The Tampa Bay Rays recently finalized a one-year, $7.5 million contract with middle infielder Asdrubal Cabrera. The agreement actually came before the Rays shipped Yunel Escobar and Ben Zobrist to the Oakland Athletics, which cleared any roster logjam.
Cabrera began last season with the Cleveland Indians before the Washington Nationals acquired him via trade for the stretch run. The 29-year-old hit .229/.312/.389 with five home runs, 21 RBI in 200 plate appearances for the National League East champions.
Overall, the 2014 season was the worst offensive campaign of Cabrera’s career, which couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time. With free agency looming, he hit a combined .241/.307/.387 in 616 plate appearances (with both Cleveland and Washington). The slash line represented the lowest batting average and second-lowest OPS (.694) of his eight-year career.
Cabrera has never hit for average (.268 for his career), but an offensive decline before the age of 30 is never a good sign.
A shortstop with the Indians, the Nationals moved him to second base with Ian Desmond entrenched at short. He rated below-average defensively at both positions. Couple that with his lack of success at the plate and it's easy to explain why he was only able to land a one-year contract for less than he made last year ($10 million).
Cabrera has posted a negative dWAR in each of the last two seasons, but shortstop appears to be his most likely position with the Rays. Tampa Bay currently has Nick Franklin and Logan Forsythe in the fold. Franklin, who will turn 24 in March, saw more time at second base in 2014.
As we often see at this point in the offseason, Cabrera settled for a one-year deal which will allow him to test the open market once again next winter when he’ll still be relatively young. Stephen Drew made a similar play when he reached an agreement on a short-term deal with the New York Yankees.
Grade for Cabrera: B-
The concern for Cabrera is that he continues to struggle offensively, while not standing out defensively. If that happens, it'll be impossible for him to earn any sort of long-term security next winter.
Grade for the Rays: C+
The contract isn’t an exorbitant one, which makes it hard to truly rail against a transitioning Tampa Bay front office. You might say that the Rays could have simply kept Zobrist, a better, more versatile player, but you’d only be considering that he is due to make roughly the same salary as Cabrera in 2015.
Andrew Friedman is running the Los Angeles Dodgers now, but the Rays are still conducting business in the same manner. Matthew Silverman saw the value in trading Zobrist in exchange for organizational depth and capitalized.
The best case for the Rays includes a resurgent Cabrera motivated by his impeding free agency after not cashing in this time around. Such a season by Cabrera would not only help Tampa Bay on the field, but also at midseason when he could be shopped to a contender for the second-straight summer.
The worst case involves more struggles for Cabrera at the plate and a 29-year-old blocking a prospect at short in Tampa Bay.