Why Would the Rays Have Interest in Asdrubal Cabrera?


This offseason, we have heard some rumors surrounding the Tampa Bay Rays that were so obvious they made us laugh. For instance, one piece of “breaking news” was that the Rays were making Matt Joyce available–a trade of Joyce was something fans had thought was a foregone conclusion for months! On the other hand, the reports of talks regarding Wil Myers seemed counterintuitive before a trade actually came to light. Sometimes we hear something crazy, and while most of the time it winds up being nothing, every once in a while something fascinating is in the works.

Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports tells us that the Rays are among four teams staying in contact with free agent infielder Asdrubal Cabrera. At first glance, that makes no sense. First of all, the Rays don’t appear to have the money to compete for Cabrera on the market. Even if they did, why do they need a middle infielder? Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar, and Nick Franklin are in line to play second base and shortstop for them this season, and Ryan Brett could be another option after a few months at Triple-A.

Most importantly, is Cabrera really worth signing? In his favor are the fact he is young for a free agent (he just turned 29) and can also play both second base and shortstop. On the other hand, he’s a horrific defender at short who also looked bad at second base this year, and he hasn’t been more than a league-average hitter since 2012. On the whole, Cabrera has been a below-average starting player the last two years, and there is risk that he may never be anything more than that again.

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it sure seems like we just made Morosi’s report seem even more ridiculous. However, there is a scenario where Cabrera could actually end up in Tampa Bay. The Rays don’t really have money to spend, but the way they could clear some would be if they traded Yunel Escobar. Escobar is owed $5 million in 2015 and $7 million in 2016 plus (at the very least) a $1 million buyout of his 2017 option. With that in mind, the Rays sign Cabrera to as much as a two year, $13 million contract if they had a deal for Escobar in place.

If the Rays signed Asdrubal Cabrera and traded Yunel Escobar, it would be very similar to what they did in the Wil Myers trade. The Rays had a talented asset in Myers, but they deemed him risky enough to warrant trading him for Steven Souza, a player they believed to have less upside but a higher probability of being a productive player. In return for making the exchange, they also received several prospects.

Here, Cabrera certainly doesn’t have the defensive chops that Escobar had as recently as two years ago, but Escobar was actually worse in the field this season. It seems like Escobar can’t possibly be as bad in 2015, but if the Rays believe that his fielding issues will indeed last, maybe Cabrera could be a better option. It is true that Cabrera was also poor defender at second base this year, but he was a plus defender there in the past and maybe could be at least average with more reps back there.

Cabrera would also give the Rays a marginally better bat to negate some portion of the defensive drop-off, and it also doesn’t hurt that he’s three years younger than Escobar. Overall, he has basically no chance of being a Gold Glover so his value to the Rays in the best-case scenario isn’t as high, but Escobar might be risky enough that getting a safer player like Cabrera could make sense. That would be especially true if the Rays could get an impressive prospect in exchange for Escobar.

It seems like a long-shot that the Rays will sign Asdrubal Cabrera because even if they like him more than Escobar and could get a good return for Escobar, Cabrera will probably sign for more than two years and $12 million or say one year and $7 million. Nevertheless, even if the scenario is unlikely to occur, the Rays have nothing to lose talking with Cabrera and seeing if a few things fall their way. Don’t expect Cabrera to end up with the Rays, but the possibility does exist and the Rays will be ready if it comes to fruition.