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Pursuing the Suspended Melkman

Posted by Eric Seidman, Wed, August 15, 2012 05:05 PM | Comments: 39
Acquisitions, Analysis, Free Agency, News, Opinion, Posts

Melky Cabrera was suspended for 50 games on Wednesday after testing positive for testosterone, a performance-enhancing substance. Cabrera was in the midst of a career-season with the Giants, tallying 4.5 WAR while hitting .346/.390/.516. With just 45 games left on the Giants schedule, Cabrera is done for the regular season and the Division Series. Without his potent bat in the lineup, the Giants playoff odds are reduced, and it’s tough to consider them NL West favorites anymore.

But the suspension has significant ramifications for Cabrera’s future, as the 28-year old outfielder was set to hit free agency after the season. After posting 4.2 WAR last season and following that up with an even better campaign this year, he was in line for quite the hefty payday. Hard-hitting centerfielders with good speed, who aren’t defensive detriments, get paid, especially when they are still in the midst of their primes. Cabrera was probably looking at a four- or five-year deal in the $65-$80 million range.

Now, his free agency case becomes very, very interesting. He isn’t going to get that big contract, and might realistically have to settle for a one-year deal in which he sustains a high level of performance without failing any drug tests.

It seems likely that Cabrera’s numbers were boosted by a banned substance, but if he legitimately improved aside from that hypothetical boost, and he is viewed as a risky free agent because of the uncertainty surrounding the validity of his production, he becomes imminently more signable to teams looking to bolster outfield productivity without breaking the bank. The Phillies are one of those teams, and this suspension makes it much easier to sign Cabrera to a team-friendly deal.

Obviously, we have to deal with the elephant in the room: if Cabrera’s 2011-12 performance surge is solely the result of taking performance-enhancing drugs, then he really isn’t worth signing. Prior to last season, Cabrera was a glorified fourth outfielder thrust into starting roles based on unrealized potential. He wasn’t a bad major league player, but his bat didn’t exactly amplify his mediocre or worse fielding and he was more Nate Schierholtz than Shane Victorino.

The Melkman Suspendeth

When discussing transactions, however, we have to be open to the possibility that Cabrera legitimately improved, and that the failed test was more coincidence than cause. It’s perfectly understandable that some will steadfastly chalk up his improvement as the result of PEDs and nothing else, but in determining whether the Phils should pursue him this offseason, that risk balance becomes paramount.

It really boils down to a simple question: is Cabrera worth a one-year, $10 million contract next season?

If the Phillies were to sign him to that type of “pillow” contract, and he plays to his 2006-10 level, he’ll make more than his production is worth, but it won’t be a bad signing by any stretch. After all, it’s tough to call any one-year deal bad, when it’s such a short commitment. If his improvements were real and he has another 3.5+ WAR season, then the Phils would have gotten an all-star player at a relative bargain rate. There is risk all around, but for a team with financial constraints, taking a short-term risk with Cabrera might be better than spending $80-$90 million on Michael Bourn.

But would Cabrera sign for just one season? He might not have a choice. While some teams might pursue him regardless of the suspension, there isn’t any precedent for suspended players signing lucrative, multi-year deals after their suspension occurred. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs perused the list of suspended players and found that none of them signed for any more than two years subsequent to the suspension. Most of the players spent the remainder of their careers going year-to-year.

Then again, few, if any of these players were 28 years old and about to hit free agency. The vast majority were already under contract or approaching the end of their careers. Reiterating a previous point, there is virtually no precedent for Cabrera’s impending free agency. But this much is clear: he isn’t going to sign a four- or five-year contract, and he cost himself close to $60-$70 million by failing this drug test. What isn’t clear is how he will perform moving forward, since nobody can be sure whether or not his 4+ WAR campaigns these last two seasons are the direct result of testosterone usage.

Michael Bourn is risky because he doesn’t get on base all that often, strikes out quite a bit, his main skill isn’t one that projects to age all that well into his mid-to-late thirties, and because he will make $80-$90 million in spite of all that. He does, however, bring with him a certain established level of performance that, to date, hasn’t been tainted by a failed drug test.

Cabrera represents a different form of risk in that we literally have no idea what to expect moving forward. But that risk is accompanied by the supreme likelihood that he signs for a much more team-friendly contract. I’m not 100 percent advocating the pursuit of Cabrera, but it’s a very interesting situation that can hurt one’s head when considering all of the variables.

The Phillies probably need to move away from doling out lucrative, long-term deals, and Cabrera has the potential to produce as much value as a Bourn or Hamilton, but at a fraction of the price and commitment. On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that the PEDs caused the two-year performance spike, making his 2011-12 numbers irrelevant when discussing his 2013 production.

The Phillies were bound to pursue Cabrera after the season as Amaro has made it clear that he values outfield production. While the kneejerk reaction here is to move on from the Melkman and shift focus to other valuable free agents, the Phils need to really think long and hard about this one, weighing the risks on all fronts before making a decision.

A potentially valuable outfielder just became imminently more signable. If the Phils can improve the outfield through unconventional means like properly utilizing a Schierholtz and Mayberry platoon, making a trade for Shin-Soo Choo, bolstering depth by making out well with the likes of Pierre and Nix, or getting major production out of Domonic Brown, they could weather the risk that Cabrera turns into a pumpkin because, if he remains as productive, they improved in an important area in a far less costly manner. It’s easy to see why Cabrera isn’t as attractive of a player anymore, but this isn’t a black-and-white, cut-and-dried situation by any stretch and presents the team with a fascinating offseason dilemma.

Avatar of Eric Seidman

About Eric Seidman

Eric Seidman has written 64 articles on Phillies Nation.

Eric offers his unique analytical perspective to Phillies Nation and is a regular contributor on FanGraphs.com.

 
 
  • Posts: 0 bacardipr

    Its taking a chance but so is signing any other player. Bourne will be a hot commodity this year, and maybe out of the Phils range. Considering they have other holes to fill as well. Like most propositions its either blow up in your face or brilliant. Sign him and he bombs, Rube would look like a idiot for signing a player in this situation. Especially after a dismal 2012 campaign. Rube will have to take all this into consideration. Do you bring in another huge ?, with a team already filled with big ?’s.

     
  • Posts: 0 Ken Bland

    Let’s say the 65-80 mil is a reasonable guess in what contract he’d have gotten. That’s a reasonable guess.

    Then we go to “his free agency will be really, really interesting”. That’s reasonable as well.

    Then we read “but he isn’t going to get that big contract”, which in a way, kinda contradicts that his free agency will be interesting, although it might well be interesting in the way teams line up to try to get a 1 year 10 mil type “comeback” deal.

    It’s not a crime that there’s a sort of potential contradiction in there.

    But what’s of paramount interest to me is the parallel between the way Hall voters are punishing numbers qualifiers, and boils down to will management teams do similarly by Melke being offered the likes of 10/1, or because the player can still produce, unlike Clemens, Bonds, et al, sort through supply and demand, and outbid each other for closer to the 60-80 mil range that was clearly a reasonable guess until this news broke. The BBWAA is punishing FORMER players. Management teams might or might not show the sport as a whole to be consistent.

    The Phils should unquestionably research his candidacy. And maybe even go higher than 10 for one. If he doesn’t get through a character scan, see ya. If he does, dude can play.

    I am now 2 centes poorer with the offering of this opinion. Ah, pain.

     
  • Posts: 0 BART SHART

    The Phils indeed should research Melky Cabrera and his free agency. He may be a decent gamble, but he has been troublesome to teams in the past because of his attitude, maturity and work ethic. Is he more mature now? Maybe he is.

    But we have seen the inflated stats from players on PEDS. Cabrera knew these were illegal and did them anyway. What does that say about a player in a contract year? He took a gamble and lost. He will get at least $6 million next year and possibly $20milliion for three years , but any team going after Cabrera needs to insert a PED clause to protect themselves from future difficulties with PEDS.

    This year was such an anomaly that you’ve got to have serious questions about this player.

     
  • Posts: 0 BART SHART

    Somebody on this blog suggested bringing back Greg Dobbs if we are seeking a one-year solution at third base. Personally, Dobbs has hit right handers well while with the Marlins the past two years. This may not be a bad idea for a two-year contract if we are painted into a corner. Platoon Dobbs and Polanco (if he can still play) , Polanco can also play second base and Dobbs can play first base and the outfield. Both have decent bats. Polanco is still an outstanding fielder, Dobbs was never a great fielder, but he can hit. Total cost for both players would be no more than $5 million a year. You get two bats and a lot of versatility.

     
    • Posts: 0 schmenkman

      With the Marlins, Dobbs has a .705 OPS against righties. I’d rather have Frandsen, who can actually field a lttle.

       
  • Posts: 4527 Lefty

    Avatar of Lefty

    My knee-jerk reaction isn’t going to change. Melky, like all the rest of the known cheaters is a piece of chit, and if the Phils want to keep earning my (minuscule amount of ) money, they will stay far away from him.

    I’m in a head to head keeper league, and the guy kicked everyone’s butt. It’s not the individual owner’s fault, all he did was draft him. But it sure makes a mess of our season.

    Also if it’s true that the Giants knew about this since July, I hope the Commissioner has the balls to step in and vacate wins from them. I hate to say it, but the only way to get these guys to stop this chit is to punish the whole team, so that their team mates begin to police their own.

     
    • Posts: 0 Jeff Dowder

      They only heard rumors, the same ones that reporter Andrew Baggarly heard last month. Teams are not notified of failed tests in advance. They find out the same day the rest of us do.

       
      • Posts: 4527 Lefty

        Avatar of Lefty

        I would like to think you are right. My source is MLBTR, and this guy Sherman. This is what I read.

        “There’s no doubt that the Giants heard of Cabrera’s positive test at the time they acquired Hunter Pence, tweets Joel Sherman of the New York Post. While the official word didn’t come out until this afternoon, there were strong whispers of the news in late July.”

         
      • Posts: 0 George

        Whispers are whispers, and sportswriters are sportswriters. Neither are definite facts. There’s a kid’s game we used to call “Whisper down the lane.” One person would whisper something to another, he’d in turn whisper it to someone else, that kid would then do the same with yet another, etc. It was rather amazing and sometimes hilarious what would emerge from the mouth of the final kid when he repeated what he’d heard out loud.

        The Giants needed some offensive help even with Cabrera. That’s the most likely reason why they made the trade. Now they’ll probably have to make another move in order to keep pace with L.A., and I doubt they really wish to lose more prospects. Melky, in effect, screwed them royally.

         
  • Posts: 2952 Chuck A.

    Avatar of Chuck A.

    If Greg Dobbs is ever a Phillie again I will turn in my fan card.

     
  • Posts: 0 ARc

    After reading a time line recently of the mlb steroid controversy, it occurred to me that maybe some of our own were in fact benefiting from PEDs. We have seen significant drops in stats froma few of our guys, most suspiciously Chase Utley. Now I know he is the cities golden boy and im prepared for the backlash, and im also prepared for the obvious reason for his decline, his injuries. This may very well be the reason for his statistical decline, but reviewing the PED timeline, there were many athletes caught up in the scandal which sort of died down around 2007, Utleys prime. Reading the disturbing news of athletes still to this day using PEDs even our own Freddy Galvis, I dont know why I would be inclined to put it past Utley.

     
    • Posts: 0 schmenkman

      smgdh. disgusting.

       
  • Posts: 0 George

    I say, very emphatically, NO to Melky Cabrera. Possibly his batting average is not the result of steroids, but most likely his power numbers are. He’s only an average defender, has had past attitude problems, has been traded away (given up on?) by multiple teams, and he’s a complete idiot to take an illegal substance which always shows up in urine tests.

    If Amaro did end up “utilizing a Schierholtz and Mayberry platoon, making a trade for Shin-Soo Choo, bolstering depth by making out well with the likes of Pierre and Nix, or getting major production out of Domonic Brown,” Cabrera wouldn’t be needed, anyway; in fact, Amaro wouldn’t even have to worry about the outfield. The odds are totally against that happening, but I’d rather take a chance on that scenario than one that has Melky in red pinstripes.

     
    • Posts: 0 Ken Bland

      I don’t see Cabrera as an average defender. He can play all 3 OF slots, and has a terrific throwing arm. On the whole, I’d rate him as above average.

      I expresed an opinion on this subject earlier suggesting the Phils do some due dilligence in the form of a character scan. This suggestion wasn’t based on not having heard many of the same things other fans have heard (work ethic, drinking enough that it might have effected his play/preparation), but I agree with your premise about “Whispers are whispers, and sportswriters are sportswriters. Neither are definite facts”, citing Whisper Down the Line. If reliable conversations have, or determine that Melky is bad people, move on. I’m not above where there’s smoke there’s fire, but personally, I haven’t heard of enough evidence to know he’s a bad apple that would preclude thinking they oughta do some due dilligence.

      His eligibility for potential post season play is fascinating. The softening of the punishment with that is one thing, but it puts the Giants in a position to look kind of stupid by letting him back.

       
      • Posts: 0 George

        Playing all three outfield slots doesn’t always make a guy above average. There are those that play all three spots pretty badly. I’ll grant that he may, indeed, be better than average, but I’ve never read anything anytime about his spectacular defense.

        That’s really not the biggest issue, however; his character is. But I don’t have to look beyond his current suspension (testosterone is totally against the rules and doesn’t show up as a bi-product of some supposedly benign diet supplement) to know that he’s at least pretty stupid if he thought he wouldn’t be caught, that he tries to improve with corner cutting methods instead of honest work, and that he has attempted to get away with cheating. His questionable ethics could cost his team a playoff berth, and that tells me he’s a “me-first” kind of player.

         
  • Posts: 0 BART SHART

    Shin-Soo Choo is a very solid player. I am all for him coming on board with the Phils

     
  • Posts: 0 bacardipr

    George i dont know if you build a outfield with 4/5 Of’ers + D. Brown and thrust them into starters. They need at least one guy to solidify the outfield.

     
    • Posts: 0 George

      As Seidman presented it, it would work. An effective platoon equals one good outfielder, Shin Soo Choo is a solid player on his own, and if Brown really gave “major production” he’d easily fill the third spot. Choo would be the one guy needed “to solidify” the outfield.

      As I pointed out, the odds are totally against that happening (Mayberry is not particularly good, Choo may be unavailable, and Brown, though decently productive in his short stints in the ML might not be the great bat needed over a full season.)

      Still, I’d rather take a chance with even three MiniMarts manning the outfield than a cretin like Cabrera in just one of the spots. At least you’d lose with some integrity.

       
      • Posts: 2952 Chuck A.

        Avatar of Chuck A.

        Three Mini-Marts on the team means 3X the ability to piss me off at any one moment.

         
      • Posts: 0 George

        Some of us fans have had to live through seasons when the Phils had NINE Minis. It’s survivable, even if it’s unpleasant.

         
  • Posts: 0 Bob D

    Bring Back Pierre….Bourne is too much like Rollins with low OBP
    Assuming Brown takes a starting job with good production…add another corner OF with pop (Choo fits that bill) bring back Nix as 4th OF and maybe Mayberry as a 5th OF. I dont think there is much out there really worth getting (over paying for)

    Pierre has been really good this year and given a full year he would have like 40 SB and is a hard out. He’s not real expensive and that $$$ could be to address 3B.

     
    • Posts: 0 schmenkman

      He may be a good cheap option. However he’s having his best season ever offensively and just turned 35, so I for one would be surprided if he duplicated again next year.

       
  • Posts: 1189 Manny

    Avatar of Manny

    I was always skeptical of his new-found offensive surge. But I gave him the benefit of the doubt cause baseball has seen some rare cases (like Batista, Werth to a smaller degree).

    That being said, the failed drug test tells me that he’s probably more what he was pre-offensive-surge… that is, a very good 4th outfielder and nothing more. I’d stay away.

    That being said, if it comes down to 1 year 10 m of Melky vs a 5 year deal for Bourne, I’d take Melky in a heartbeat.

     
    • Posts: 0 schmenkman

      Even though Cabrera had been around forever, he was still only 26 when he had his breakout season last year, so the lack of suspicion is understandable.

       
  • Posts: 2952 Chuck A.

    Avatar of Chuck A.

    Someone on another blog posed the question: Vic at 2/20 or Bourn at 4/64?

    Michael Bourn is NOT worth $16 M per year for multiple years.

    I’d stay away from Melky, too, but if it’s one year/ $10M then I’d be ok with it.

    And, actually, I’d rather them take a look at and consider Shin-Soo Choo.

     
  • Posts: 13 xxLouA

    Avatar of xxLouA

    you have to consider Amaro, he is the big spender who gave out a lot of big bux and look what he has …if J_ Ro made a remark like that then forget him.
    The way some are talking here a lot of our guys are on PEDs or whatever you call them.
    Everyone is sold on Shin-Soo and I am totally lost but will go along with them and look for myself.
    sorry for being dumb here about the guy

     
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  • Posts: 13 xxLouA

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  • Posts: 0 Al Dattolo

    I PUT MELKEY IN THE GROIUP OF THE THE FEDERAL CRIMINAL DEREK TAX EVADER AND DUI JETER,AND A-ROD THE STEROID WIFE BEATER. ISN’T IT INTERESTING THAT THIS PIECE OF TRASH CAME FROM THE YANKEES AND A-ROD AND THE BALD HEADEDPIN HEAD FEDERAL CRIMINAL WERE HIS BEST FRIENDS!

     
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    • Posts: 0 Roy

      Jane,Gardner would certainly be a cheepar option, but I’m still not convinced he can hit at the major-league level.At least he’d take more pitches than Cameron would.

       
  • Posts: 0 Todd

    Uh, no. Leave the guy alone. Don’t want him here. While they weren’t PED users, in the past few years the Phils have opted to bring a few turds on board. Fellas with not the best karmic glow around them. Pedro Martinez. That worked out well. Roy Oswalt, ditto. Just not very well liked dudes that RAJ thought would win us a pennant. Bad karma around both and how’d they work out for us? So Melkman can stay away. While I’m not saying every Phil is an angel these days (no idea, really), there are some obvious turds in this league. Pedro, Oswalt, Melky… there are 3 of which 2 we’ve already got experience with. I hope they don’t go near him. And PEDs can’t even make Galvis a good player, so not worried about him, he’ll wash out like a ketchup stain.

     
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