At long last, Melky Cabrera has a new team. Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported late last night the switch-hitting outfielder had signed a minor league contract with the Cleveland Indians and Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reported earlier today that Cabrera would earn $1m if called up to the majors, plus another $1m in potential incentives.
This may seem like an odd signing for the young Tribe as Cabrera is 33 years old and not exactly a lock for top production at the plate or in the field. He split last year between the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals, batting .285 with 17 home runs and 85 RBI. Those numbers aren't bad, except Cabrera has proven to be streaky the past couple of years and isn't exactly what a younger team is looking for.
But make no mistake. Melky Cabrera can help the Indians, and here's how.
A veteran presence
Cleveland's outfield currently has the oft-injured Michael Brantley in left field, with youngster Bradley Zimmer manning center and several handling right field duties. Brantley is batting .320 with a homer and eight RBI, but Zimmer is only slashing .236/.263/.327. That would normally be unacceptable for a regular spot in the lineup, but Rajai Davis won't provide anything more except, perhaps, speed on the basepaths.
Right field has been a revolving door of players. Three different men have started at the position for Cleveland this young season: former top prospect Tyler Naquin, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Brandon Guyer, with Naquin leading the way with nine starts. Naquin has hit a decent .268 to start the year, but there's still some pop missing from the Indians' lineup.
This is where Cabrera comes in. Streaky as he can be, his being a switch-hitter gives manager Terry Francona options in the lineup. Moreover, though his isolated power (ISO) is only .132 for his career, Cabrera's career line drive rate (LD%) of 20.8% automatically gives him value in Cleveland. Even if he's just hitting singles or home runs, he gives the lineup some experience and some much-needed pop what with the Indians ranking 26th in MLB with just 70 runs scored.
Worth the risk
There's one small hiccup in Cabrera becoming a potential everyday player for Cleveland, and that is his waning abilities in the field. Cabrera posted an absolutely atrocious defensive runs saved (DRS) mark of -20 last year and his career mark isn't much better at -37. His -11.6 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) in 2017 was the worst of his career since he was with the Atlanta Braves in 2010. Seeing as how Edwin Encarnacion has a viselike grip on the DH spot, Cabrera will more than likely spend most of his time in the field when the Indians call him up.
The good news for Cabrera is that he still has his strong throwing arm. He registered 12 outfield assists last year, the sixth time in his career he reached the double-digit mark in that area. Even if his range in the outfield is down and he isn't a strong fielder besides that, a strong throwing arm still has value.
Combine that, his hitting abilities, and his bargain salary all together, and Cabrera is more than worth the risk for the Cleveland Indians. The team needs the help in right field if it wants to win the AL Central crown again and stave off the feisty Minnesota Twins. So long as management is patient with Cabrera, this can work out. Even better, if things don't work out, Cabrera can be let go at a minimal cost.
One thing is certain. The sooner he can suit up at Progressive Field, the better.