you could likely get 3.0-4.5 fWAR for around $13 million of salary. All in all, this is a pretty good trade chip.

Market Analysis

Certain teams are already bonafide sellers including: Minnesota, Chicago (AL), Seattle, Houston, Philadelphia, New York (NL), Miami, Milwaukee, and Chicago (NL).

This presents the following list of shortstops: Brian Dozier, Alexei Ramirez, Brendan Ryan, Marwin Gonzalez, Jimmy Rollins, Omar Quintanilla, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jean Segura and Starlin Castro.

Out of this group, the only candidates that are really potential trade targets are Ramirez and Rollins. Everyone else is either replacement level/below and not worth trading for (Ryan, Dozier, Gonzalez, Quintanilla, Hechavarria) or a young star that won’t be traded (Castro, Segura).

Ramirez is an above-average defender, but a dwindling hitter. His wRC+ has been at 70 for the past two seasons and he was merely average before that. His glove creates value and he has a decent power/speed combo for a middle-infielder. Overall he could generate about 0.5-1 wins over a half season. He is signed through 2015 at ~$8mil a year with a club option, so it seems unlikely that the White Sox would sell him unless they went into full fire-sale mode. Which, as long as Kenny Williams is GM, will probably not happen.

Rollins has been an above-average defender throughout his career (and surprisingly still is, 2013 FLD of 2.2 in only 77 games) and about league average or a touch better offensively (wRC+ of 103, 101, 93 from 2011-13). He is a difference maker on nearly any team as he can provide value in all phases of the game. Additionally, he is a high-profile player that will attract fans and he possesses lots of post-season experience. If available, he is likely #1 on the wish list for those teams seeking an upgrade at shortstop.

Placing Cabrera among these three players, he is about equidistant between Ramirez and Rollins in terms of total value. However, because offense is typically put at a premium when trade targets are identified, Cabrera’s potent bat pushes him closer to Rollins.

Potential Matches

Speaking of teams seeking an upgrade at SS: who could use a player like Cabrera?

It’s surprising how solid most teams are at SS, but here are all current contenders* starting SS with 2013 WAR through June 24th:


*"Contenders" defined by author's subjective opinion

Teams with SS needs based on performance to date include the: Yankees, Royals, Rangers, Angels, Cardinals and Reds.

The Yankees have a gap at SS until Derek Jeter comes back, but there is no way that they will trade for a SS, even as a temporary replacement, before Jeter comes back from his ankle injury.

The Royals have Alcides Escobar who is a bit of an unknown commodity. His offense seems tied to his BABIP and his defense has been all over the map from a metrics standpoint. His contract through 2015 with options for 2016 and 2017 pretty much keep the Royals hand-cuffed to him.

The Rangers have Elvis Andrus and his recent 8-year contract extension. He is young and hitting poorly, but his defense is superb. The Rangers aren’t trading for a SS.

The Angels have Erick Aybar who has been a 4-win player the past two seasons and isn’t performing up to his normal standards. The Angels, as crazy as they are some years, aren’t going to trade for a SS.

The Cardinals have Pete Kozma who can’t hit and only fields slightly-above average. He is a replacement-level player; even if he had some big hits last October. This is a big gap.

The Reds have a formerly shiny-prospect in Zack Cozart who can still field fairly well, but just isn't improving his offense. The resd have watched his wRC+ fall from 121 in a short 2011 call-up to 83 in 600 PA’s in 2012 and just 78 in 300 PA’s this year. A surprising gap, and a bit of a dark-horse suitor; especially if his poor performance continues and the Reds remain third in their division.

The Cardinals

Pete Kozma was thrust into a starting role in 2012 when Rafael Furcal went down with an injury. He responded with a 26-game performance that exceeded all of his career minor league numbers and topped it off with a clutch postseason encore. In 2013, he won the starting spot again after Furcal went down with yet another injury. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Pete Kozma isn’t a very good hitter and, while his defensive numbers grade out fairly well so far, he doesn’t have the defensive reputation of an Andrelton Simmons or Elvis Andrus, who does? (besides Francisco Lindor, that is)

Despite having a terrific farm system, there isn't an heir apparent at SS that the Cardinals can hold out for. Kolten Wong is a 2B only player and Matt Carpenter can play all over the field, but doesn't have the glove to stick at SS as an everyday player.

The Indians would be looking for starting pitching in basically any deal they make and the Cardinals have plenty of that. In terms of a straight swap, Asdrubal Cabrera probably isn’t worth a Michael Wacha or Carlos Martinez.

However, the Indians could potentially throw in a high-leverage reliever such as Chris Perez or Bryan Shaw, who could help out a Cardinals bullpen hurt by the loss of Jason Motte.

Perez/Shaw and Cabrera for one of the Cardinals young pitchers could be a potential match. It addresses the two biggest needs for the Cardinals this season and does so by dealing from a position of strength. Conversely, it supplies the Indians with the one thing they can’t seem to grow at home: starting pitching. With Adam Wainwright looking like the Cy Young front-runner, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller establishing themselves as legit front-line guys, there is a chance that the Cards would be willing to let go of one of their young pitchers to address two Major League weaknesses during this year’s World Series run.

The Reds

Going into 2012, the Reds seemed to have a surplus at SS with Zack Cozart fielding everything and developing as a young hitter and Billy Hamilton breaking stolen base records in the minors. Fast forward to the start of this season and Cozart was viewed as a lock to provide value thanks to a solid glove and a decent idea of what to do at the plate. In fact, he was viewed so highly by the organization that Billy Hamilton was moved off SS to try his speed in the outfield. Unfortuantely, Cozart has scuffled badly and the Hamilton train has left the station. The Reds have a very solid team and, despite currently sitting 3rd in the NL Central, are still among the NL favorites to win the pennant. They are looking for a few extra wins and SS is certainly low-hanging fruit.

Cabrera could provide a major offensive boost to the Reds who have suffered through a combined wRC+ of 65 from their various SS personnel. Cabrera’s wRC+of 107 would look very good in comparison.

If the Reds were to pull the trigger, they would also need to look to their young pitchers to make something happen. Robert Stephenson and Tony CIngrani are the two big pitching prospects in the Reds system and probably are untouchable given Johnny Cueto’s injury history and an uninspiring, albeit durable, back-end of the rotation consisting of Mike Leake and Bronson Arroyo. Stephenson would be the more probable man to be dealt based on Cingrani’s dominant 42 innings with the big league club in 2013, but Cabrera for Stephenson doesn’t seem like something the Reds would ultimately sign off on.

The Reds would likely be more amenable to dealing a few lower level arms and not putting the immediate window for the Major League club at risk. Packaging youngsters Daniel Corcino and one of Nicholas Travieso or Kyle Lotzkar might do the trick. It adds interesting arms to the Indians system and addresses the Reds surprising weak link.

Given the Indians' status as fringe-contender and a lack of current alternatives, a trade would only occur if the return was substantial. Cabrera is a talented player and merits a substantial return, but his recent injury and reliance on HR’s to create significant offensive value casts a shadow of risk that acquirers will be wary of.

Likely, no deal is made due to the fact that the two teams with needs are easily(6+ games) in the clear to make the postseason. The lack of a desperation factor will prevent them from trading away the valuable arms that would be required to make the Indians dampen their plausible chances for contention over the next two years.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs


Charlie Adams is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and Indians Baseball Insider

You can follow him on twitter @Charlie_Adams13

User Comments

Mike Hattery
June 28, 2013 - 10:36 PM EDT
Charlie, this is really good work. Your analysis was strong throughout. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
June 28, 2013 - 1:18 PM EDT
I appreciate the thought and effort here, but I reside with Joey & Brianm; resist the temptation to move ACab with the thought that he can shift to 3rd should Chiz fizzle.

I'll add a few other reasons.

First, while I am still pulling for Chiz and a believer, 3rd base is at it's most fallow replacement phases in generations. Look around both leagues and you see why Looie Valbuena has found a home with the Cubs. There is a plethora of AAAA not-so-Hot-Corner types cashing MLB minimum paychecks.

2nd - We have enjoyed a fantastic off-season and a rebirth with Francona, including a renewed commitment from ownership to spend going forward. But. Fans have not shown up yet.

This franchise is 10k season ticket holders short of being where they need to be to make any kinds of significant in season moves - either SELLING OR BUYING.

What they need to do is poach the best small market showings -or better yet - coax the best people from St Louis out of retirement.

Marketing, and hence, money, not arms or bats, is the problem.

For generations people in surrounding states with few Pro Sports options have been planning their summers and vacations around Cardinals baseball.

Have you ever been to St. Louis? Besides baseball and world class ribs is it really that big of a deal? Hardly.

The difference between what Kansas City has endured and what St. Louis has accomplished isn't just about being in the post season and winning world championships.

It's about convincing small town Chambers and church groups to buy season packages and drive one way FOUR HOURS for a weekend getaway. And Business owners. And yes, regular families.

It can happen in Cleveland (and is happening in Pittsburgh). But it takes the investment and talent and willingness to execute the vision.

I know it's not as sexy as playing Hot Stove, but it is just as important.

Thanks for the excellent post C. Adams.
June 28, 2013 - 11:32 AM EDT
Some interesting thoughts here. I doubt the Tribe trades away any of these pieces unless they bring back a few NOW pieces in return AND the Tribe is out of contention for the AL Central. Personally, I think the Tribe will face some tough decisions this coming offseason. Considering Jimenez, Kazmir, Albers, Hill, Myers and Smith will all be FA. That is a lot of pitching coming off the roster. Couple that with only one more yr of control of CPerez, ACab and Masterson and the Tribe certainly has to entertain resigning or trading some of these commodities. Also, Lou Marson seems to a non-tender candidate. This leads me to believe the Tribe could have an active offseason.
June 28, 2013 - 6:52 AM EDT
With two wild card teams this year the Tribe has a better chance of staying in the playoff hunt later into the season, which means less chance of trading Cabrera.

The Indians offense has been pretty anemic lately. They need every bat they can get.

If they traded Cabrera for a prospect they would be telling the fans that they're throwing in the towel on this season. I can't see them doing that while they're still in contention.

They're playing winning baseball and the schedule is relatively soft the rest of the way. I'll be surprised if Cabrera is moved this year, or next for that matter. Lindor isn't even to AA yet.
June 27, 2013 - 10:10 PM EDT
I am not sure that Cabrera brings back a FOR arm. Just not realistic. At this point, he might bring back a good young pitching prospect, but if you really want a FOR potential arm, you are going to have to dig deep into a system and get that arm out of Single-A.
June 27, 2013 - 8:40 PM EDT
Not writing off this season yet....think we will stay close enough but if we do fall out and decide to trade Asdrubal, we have to get FOR pitching back. This team hasn't developed any pitchers recently (Tomlin is it). Getting pitching while drafting the Lindors and Fraziers of the world is a key to our future success.
June 27, 2013 - 5:22 PM EDT
Joey and brianm: I like the thought process, but I just don't buy Cabrera at 3B. His bat is a little too light and his arm way too weak.

If Lindor is up by All Star of next season (would be a lightning fast ascent to MLB) then the Tribe should trade ACab to a team who can employ him at SS. That way the Indians get back piees fitting of a borderline all-star caliber SS, rather than play an all-star caliber SS at 3B where he would be only average.

Sadly, I think the Indians are treating Chisenhall a little like LaPorta....if you bring a guy up, keep him up and give him lots of chances. If Kipnis would have been called up this year, and had the 1st couple months he did, he would be bouncing back between AAA/MLB like Lonnie, instead of leading the team as he is doing now. (he is curently AL 2B leader in fWAR, woo!)
June 27, 2013 - 3:58 PM EDT
I like how you have offered reasonable trade suggestions in the article. There was a Wacha for ACab rumor during the offseason, but his quick rise to the bigs and the success he has had this year probably set that ship sailing. Also agree that if ACab is traded, one of our relievers would likely be included in order to get their desired prospect. I would hate to see them go, but Allen, Shaw, and with out a doubt Joe Smith would have tons of value to a contender. The deals made for top setup men the last few years have landed teams phenomenal returns.

Phil is right about the Pirates. In the off season we were focused on the Cardinals and D'backs as trade partners because we 'matched up' correctly, but more so because they had great talent they could part with. Pittsburgh is now that team. They have one of the best farm systems in baseball and would love to prove everybody wrong and actually stay in the hunt this year. SS has been a weakness for them the past few years, and ACab's ability to play both positions up the middle, and maybe even third base should be a nice selling point for an NL team.

Finally, I also agree with Joey about moving Cabrera over to third if he remains with the club into next season. Lindor could be ready by the all-star break next year and we need someone a little more reliable than Chiz at this point. We also won't have the money to spend this off season on someone who can be as productive as astroball would be at third. 10 million for an extra year of a former GG winning SS who has some power playing third actually seems like quite the deal. Actually, considering our options at third for next year without ACab, Im not sure I want to deal him.
June 27, 2013 - 3:23 PM EDT
Maybe the Cardinals would trade us their F.O. for Cabrera. I might even trade Lindor for that....
June 27, 2013 - 2:19 PM EDT
Cards would never do that. It just isnt their M.O.

Smartest club in the MLB
June 27, 2013 - 1:57 PM EDT
Said we should look into trading Ascab to Cards before the season even started so its the obvious target.

If we should happen to fall way out of things.......

I would look into trading Ascab, Masterson, Joe Smith an Chris Perez to the Cards for some combo of Rosenthal, Shelby Miller and Oscar Taveras. If you think about we would both get huge upgrades. Cards for this season and us for the future.

Imagine an outfield of Taveras-Frazier-Naquin. With that said I seriously doubt they trade Taveras even for a FOR starter, all star short stop and closer.

If we go this route we should also look into trading Ubaldo and Mark Reynolds for more minor league pitching depth.

If we fall out we have tons of talent to market. Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jiminez, Mark Reynolds, Joe Smith, Chirs Perez and of course Asdrubal Caberera.
June 27, 2013 - 1:43 PM EDT
Sleeper team to look out for......Pittsburgh Pirates.

Someone like Tyler Glasnow would be a nice piece for the Indians to target. Pirates also have a real nice secondary piece in Nick Kingham.
June 27, 2013 - 1:01 PM EDT
Asdrubal will be a free agent by the time Lindor reaches the majors.

I agree the Cards and Reds would be unlikely to part with Wacha, Martinez, Cingrani or Stephenson, but I also think the Indians are in a very strong position here. The complete lack of anyone worth trading for besides Rollins makes Asdrubal that much more valuable.

The Tribe also is not harmed much by keeping Asdrubal. If we can't get the right return for him, then we get his value at SS for the next 1.5 seasons and then an extra 1st round pick and bonus pool $ from making a qualifying offer and him walking.
June 27, 2013 - 12:31 PM EDT
What about sliding him over to third when lindor comes up?

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