Eric P. Mull-US PRESSWIRE
We end our look at the 2012 Tribe infield with a look at what Asdrubal Cabrera did, and whether he fits into the Indians' post-2012 plans.
Bats: Both Throws: Right
2012 Age: 26
2012 oWAR (B-Ref): 3.7
2012 dWAR (B-Ref): 0.1
2012 WAR (Fangraphs): 2.9
2012 UZR (Fangraphs): -9.0 (-9.5 3-Year Average)
2012 Salary: $4.55M (Arbitration)
2013 Status: Signed, $6.5M (2013-2014 Extension signed 4-2012)
It's very odd to be talking about getting rid of a player that's not only signed through the next two seasons, but coming off what by most appearances another successful season. Cabrera batted .270/.338/.423 in 2012, good for a 115 OPS+, which coming from a shortstop is outstanding production.
Asdrubal's offensive production suffered in the second half along with just about the rest of the club; he posted an OPS of .832 in first half, and only a .676 in the second half. He wore down as the season progressed, partly because for most of the season the Indians didn't have a credible backup. For several weeks Jack Hannahan was Cabrera's backup, and when Cabrera missed some time in late May, the Indians had to call up Juan Diaz from AA to fill in.
Shortstop is a position the Indians haven't really had to worry too much about since they acquired Omar Vizquel 19 years ago. Vizquel manned the position from 1994-2004, Jhonny Peralta handled the position from 2005-2009, and Asdrubal Cabrera from 2009 to the present day. Sure, there's been complaints about those three players from time to time, but it never got close enough for a player to be outright benched. Peralta was moved to third in 2009 in order to improve the team defense; his bat was still good enough for him to get regular at-bats.
Cabrera was also one of the few right-handed power bats in the Cleveland lineup. The Indians had just 15 home runs from right-handed hitters in 2012, and Cabrera had one-third of them despite only having 202 plate appearances as a right-hander.
Cabrera at age 26 is the most accomplished Cleveland shortstop at his age since Lou Boudreau. Even before 2012 he made our Top 100 Indians list, and even if he just plays out his current contract should rank either 4th or 5th in franchise history, quite an accomplishment since the shortstop position is a particularly a deep one.
So again, why all this talk of trading Cabrera? Part of it has to do with the deterioration of his defensive ability. Although he was the reason the Indians moved Peralta to third base, he hasn't been even an average defender at shortstop since assuming full-time duties there in 2009. As listed above, his 3-year average UZR is horrid, and that's based on over 3300 innings at the position. There is a glimmer of hope if you look at other statistical measures; his Total Fielding Runs Above Average (BaseballProjection) went positive in 2012 after two negative seasons in 2010 and 2011. By my eyes, Cabrera's range is his main weakness; he's a very athletic fielder, but doesn't seem to have the quickness that the league's elite fielders have. He's only 26, though, so if can come into next year in better physical shape, he can still play the position.
Cabrera might be best served back at second base, where he played to begin his major-league career, but Jason Kipnis is there. Third base will be Lonnie Chisenhall's position to lose, so that's out. Let's not get into more fanciful positional moves, so that means Cabrera plays shortstop for the Indians or plays for someone else.
The other reason the Indians could be looking to trade Cabrera is that he might represent the best way to acquire impact talent on the trade market. Shortstop is an organizational strength, from Dorssys Paulino in short-season ball to Francisco Lindor (Lake County), Tony Wolters (Carolina), and Juan Diaz (Akron/Columbus). Cabrera would be the most valued trade chip the Indians could have this winter, and if they can shore up an organizational weakness (such as the outfield or the rotation), the Indians could live with a Juan Diaz at the major-league level while Lindor develops. Cabrera is a better player than any potential free agent on the market this winter (Stephen Drew?) , which is why the Indians could get close to maximum return on Cabrera if they do deal him.
But the Indians certainly don't have to trade Cabrera; he's still very affordable for the next two seasons, and the Indians don't have anyone who's going to be blocked by Asdrubal in 2013 should he stay. Diaz could use a full season in Columbus, with Wolters playing in Akron and Lindor in Carolina.