Melky Cabrera was doing everything right. He was improving consistently, he became an All-Star and an All-Star game MVP, he was an MVP candidate, he was becoming a middle-of-the-order bat, he was leading his new team to a division title, and perhaps most impressively, he was making the New York Yankees look bad.
When Brian Cashman reacquired Javier Vazquez in winter of 2009, it seemed the most painful aspect of the deal would be letting prized pitching prospect, Arodys Vizcaino go to the Atlanta Braves. In what has turned into one of the strangest trades in recent time, Cabrera re-wrote the history books in 2012.
Vazquez was supposed to be a major starter for what would become an ALCS knockout version of the Yankees, Vizcaino was going to be a potential superstar, Michael Dunn, Cabrera and Boone Logan were supposed to be more or less window dressing.
Now, nearly three years later, Vizcaino, not yet 22 years-old and without any notable impact yet is still an unknown, Mike Dunn has become a solid reliever now on the Marlins, Logan has become a vital late-inning lefty for the Yankees, Vazquez was a major bust and Cabrera emerged as the most important player out of everyone in the trade.
With a .346/.390 slash line to go with a .906 OPS, it appeared Cabrera had cashed in on his walk year with Free Agency looming at the end of the season. Now the future is completely murky.
Cabrera lied about steroids, failed a drug test for testosterone and his MVP-type season is a farce. In the process, he has crushed the San Francisco Giants’ fanbase and perhaps playoff hopes. Instead of a four, five, or maybe even six year deal, it’s almost impossible to tell how a team will pursue a player who’s last season without a failed drug test ended in a .305/.339/.809 campaign for the Kansas City Royals.
The season before, Cabrera posted an even weaker .255/.317/.655 season which would effectively make him a fourth outfielder and Free Agent after-thought. Are these examples of a player ranging from 25-27 years old and simply headed into his prime? Did the use of testosterone play a role in the latter two seasons? Where would a natural performance fall under three years that look like this?
Enter the New York Yankees. At the end of this season, Curtis Granderson will be entering his final year of his contract before what is sure to be an expensive Free Agency. Nick Swisher will be a Free Agent and Brett Gardner will presumably be completely healthy having missed almost all of this season with injuries, becoming a question mark himself as a player potentially too fragile to be relied upon.
The Yankees’ outfield will be anything but secured. Adding another important variable, New York continues to try to lower payroll under $189 million by the end of the 2013 season to avoid stringent luxury tax penalties from the new collective bargaining agreement, which means signing Granderson and Swisher seems like a pipe dream, and signing an expensive outside Free Agent to replace one is not an option.
Presently, the Yankees have $209 million tied up in players this season. At the end of the year they have around $70 million coming off the books. At the end of 2013 there is about $30 million more. Signing Robinson Cano and one of Swisher and Granderson to long-term deals seems possible, along with arbitration rises, re-signing or rebuilding the bench and finding someone to replace Hiroki Kuroda‘s big shoes in the rotation (Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia and David Phelps will all be under contract, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and Kuroda will not).
Nick Swisher is making $10 million this season and could possibly demand more if he finishes the year strong and finally has a valuable postseason performance. Granderson’s speed is unlikely to age well but his 30-40 home run power is a new feature from the last time he signed a contract.
Could Cabrera be signed for say, a 3-year, $27 million dollar type of deal in light of the new allegations? Could it be even less? Will he become Free Agent poison where teams will be hesitant to sign an accused drug user and even those willing will try to low-ball the 28-year old?
If the Yankees can take advantage of the situation and get Cabrera for less than it would take to keep either Granderson or Swisher, it’s a move they have to do. Melky can play all three outfield positions with a plus arm and the Yankees may have any of the three available (since Gardner can move to center if Granderson is not re-signed).
At the end of the day Cabrera’s numbers have made Yankees’ fans long wish he was never traded a few years ago. At the end of the season they could be thankful he made the biggest mistake of his career. Cabrera can be an intriguing possibility for the Yankees in 2013, but only if the price is right.