With Didi Gregorius’s departure official, the Yankees have a glaring infield absence. Sure, it’s not truly necessary since Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu can handle the two middle infield spots. That said, more depth is always a good. Tyler Wade or Thairo Estrada are intriguing players, but bringing in someone with a higher floor would be a nice insurance policy. That’s where Asdrúbal Cabrera could come into play.
Cabrera’s a 13-year big league veteran and has played for six different clubs. He made his big league debut with Cleveland as a 21 year-old in 2007 and even hit a home run off Chien-Ming Wang in Game 1 of the ALDS that October. Ah, good times.
Before Cabrera came up with Cleveland, he was initially in the Mariners’ farm system. Seattle signed Cabrera out of Venezuela in 2002, but he didn’t play stateside until his minor league debut in 2004. Two years later, the M’s dealt Cabrera to Cleveland for Eduardo Pérez.
Cabrera played second base in deference to Jhonny Peralta in his first two seasons, but Cleveland shuffled the infield in 2009. Peralta moved to the hot corner, which opened up shortstop for Cabrera. Asdrúbal stuck there through 2014 before Cleveland traded him to Washington for Zach Walters.
After his half-season with the Nationals, Cabrera bounced around from here on out. He signed a one-year deal with the Rays and then a two-year contract with the Mets (with a third year club option that was exercised), was traded mid-2018 to the Phillies, and finally signed with the Rangers prior to the 2019 campaign.
Cabrera struggled in the Lone Star state and was designated for assignment come August. That’s when Cabrera reunited with one of his former teams, the Nationals. As I’ll get to in a moment in the performance section, Washington sure was glad to have him back. Following a championship run, Cabrera is a free agent once again.
The 34 year-old infielder is a lifetime .268/.331/.425 (105 wRC+) hitter, which is good production for a middle infielder. He had his two top offensive campaigns in 2011 (119 wRC+) with Cleveland and 2016 (120 wRC+) with the Mets.
Entering 2019, Cabrera was in the midst of a strong three-year run at the dish. Just about all of that time with in Queens, along with a short stretch down I-95 in Philly following the 2018 trade deadline. During that time in the NL East, Cabrera hit .274/.334/.456 (114 wRC+). He also hit 60 dingers, walked 7.6 percent of the time, and struck out just 17.9 percent of plate appearances. An 82 wRC+ in 185 plate appearances with the Phillies brought those numbers down a tad.
The beginning of this season was a sharp downturn for Cabrera. In fact, not just the beginning, but the majority of it. Cabrera replaced the legendary Adrián Beltré in Texas and paled in comparison. Not that anyone could really fill his shoes, of course. The Rangers dumped Cabrera by August when he was hitting .235/.318/.393 (79 wRC+). That’s when the Nationals brought Cabrera back for another stint in the nation’s capital.
Although a rough stretch in Philly and Texas portended doom, Cabrera wasn’t done yet. In two months of play, Cabrera hit .323/.404/.565 (145 wRC+). And he earned it:
In spite of a good finish buoyed by strong expected statistics, Cabrera has never been a Statcast darling. The switch-hitter doesn’t rack up high exit velocities or impressive hard hit rates. Yet, he remains a productive hitter because he doesn’t rack up high strikeout totals, is patient at the plate, and has a modicum of power.
So Cabrera offers a solid offensive profile, but what about defense? After all, he’d be playing premium defensive positions for the Yankees, primarily second and shortstop. Unfortunately, Cabrera is below average up the middle per DRS and UZR.
Another issue: he hasn’t played shortstop since 2018 and only played 204 innings at the position that season. It may be too much to ask him to play there at this point of his career. Wade and Estrada can, though they can’t hit like Cabrera.
Cabrera hasn’t been on the injured list since 2017 and has been pretty durable throughout his career. He’s played no fewer than 131 games every season since 2011, and appeared 141 or more games in five of those seasons. There were a few injured list stints sprinkled in, but nothing that sidelined Cabrera for a lengthy period of time.
The Fangraphs crowdsourcing project estimated a two-year deal worth $12 million. Neither The Athletic’s Jim Bowden nor MLB Trade Rumors forecasted Cabrera’s next deal.
I don’t think Cabrera will get anything more than a one-year deal this winter. He had a fantastic finish to 2019, but I don’t think a two month hot streak following rough stretches with Philadelphia and Texas is enough to get him an extra year. Jonathan Schoop, who’s six years younger than Cabrera, just signed a one-year deal for $6.1 million. I think that’s closer to what Cabrera will get.
Does he make sense for the Yankees?
Though his ability to play shortstop and overall defensive play are a concern, he’s one of the better offensive options on the infield market. There’s no way Cabrera could fill the void that Didi Gregorius left, but Cabrera can alleviate some of the absence felt from Didi’s bat. Plus, if defense is a real concern, the team can still carry Wade or Estrada as the 26th man for a more reliable glove.