We have talked quite a bit about the Tampa Bay Rays’ quest to cut payroll, and it appeared like they were just about done. Between the trades of Matt Joyce, Sean Rodriguez, Ryan Hanigan, and Joel Peralta, the Rays saved $12.9 million in salary obligations for 2015. While also dealing for Kevin Jepsen and Rene Rivera plus signing Ernesto Frieri made up some of the difference, the Rays were clearly moving away from their team-record payroll of around $77 million from last season. Then they signed Asdrubal Cabrera, and now they are right back where they started.
How crazy is Asdrubal Cabrera’s one-year, $8 million contract with the Rays? Other than Evan Longoria‘s second extension, it represents the first time they have given a player an average annual value as high as $8 million since they signed Pat Burrell to a two-year contract worth $16 million in 2009. Considering how Burrell’s contract went, Rays fans would rather not know that fact, but there is a positive perspective on this comparison as well.
After 2008, the Rays signed Burrell as they hoped to build on their 2008 World Series run and achieve long-term success. Now, even after a season in which they won just 77 games, here they are being aggressive on the free agent market again. Maybe, as we discussed yesterday, the Asdrubal Cabrera signing is a harbinger of another move, specifically a trade of Yunel Escobar or Ben Zobrist. Even if a deal does happen, though, the Rays certainly are not giving up on 2015.
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Cabrera would not have ended up with the Rays if his career had gone as hoped the last couple of years. Since he hit to a .272/.335/.443 line (118 OPS+) and was an All-Star in back-to-back seasons in 2011 and 2012, Cabrera’s line has slipped to .241/.303/.394 (96 OPS+) and his defense has declined as well. On the other hand, Cabrera is an established big league middle infielder who has solid power and speed, almost no platoon split, and fielding that could be fine if he moves permanently to second base.
Cabrera’s age may be the most interesting thing about this signing. The Rays signed Burrell in time for his age-32 season and Grant Balfour a month after he turned 36, but Cabrera is just 29 years of age. The Rays are signing a player in the middle of his prime and with a chip on his shoulder as he hopes to deliver a big season and get a multi-year contract. He is exactly the type of player the Rays always desire but rarely get the opportunity to sign.
No matter what happens next and how this deal turns out, the Tampa Bay Rays are clearly signing Asdrubal Cabrera to help them win in 2015. You can love their decision or hate it, but know for certain that this move is exactly the opposite of what the Rays would be doing if they intended to rebuild.