July 26, 2009

Twins showing strong interest in Orlando Cabrera

Since the two teams met up in Oakland last week, the Twins and Athletics have been linked to trade talks surrounding shortstop Orlando Cabrera. Cabrera is a 34-year-old shortstop with declining defensive and offensive abilities. So naturally, he's an ideal fit (from the front office's perspective) for the Twins.

Cabrera has spent time with the Montreal Expos, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox and the Oakland Athletics over the span of 13 Major League seasons. He has two Gold Gloves and a World Series ring under his belt as well as a career triple-slash line of .274/.322/.397. This season, he's hitting well under his career hitting line and hasn't posted a league average OPS+ since there was still a team in Montreal. He is also having his worst defensive year of his career. So why would the Twins be interested in him? Because sadly, he's still a slight (and I'm talking fingernail length) upgrade over what we currently have.

Brendan Harris has done an O.K. job of handling the everyday (well, almost everyday) duties of shortstop, but his inconsistent bat has been worrisome and has proven to be a better role player than everyday player. But unfortunately, it's either Harris or Nick Punto at shortstop. And in the midst of putting together his worst offensive season, yes even worse than 2007, he has also lost a lot of defensive value at shortstop. Punto in fact has been far better both offensively and defensively when he's playing second base. He's actually reached base safely 26 times out of 51 at-bats while playing second base, that's thanks in large part to the 13 walks he's collected.

Cabrera has gained quite a bit of value in the past month-and-a-half due to his .362 average over that span. In fact, of the last 33 games he's played, only three have come without a hit. Over that span, his season average has jumped 43 points, his season OBP has jumped 31 points and his season SLG% has jumped 74 points. With no signs of slowing down, many teams have gained interest in Cabrera.

Both on the season and in his career, Cabrera has hit better in the #2 spot than any other spot in the lineup. With Alexi Casilla now for the time being moved to the bottom of the order and with Ron Gardenhire's desire to place a middle infielder in the two spot, Cabrera would probably be a far better option than Punto, Harris or Casilla. In no way is he an ideal fit, but he is an upgrade. And while Cabrera's hitting line is getting close to his career average, his defense is not. He is second-to-last in the Major Leagues (for those who qualify) with a -9.3 UZR/150, which is much worse than both his UZR/150 of 13.1 last season and the 5.1 he has for hsi career.

One thing does make this entire situation interesting though. While declining arbitration last fall from the Chicago White Sox, Cabrera had a hard time finding a new home because of the Type-A status the he carried with him. In order to sign him, a team would have to give up either their first round pick (if not in the top 15) or their second round pick. The only team willing to do so was the Oakland Athletics who surrendered their second round pick while signing Cabrera to a 1-year $4 million deal. In doing so, Cabrera and the Athletics came to an agreement that would prohibit the A's from offering him arbitration if he's a Type-A free agent in 2010 as well.

According to the most recent Elias predictions, Cabrera (despite his overall poor season) is still considered a Type-A free agent, meaning the A's (or any other team he is on) won't be able to get anything from him at the end of the season if those rankings hold up. But even if he does fall into Type-B range, the Twins would have to be careful if they choose to offer arbitration to him, as he'd probably accept. He'll be 35-years-old in November and is having one of his worst overall seasons of his career. The market for a 35-year-old with diminishing defensive and offensive abilities is even worse than a 34-year-old with the same problems, so it's likely that he'd accept the Twins' offer of arbitration if he has desire to play next season. Even though a Type-B free agent won't require a team to surrender a draft pick, he probably still won't get much on the open market which means that the Twins' offer would probably be the best option for him.

Should the Twins acquire Cabrera, that would probably end any dream anyone might have of landing Pirates second baseman Freddy Sanchez. Sanchez is a three-time All-Star with a career .301/.337/.759 hitting line. The Twins and Pirates have been linked as possible trade partners, but nothing has developed past the rumor-mill. Sanchez is due $8 million next season if his contract vests (which it is likely to do), which means that the Twins would be getting at least a year-and-a-half of Sanchez compared to just a few months of Cabrera. While Sanchez would undoubtedly cost more to acquire, he plays a good second base and is three years younger than Cabrera. And unlike Cabrera, he hits left-handed pitching extremely well. He has a career line of .355/390/.504 against southpaws, which would fit in nicely with the Twins who are hitting left-handers at a .277/.343/.433 clip. Despite that being better than the team's line against right-handers, the Twins have a left-handed dominant lineup which is in need of a few good right-handed batters. Sanchez would fit the bill perfectly.

They also have Ian Snell who has been outstanding since his demotion to Triple-A. Snell has publicly criticized the Pirates and has stated that he doesn't want to return to Pittsburgh. He'd be a great option with the rotation in total disarray.

Unfortunately, the Twins and Pirates don't appear to be close to a deal and with the Twins' own manager addressing Cabrera personally, it seems more and more likely that Sanchez is not going to happen.

After Saturday's loss to the Angels, while addressing his frustrations with the ball club, Gardenhire said the following about Cabrera:
"I like Cabrera, yes. I'm not allowed to talk about players, but yes I like Cabrera. It's a direct question. I can answer a direct question. I think he's a great player."

He also had this to say:
"Ozzie (Guillen) and he really butted heads. Crede told us he was a great teammate, hard worker. These guys over here said fantastic things about him, played the game, played hard, the whole package."

Joe Crede and Cabrera played on the left-side of the White Sox infield last season. The two had a good relationship. Although Crede is "one of the new guys" he's known to be a good clubhouse guy and since we all know how Ozzie Guillen is, I believe Crede's assessment that he is a good teammate and hard worker.

While I'm far from advocating for this trade to happen, I do see some reasons why the Twins would be interested in Cabrera. And although this isn't the trade I (or many others) had in mind, it does seem as though it might be a slight upgrade over what we already have.

To me, it will all depend on what the Twins give up. Again, they're getting a 34-year-old shortstop with diminishing defensive and offensive abilities who is owed around $1.5 million from now and until the rest of the season. The Athletics might also be in a no-win situation with Cabrera. The team has no chance of contending this season and they already know they can't offer arbitration if he's a Type-A free agent. And if he's a Type-B free agent and they do happen to offer him arbitration, he could very well accept it.

The A's shouldn't expect a ton from the Twins, while the Twins need to be careful to not overpay for Cabrera. To me, the thought of adding Cabrera doesn't bother me compared to the thought of what we'll give up to get him.