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‘Tis the season to go shopping – for a second baseman?
Don’t count out that possibility for the A’s. They’ve stated their intention to shift into “add” mode this winter after spending the early portion of the offseason trading away All-Star players with an eye toward the future.
Should they explore the free agent market, it makes sense that second base could be a position for which they look to upgrade. Let’s take a look at the reasons for and against signing one of the most attractive free agent middle infielders available – Asdrubal Cabrera …
If the A’s want a shot in the arm offensively, the switch-hitting Cabrera is definitely worth a look. Oakland second basemen combined for a .233 batting average last season and ranked last in the majors in home runs (one), RBI (36), and on base-plus-slugging percentage (.579). Cabrera, a two-time All-Star who turned 29 last month, has four seasons of 14-plus homers, including a career-high 25 in 2011. That same season he won a Silver Slugger award and collected a career-high 92 RBI, and he’s driven in 60-plus runs in three other years.
After that terrific 2011 season, there’s no getting around the fact that Cabrera’s numbers have dipped each season since then. His OPS topped out at .792 in ’11, but it has steadily declined to the .694 he posted last season. Cabrera hit .270 in 2012, but that figure fell to .242 in 2013 and .241 last year. After that 25-homer performance in 2011, he’s gone 16, 14 and 14. That’s a drop in production that has to be considered for a player whose strength undoubtedly is his offense.
Cabrera primarily has played shortstop over his career but is expressing a willingness to switch to second base. That versatility would prove very useful to the A’s. They traded for Marcus Semien, who will get the first crack as the everyday shortstop. Should Semien falter, it would be nice having an experienced shortstop like Cabrera to turn to as a Plan B. He fits the mold of the type of player Oakland targets – someone who can play multiple positions and provide manager Bob Melvin with flexibility and options.
The defensive metrics say Cabrera is below-average with the glove. And although those shortcomings wouldn’t be as glaring were he to switch from shortstop to second, it’s still worth considering. Were the A’s to stick with last season’s platoon of Eric Sogard and Nick Punto, they’re assured of quality defense on a daily basis at second. The question is whether Cabrera’s potential boost with the bat would be enough to offset any defensive slippage. Remember, Semien also is considered an offense-first middle infielder. Could the A’s afford to go with both he and Cabrera as their double-play combination? Shouldn’t one of these positions emphasize defense over offense?
[RELATED: Long story short, Semien has fan in Beane]
Add Cabrera to your roster, and you’re going to get a very durable player. He hasn’t played in less than 136 games in any of the past four seasons. That’s an important factor for an A’s team that was plagued by second-half injuries to several important players in 2014. His addition would give Melvin not only a potential everyday second baseman, but someone who could fill in at shortstop and perhaps even third base if the need arose.
Cabrera won’t come cheap in a free agent class that’s considered short on quality shortstops and second basemen. He’s a switch-hitting middle infielder who boasts some strong offensive credentials and is still relatively young. Early in the offseason, mlbtraderumors.com had Cabrera pegged for a three-year $27 million contract. That’s more than former A’s shortstop Jed Lowrie just received on his three-year deal from Houston. Would Oakland be willing to throw that kind of money at Cabrera, or do the A’s want to spread the dollars around to different parts of the diamond?
Teams could do much worse than signing Cabrera for either middle infield spot. And something tells us the recent dip in his hitting numbers won’t scare teams off too much. He just turned 29 last month, so there’s time for him to rediscover his magic in the batter’s box. As we mentioned above, he seems like a better fit defensively at second base than shortstop, so he at least deserves consideration from the A’s standpoint.
Expect the A’s to attempt to add a second baseman from outside the organization. There are some international options too, although Oakland general manager Billy Beane said during the winter meetings that one of those options -- Korean middle infielder Jung-Ho Kang -- isn’t on the team’s radar.
[RELATED: Report: KBO star Kang to be posted Monday]
Lowrie wound up getting less money than some anticipated. Does that mean Cabrera’s price will come down also? Or, as other free agent infielders come off the board, do more teams turn their attention to Cabrera and drive his price tag up? The Royals reportedly are one team eyeing him. Cabrera certainly plays a position of need for the A’s, and if they’re convinced he can handle second defensively, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them make a run at him.