One usually does not last till the end of February as a free agent without a little bit of baggage, and Everth Cabrera is no exception. In 2013 Cabrera was suspended 50 games for his connection with the Biogenesis report.
This raises a couple issues:
1. How much of his elite performance in 2013 was due to his use of PEDs?; and
2. Does this raise more significant questions about his character and his qualities as a teammate?
For the Orioles, this is familiar territory as they were asking the same questions last year about Nelson Cruz. Cruz responded by having the best year of his career and by all accounts was the perfect teammate. Of course Cruz is a different human being than Cabrera and as no two human beings are the same this comparison can only go so far. However, we should learn from Cruz’s situation that players can perform at high levels after coming back from PEDs, and a mix up with PEDs should not define you as a person or as a teammate.
Unfortunately Cabrera’s baggage does not end with Biogenesis. On March 16th 2012, Cabrera faced domestic abuse charges. These charges were later dropped, but it is another red flag. Then in September of 2014, Cabrera was charged with resisting arrest after he was stopped for suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana. Biogenesis, domestic abuse, resisting arrest; three red flags in three years should have the Orioles concerned. However, with all that said, Buck Showalter does seem to be a good judge of character, and he understands more than anyone the importance of team chemistry. Moreover, Showalter has proved he can take players with troubled pasts (Cruz, Delmon Young) and have them become model citizens once they join the club.
Still, given all of this baggage, to take a chance on someone with a shady past like Cabrera the Orioles must think he can contribute to this team. A closer look at the numbers and you understand where Dan Duquette and the Orioles are coming from; in fact, Cabrera addresses many of the anticipated weaknesses of the 2015 Orioles.
Over half of Cabrera’s major league starts have been from the leadoff position; it just so happens the Orioles lack a traditional lead off hitter.
He steals bases. In his career Cabrera has stolen 136 bases in just 481 games. That averages out to 46 stolen bases per 162 games. In 162 games last year, the Orioles stole a team total of 44 bases; so yeah, he addresses a need.
Cabrera also averages just over 4.0 pitches per plate appearance (P/PA). This is important because the Orioles hitters are infamous for being free swinging and impatient (insert Adam Jones joke here). For comparison, the patient Nick Markakis averaged 3.97 P/PA and last year only Chris Davis’s 4.17 P/PA would have been higher than Cabrera’s career average of 4.02 P/PA.
So now that I have thoroughly convinced you that he’s a good fit for the Orioles, what about the elephant in the room? With All Star J.J. Hardy holding down shortstop with his gold glove and Jonathan Schoop poised to build on what he accomplished last year, and Ryan Flaherty who the past few years has been a very solid utility infielder, the question is where does Cabrera fit with this team?
Though Cabrera’s primary position is shortstop let’s go ahead and take J. J Hardy out of the equation because… well because he’s J…. J…. Hardy. This leaves Flaherty or Schoop. Flaherty’s more versatile than either Schoop or Cabrera; moreover Schoop could benefit from more minor league seasoning, making him the most likely odd man out.
However in the end, it doesn’t matter if it’s Schoop, Flaherty or Cabrera that is sent down (conveniently, they all have options) because they won’t be away from Camden Yards for too long. Last year Flaherty played in 102 games as a ‘utility’ infielder. Other players to grace their presence in our infield included: Steve Lombardozzi (20 games), Jimmy Parades (18), Kelly Johnson (19), Jemile Weeks (3), Alexi Casilla (1), and Cord Phelps (3). Of course some of this was due to the Manny Machado injury, but that’s exactly the point – injuries happen every year to every team. The Orioles have been unique in their resilience, not letting injuries hijack the season. This is not due to luck or chance; it’s Showalter and Duquette being overly prepared for every possible scenario. This is part of what makes them great.
Last season Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs posted an article about the Orioles titled “Dan Duquette and Avoiding the Awful”. In this article Sullivan discusses that some of the Orioles’ success is due to not having bad players on the team (novel idea, hey!). The Everth Cabrera signing is another shrewd move by Duquette to make sure that this year there are fewer Parades, Casilla and Phelps sightings.
Or to put it another way, Cabrera is a just another good ball player on a team full of good ball players who will put another obstacle in the way of bad players finding their way onto this team. More good ball players seem like a good way to win baseball games. The Cabrera signing is just more evidence of why Duquette is great at his job, and why the Orioles are going to be good in 2015.