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.