Revisiting the decision to pick up Asdrubal Cabrera’s option

After their trip to the World Series in 2015, the Mets signed free agent shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to a two-year deal with a team option for a third season. A strong 2016 by Cabrera has made it a good signing for the Mets. Last year was significantly worse and it should have made picking up his option a questionable thing. It’s impossible to say how much debate when into the decision to retain Cabrera for 2018. But here in early February, it’s safe to wonder if the Mets would like a do-over on the decision.

One of the criticisms of Sandy Alderson is that he is, essentially, lazy. If a choice is there to go for a known quality, he’ll almost always take it. Sometimes that’s the preference for veterans over rookies and other times that’s hitching the wagon to a guy who has already performed in New York. One can argue that the decision to pick up Cabrera’s option falls into both of these categories.

One of many things that hurt the 2017 Mets was the lack of athleticism, particularly in the infield. Cutting ties with Cabrera this offseason would have allowed the Mets to address that need. Now, that doesn’t mean to pick up a guy simply because he’s fast. Instead, it means looking for people with different skill sets, particularly someone who could be a plus defensively.

Because let’s face it – if you’re playing Cabrera you’re pretty much saying that you value offense over defense. And that paid off for the Mets in a big way in 2016, when Cabrera did better than expected in the field and finished the year with an outstanding offensive performance that helped drive their Wild Card finish.

But last year, eh not so much. Cabrera was an anchor defensively. In 2016, he caught everything he got to and made strong, accurate throws. Last year, he added a questionable glove in addition to all of the balls he failed to reach. And his hitting failed to make up for it, as he dropped 25 points of OPS, despite posting his best BB% since 2008.

Cabrera was moved off shortstop, seeing time at both 2B and 3B. Adding to his down year in 2017, Cabrera’s reputation for being a team guy took a hit, as he lobbied to have his 2018 option picked up as a reward to moving to 3B, a position he had only played 1 1/3 innings of previously in the majors. The Mets did not honor that request and Cabrera ended up playing 350.1 innings at the hot corner last year.

When the Mets did pick up his option, they expressed a belief that Cabrera would be their starting 3B in 2018. This seemed to me to be doubling down on a bad move. My opinion was that letting Cabrera walk was the right call and the main benefit to bringing him back was that it would allow the club to pursue either a 2B or 3B in the offseason.

So, why the seeming insistence that he was a 3B? The sample at both 2B and 3B was too small to form any opinions on where he’d be better. Plus the advanced defensive numbers were split. DRS thought he was better at 3B while UZR preferred his work at 2B. As a former shortstop, you’d think he would be more valuable at 2B, since he already had experience turning the pivot. But his lack of range would seemingly be less of a problem at the hot corner.

Perhaps the only thing this served as was a de facto announcement that the club had zero expectations for David Wright.

Regardless, my argument for not picking up his option was that after we saw an unusual offseason in terms of activity for power hitters last season that it wasn’t going to be a surprise if this year we had a softer market all around. And while Cabrera was a solid player, teams weren’t going to be tripping all over themselves to get him. It’s hard to view him as a shortstop any longer and he’s likely no better than the third option at either 2B or 3B for a club.

The cost certainty of Cabrera was less appealing in a market that saw teams much more cautious with their spending.

So, what are the Mets left with now in regards to Cabrera? They’ve got a guy who is not going to be a plus defensively regardless of where he plays in the field. They’ve got a guy whose main calling card on offense is his power and he saw a 40-point drop in his ISO last year, despite all of the home runs being hit in MLB. And they’ve got a player who was once considered a key clubhouse guy who seems to have been usurped in that role by Jose Reyes.

Maybe if they had his salary available to apply elsewhere, they would be more likely to bring in an impact player, whether through trade or free agency. Instead, we’re looking at the possibility of a starting infield with Adrian Gonzales, Wilmer Flores and Cabrera. I’m not a fan of that alignment.

16 comments for “Revisiting the decision to pick up Asdrubal Cabrera’s option

  1. David Groveman
    February 1, 2018 at 1:10 pm

    The Mets are paying Asdrubal Cabrera over $10 Mil for a bat that fits best at 7th in in the lineup and a glove that hasn’t been an asset for a few years now.

    If the Mets did not have his burden they’d have an obvious need at third base and second but approximately $20 Mil to solve it. They’d still be looking at the likes of Moustakas, Frazier and Harrison etc… but I think the Mets would be better off in general.

    Without Cabrera, are the Mets looking at Jason Kipnis and Todd Frazier being on the team right now? Maybe…

    I don’t like what the Mets appear to be doing at the moment.

  2. Mike Walczak
    February 1, 2018 at 1:42 pm

    Let’s see how you feel when they resign Neal Walker. Put the band back together for another run at 90 losses.

  3. Name
    February 1, 2018 at 2:25 pm

    I see this as less of a problem because the replacement options aren’t that great

    I don’t really like any of the FA options at 2 years. Frazier would have to go 1/$7 or Nunez at 1/$5 for me to prefer them over Cabrera at 1/$8.5. I would choose Walker at around 2/$20 over Cabrera.

    If the decision was Cabrera at $8.5 or Harrison at $10.5 + giving up players, i much rather go with Cabrera.

    I’m also convinced we’ll see 1st half Reyes again and he’s not worth the roster spot he’s occupying.

    • February 1, 2018 at 2:39 pm

      I can see that being the AAV for Frazier on a 3 or 2-year deal.

      But it’s not necessarily all tied to the two infield positions, either. Would having that money not allocated towards Cabrera made them more inclined to get McCutchen? Or a SP?

      • Name
        February 1, 2018 at 3:56 pm

        Would having that money not allocated towards Cabrera made them more inclined to get McCutchen? Or a SP?

        I think you know my answer to that question
        “hitching the wagon to a guy who has already performed in New York”

        Had Sandy not used that money on Cabrera, it would have been spent on resigning Walker, Reed or Granny.

  4. TexasGusCC
    February 1, 2018 at 5:10 pm

    As we saw Cabrera was injured last year, it seems he suffered through leg problems all season, specifically hamstrings. Maybe he needs hydration also? Cabrera at $8.5 is not breaking any payrolls and with his option to be decided five days after the World Series ended, there was no way of predicting how the market would be. In fact, it was more his attitude than his play that made Alderson wait until the final day he had to decide. Still, he seemed fine at 3B and should be a solid if unspectacular contributor if he can learn to shut-up and just do his job.

    The positions that most worry me are 1B (mostly) and C (somewhat), not 3B. For the WAR he is expected to produce, Cabrera is worth it. Bruce may not be a guarantee, but Cabrera is closer to one.

    • February 2, 2018 at 11:10 am

      My opinion is that the way the market played out in the 2016-17 offseason was one that no one could see coming. But after we experienced that, I don’t see how you could say that this year’s market was going to do a 180, especially given the warts on the top 3 guys.

      Darvish – previous injury problems and bombed in the playoffs
      Arrieta – A poor first three months of 2017
      Martinez – A big question defensively

      It would be one thing if this FA class was headlined by Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. But there hasn’t been anyone to get the checkbooks to fly open.

      The extent of the slow market has surprised me. But not the fact that there was one to start.

      • TexasGusCC
        February 2, 2018 at 11:13 pm

        I’m not saying that I can blame teams for not giving in to Martinez’, Hosmer’s and Moustakas’ outrageous demands, but what I said was the Cabrera money was not rediculous based on his production and in seeing what these third basemen were asking for. It seemed like the right move, especially when the risk was one year.

        Too, I’ve learned about predicting markets and have suffered the consequences. If you feel a player is worth it and the deal is manageable, sign him and don’t wait for a couple of dollars savings. Chatwood, Morrow and a few relievers signed early in the offseason. We’re those teams wrong to pay much more than was forecasted? I can’t see how we could question them.

        • February 3, 2018 at 7:54 am

          I agree that Cabrera’s contract was not/is not ridiculous.

          But I think there’s still an area between reasonable and ideal and where you see Cabrera as a player at this point in his career will determine where he fits. His offensive production is nothing special for his positions, his defense is likely to be below average and the one person on the team who might be in need of leadership (Rosario) has expressed a preference for Reyes.

          Cabrera brings you cost certainty and a sense that the player can perform in NY. Personally, I think the second thing is wildly overrated and that the number of people who can’t play in NY is dwarfed by the number of people that idea is brought forward for. People said Jay Bruce couldn’t play in NY and he certainly proved them wrong last year.

          And after what we saw in the market for power hitters last year, it was reasonable to assume that there wasn’t going to be reckless spending. Especially since power was the main selling point for the top two 3B on the market and that there were likely to be several 2B available via trades.

          For the record, I’m not crucifying Alderson here. But I think he missed an opportunity to make the team better without having to spend a lot of money.

  5. TJ
    February 1, 2018 at 9:55 pm

    I am totally with Gus on Cabby. Hindsight is 20/20, and especially in this most unusual off season. Sure, on Feb 1 I think they’d be better off with the money and an opening, but that was difficult to predict and very risky given the payroll limitations.

    The are many things to knock the Mets about, but Wright’s situation is not their fault. Given the uncertainty of the off season marketplace, and no idea how the Wright injury plays out, it was wiser to retain Cabrera and the flexibility he provides versus having another hole.

    I am not as opposed to bringing the band back together as most. The Mets can certainly afford to be more athletic, but it is unfair to say that this “band” were losers. 2017 was ruined almost completely by injuries, as opposed to performance. I don’t think ant team can lose its ace, its closer, and its biggest bat for most of the season and stay in the hunt. Of the 2017 band that left, Bruce was likely the worst fit, but he is back. The Mets need to add a solid infielder and solid arm. If it is Walker or Frazier or Harrison plus an arm, I’m fine, just make it a quality arm, like Watson or De La Rosa.

  6. Mike Walczak
    February 1, 2018 at 10:46 pm

    Cabrera is not a bad player. I would rather have him rather than some of the other options. The market is weak this year and the free agents are asking for a lot of money. Cabrera is a good role player and can fill in at multiple positions.

    That being said, the clock is ticking towards spring training and there are more holes to fill.

    As a fan, I get bored. I like to see changes on the roster. Shake it up a bit and let’s see what they can do. This is why I appear to have some skewed short term views.

    Think about some past times when the Mets shook it up with big trades. Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez, Mike Piazza and yes, Yoenes Cespedes.

    Wouldn’t it be fun to see a big trade? (a good one)

  7. Chris F
    February 2, 2018 at 12:53 am

    It was a total misread of the market. Thin infield has no configuration with the pieces in place to even approach average, and as Mike said, heading for 90 losses.

    • Mike Walczak
      February 2, 2018 at 8:45 am

      Put 10 wins back on from last year because of the injuries and you still have a .500 team. Too many question marks and too many things have to go right based on hope for this team to compete.

  8. TJ
    February 2, 2018 at 3:44 pm

    The Mets won 90 games in 2015, and made it to the world series. They won 87 games in 2016, and made it to the one and done wild card tournament. The 2017 team was considered by virtually everyone in baseball as playoff caliber with win projections in the upper 80s to lower 90s. By any reasonable account, injuries cost them more than 10 wins, as they dealt assets with two months remaining.

    Yes, I’d like to see some new blood, but I am excited to see better health and a full year of Rosario and maybe Smith too. Most importantly, new or old blood, they need to improve before opening day by adding some big league talent.

  9. Metsense
    February 2, 2018 at 5:44 pm

    Cabrera is an average second or third baseman. Alderson knew he had budget restrictions. Picking up his option was the safe, conservative move. He could not risk opening up a second hole in the infield to fill with a higher salaried player. He still hasn’t filled the infield. Alderson is not a trader and the Mets don’t seem to have enough trade chips anyway. Cabrera’s option was not glamorous but was expected.

    • February 2, 2018 at 7:57 pm

      I agree it wasn’t glamorous. I agree it was expected. I just think that Alderson should have anticipated that he could have filled that position with a player who would have provided similar overall value – if in a different shape – for cheaper.

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