The Jays are at it again. Coming off of a huge trade that brought them Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, Mark Buehrle, and John Buck, the Blue Jays have signed outfielder Melky Cabrera (per Enrique Rojas, ESPN Deportes).
I first wrote about Melky’s 2013 value after his suspension, then explored the possibility of him going to the Tigers so I am not going to go number-heavy. Instead, I want to take a look at a few question marks that have come to my mind.
1. Where will he bat in the lineup?
This is not an insignificant question. In Detroit, he would likely have hit second, right before Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Translation: He’d see a lot of fastballs over the plate. If he bats second in the Toronto order, that likely puts him in front of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and after Reyes. He’d see plenty of good pitches there too and with Reyes leading off, he’d have plenty of RBI opportunities as well, especially when a very deep Toronto lineup turns over.
But the depth of the lineup may actually work as a disadvantage. Melky may not bat second in this order. Remember, Bonifacio is a good two-hole type hitter, Maicer Izturis has a career OBP of .337 (not great but not terrible) and is a stolen base threat, Colby Rasmus is a bit raw, but would be a scary hitter in a fastball heavy spot in the order.
Now, to me, Melky is still the best two-hole hitter on that team, but there are other options there. Even if he does get that spot in the order, a fast start would be in his best interest, because whoever the new Toronto manager is will have plenty of options.
2. Do you trust what Melky did in 2011?
This is a really important question. In 2011, Melky hit .305 which was to that point, his career high by a significant margin (he hit .280 in 2006 and was a career .267 hitter before 2011). Given his 2012 PED bust, it’s fair to at least think that the 2011 burst in production wasn’t exactly clean, but no positive test ever came.
Also, if he was dirty in 2011, what else was he doing that accounted for huge jump in production between 2011 and 2012? Melky went from .305 in 2011 to .346 in 2012 before his August 15 suspension. The 2012 Giants were certainly better than the 2011 Royals, but offensively the two teams were pretty close and Buster Posey, the man who provided much of Melky’s 2012 production, did a lot of his damage after the suspension.
Personally, I don’t trust 2011 at all. Still, I think Melky can hit. Let’s look beyond the juice for a second. He was a young hitter with the Yankees early in his career who faltered under the big spotlight as a young player. Not the first, won’t be the last. He was out of shape for the Braves in 2010, but that team was also pathetic offensively. Yes, they made the playoffs, but it wasn’t on the strength of their bats. Then he got in shape (I know, I know) and into a good Kansas City lineup and became a better hitter. I certainly won’t say that the PED use didn’t help his production, that would be stupid. But I also believe that even clean, he’s much better than a .267 hitter.
3. What urgency will be there?
Of all the things listed here, this one is actually the greatest concern to me. Ultimately, I think Melky ends up in a good spot in the order and I do believe he’s a good hitter, but how urgent will he be? When I gave him good projections for the Tigers, I was assuming that it would be on a one-year deal. This is a two-year deal. That’s not an insignificant difference.
See, on a one-year deal, he’d have a lot to prove. The Giants obviously did well without him in 2012 and as I noted above, he was a career .267 hitter before 2011. On a one-year deal, he’d have plenty of reason to go all out for a big year to cash in on a big, multi-year deal next offseason. With two years and 16 million dollars guaranteed, there’s reason to be complacent. I don’t know Melky personally so I can’t say that he will be complacent, but he has more of a reason to be now.
If he ends up flaming out as a player, he’ll still me $16 million richer two years from now, and that’s not a bad security blanket to have.
4. What’s my take?
Ultimately, I expect good things from Melky. For the first time since he was a Yankee, he’ll be hitting in a good hitter’s park. Also, Rogers Centre is a good park because the ball carries well there, not because it’s a small park. Actually, the gaps are pretty big, which suits Melky’s swing just fine.
While a one-year deal would bring him better projections from me, a two-year deal is the next best thing. If he really struggles over these next two years, he may well be out of the game by Opening Day 2015. With a good two years, a multi-year, eight figures per year contract is not out of the cards.
In Toronto, he’s going to be surrounded by All-Star caliber players, so it’s hard to imagine the numbers not being there by season’s end.