October 24, 2009

Off-Season Blueprint: Letting Go (The Orlando Cabrera Edition)

With the Joe Mauer situation on the back-burner, the Twins now can turn their attention to which of their internal free agents they would like to retain for the next season. With five guys slated for free agency, the Twins will obviously have to make the tough decisions on who they should bring back and who they shouldn't.

Orlando Cabrera was acquired just hours before last July's trade deadline. The Twins sent prospect Tyler Ladendorf to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for the 34-year-old shortstop. At the time, many expected a move such as this to help appease the vocal, veteran players. But Cabrera was just the beginning of what would be a very busy two week period in which the Twins would add four more players to help down the stretch.

With the Twins, Cabrera hit in the two-hole and put up a triple-slash line of .285/.309/.426 with 21 extra-base hits in 59 games. Had Cabrera put up a higher on-base percentage, I would probably be more anxious to bring him back, but someone who gets on base 31% of the time is a liability in the two-hole. Another thing that doesn't excite me about Cabrera is his quick decline in defense. Cabrera went from being one of the best defensive shortstops in the game to one of the worst. Could it have just been a down season? Perhaps. But having an off-year at 34 doesn't really suggest that he's likely to turn it around.

But with all that said, I'll be surprised if the Twins don't bring him back. The Twins love the energy and leadership he brings to the team and by all accounts, Cabrera loved his time with the Twins. Cabrera also had a positive influence on a couple of the Spanish-speaking players on the team, primarily Carlos Gomez and Alexi Casilla. Both players are underachievers and would benefit from more bonding from a mentor like Cabrera. Cabrera was hurt badly by a down economy and his Type-A status last off-season but was determined to not get hurt by it again and negotiated in his contract that if he were to gain Type-A status again, his former team wouldn't be able to offer him arbitration. And of course, Cabrera indeed looks to be a Type-A free agent which means that if he leaves, the Twins will not get any compensation in return.

Although I think Cabrera is a fine player to have at the bottom of the lineup, I can't stand the thought of the Twins wasting him between Denard Span and Mauer. Although I would be surprised if he doesn't return, I personally hope he's the Twins' backup option while they search for a younger, better player. If he does return, I won't be that upset because I do feel that he can be a valuable player. But I do want to see either shortstop or second base improve. So if he does return, I want to see an upgrade at second base.