Melky Cabrera was seemingly on his last chance as a major league player heading into 2011. Despite being the centerpiece of the trade that brought Javier Vasquez to the New York Yankees, the Atlanta Braves released him after a season due to his indifferent play and increasingly spherical shape, even though he had two years of arbitration eligibility left. Signed to a one-year contract with the Kansas City Royals, he arrived in Spring Training in the best shape of his life, and produced his best season to that point, batting .305/.339/.470 with 44 doubles, 18 home runs, 87 RBI, and 20 stolen bases.
Following the 2011 season, Cabrera was traded to the San Francisco Giants. There, he appeared to have truly blossom as he appeared in his first All-Star Game, being named MVP of the Mid-Summer Classic. He led the National League in batting average up until August 14th, and appeared as though he would receive a sizable contract during free agency.
After that point, everything crashed down. Initially suspended for PED use, Cabrera compounded the situation by paying advisers to set up a fraudulent website to deflect blame. Meanwhile, the Giants played better despite missing his production, and reached the postseason. Even though he was eligible to be reinstated, the Giants opted to leave Cabrera off the postseason roster as they have marched into the World Series. The large paycheck, which seemed an inevitability three months ago, has likely been lost.
Therefore, enter the Tampa Bay Rays. With B.J. Upton likely to depart via free agency, and the possibility of Ben Zobrist becoming the Rays primary shortstop, there are potential openings in the outfield. Cabrera, who has experience in all three outfield positions, is going to be only 28 heading into 2013 and has already come close to producing a 20/20 season. Cabrera would be an interesting target for the Rays now that his salary demands have likely decreased.
The Rays have also displayed a willingness to provide another chance to players suspended for PED use in the recent past. Even though it did not work out, Manny Ramirez was signed following his first suspension. Several players in the farm system, most notably Josh Sale and Ryan Brett, were also hit with suspensions for PEDs and are still considered a part of the Rays future. While some teams may look askance at known PED users, there appears to be little, if any, stigma associated with that for the Rays. Bottom line, the Rays don’t have the resources to discount players who can help their ballclub even if they make mistakes like taking PEDs. No one can like Cabrera’s positive drug test, but it certainly won’t preclude the Rays from pursuing him at the right price.
Likely to receive a one or two year contract in free agency, Cabrera could be another low risk, high reward player that the Rays seemingly love to target. He would also have a natural fit in the lineup, slotting between Desmond Jennings and Evan Longoria, where his high batting average and solid on base skills would ideal. Cabrera has also proven to be a capable center fielder. While he would be a bit of a step down defensively from Upton, Cabrera would also not be a complete disaster defensively either. All in all, Cabrera would likely be a solid addition to a lineup in need of more offense.
By being suspended for PED use, Melky Cabrera has likely cost himself millions of dollars. He may also have turned himself into a potential target for the Rays, as he may now fit within their payroll restrictions.