A very strange thing happened during Nelson Cruz' press conference last Thursday afternoon. Someone asked Cruz why he chose to sign with the Mariners, and his response was "Because they offered to back up a semi truck filled with hundred dollar bills into my driveway and feed me grapes while massaging my feet." Actually, no. It was this:
Nelson Cruz answers "Why Seattle" question with "I want to win." I'M UNCOMFORTABLE WITH THIS FEELING— Scott Weber (@LookoutLanding) December 4, 2014
Yes, a very strange development. And one that seems to be more fact than fiction: for if Jon Heyman's most recent piece has any legs, it looks like Melky Cabrera joining the Mariners could be a legitimate possibility during the Winter Meetings. That's right: the Mariners are on players' "win" lists. Take it or leave it.
The Melky-to-Seattle link was first noted by the Tacoma News Tribune's Bob Dutton, who noted that Jack Zduriencik had answered questions of potential right-fielder acquisitions handedness with a fantasy of acquiring a switch-hitter. Cabrera is the best remaining switch-hitting outfielder left on the market, and according to both writers, he has made it known he is willing to move out West for the right offer despite making it previously known he would prefer to remain in the East.
Despite being given a $15.3 million dollar qualifying offer by the Blue Jays, Cabrera decided to enter free agency seeking a five-year contract, turning down Toronto's apparently three-year deal that was also floating around in the process. As a result, he would cost the Mariners another draft pick, and according to Heyman, will probably end up costing close to $60 million over four or five years, similar to the four-year $57 million contract Cruz just signed.
Cabrera, 30, is a career .286/.339/.415 hitter over his ten seasons, coming up through the Yankees farm system in the mid-2000's with Robinson Cano, who remains a very close friend. Unlike Cruz, he doesn't offer the Mariners titanic power from the right side of the plate, owning a career isolated slugging percentage of only .129, weighed down by early seasons of scrub-level ineptitude that counter his previous few years as an efficient contact hitter who somehow developed a bit of power:
Yeah...that near red-line discrepancy is exactly why Cabrera is such an interesting target during the offseason. It's no secret that Cabrera was suspended for 50 games in 2012 after testing positive for testosterone (and the best part of that story is that he made a phony website in the aftermath to try and beat the suspension, sending MLB investigators all the way to the Dominican Republic to try and figure out what the hell was going on), and many have wondered if that uptick in power is a direct result. Two years later, questions remain, and like Cruz, the biggest test seemed to be what would happen in the years following their PED suspensions. Would either return to form? Would the power uptick continue, or at least hang around levels of passable competency?
As you can see, Cabrera had a harder time getting back on the horse than Mr. 40-Home-Run-137-wRC+-Nelson-Cruz did. In addition, he developed knee tendinitis during the 2013 season (which gave the Jays more Munenori Kawasaki, so you decide who really lost here), and only played in 88 games before getting surgery to make a comeback in 2014. And then, clearly, he had a much more palatable season to save his free agency hopes for 2015.
It seems at the very least that Cabrera isn't as sure of a shot as Cruz, and will probably end up costing about the same amount of money. But he remains the best free-agent outfield bat left unsigned, and doesn't cost the talent it would take to get just a year of Justin Upton. Or the behemoth return the Dodgers would probably want for Matt Kemp, who Dutton notes wouldn't fit well in the #2 slot that Lloyd is apparently trying to fill right now. Then again, Cabrera,
typically a cleanup guy Edit 4:33pm: NOT a cleanup guy because apparently I like typing before looking things up, might not either. Also defense.
Still, just think of all those games started by Endy Chavez last year. And the fact that Michael Saunders is gone. And that outfield depth at the moment is....um...Willie Bloomquist. Not to jump to the not-my-money bit, but...Melky Cabrera would make the Mariners a much better team, and you can't deny that.
Yikes. If you want to cleanse your palette after that burst of spicy food, Heyman also has this for us:
word is, mariners, royals and indians are among teams to check in on alex rios— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 5, 2014
Rios' 2015 option was declined by the Rangers on Wednesday, and although he put up a puzzling 0.2 fWAR season after somehow losing all of his power, he was worth three wins as recently as 2013. Rios rates as a better defender than both Cruz and Cabrera, though he has certainly been on the decline as he edges deeper on the wrong side of 30, apparently starting to break down like we all will someday, the ever-forward march of time turning us all to dust. Ah, baseball. Oh, and he just called up Scott Boras to be his agent, so yes, nothing is ever quite as perfect as it seems.
Rios will cost much less than Cabrera, both in money and years, as he's almost certain to sign for a one or two-year deal with his health and power concerns. But he's almost certainly Plan D, or G, for the Mariners, maybe even something lower down on the list--Rios is a riskier dice throw than Cabrera, and if we are to take any one of Jack or Lloyd at their words, the days of buy-low dice-throw guys have come and gone after a successful 2014 season.
The Winter Meetings will start on Monday, and truth be told, something entirely different could end up happening. Maybe we'll get another .gif of Jack Zduriencik learning that Prince Fielder cares not for our Space Needle and artisan coffeehouses. Then again, go to the top of this article and read the first few sentences again if you really think that. Buckle up, because it's about to get crazy.