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How Does Melky Cabrera Fit on the Mariners?

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The best remaining free agent outfielder on the market, Melky Cabrera could be the final piece the Mariners are looking for.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Over the weekend, the rumors connecting the Mariners with Melky Cabrera intensified. It seems as though the Mariners are closing in on a long-term deal with Cabrera that would represent a major acquisition for the Mariners who are looking for a starting right fielder. On Sunday morning, Ken Rosenthal tweeted this:

Tweets like these have to be taken with more than just a grain of salt but it's also more than nothing. Matt took a brief look at Cabrera over the weekend but I'd like to go a bit deeper. He's the best free agent outfielder on the market right now and he probably would be the last major acquisition for the Mariners if they were to sign him. Are the Mariners just pursuing the best bat remaining on the free agent market or will he actually be a better acquisition than some of the other trade targets?

At just 30-years-old, he's a bit younger than many of the other free agents on the market. He's signed two very short free agent contracts after busting in Atlanta and being pegged with a PED suspension in San Francisco. Now, he's looking to cash-in after a resurgent year in 2014 in Toronto. Part of the reason why 2014 was a resurgent year was due to a benign tumor that was found on his back in 2013, severely limiting his performance. In 2013, his pitch value against the fastball was a pedestrian -0.5. Yet, in the two previous years his pitch value against the fastball averaged 17.4. In 2014, his pitch value against fastballs was back up to 14.8. He was able to recapture the ability to turn on the fastball and it seems as though he's put his injury behind him.

Despite signing Nelson Cruz, the Mariners' lineup still shows an imbalance between lefties and righties (depending on whether or not Miller is your starting shortstop or not). Cabrera is a switch hitter and would be the only one on the roster. Here are his relevant handedness splits for his career:

Career Handedness Splits - Melky Cabrera

Split

K%

BB%

AVG

OBP

SLG

ISO

GB%

HR/FB

wRC+

vs. RHP

12.5%

7.0%

0.290

0.340

0.419

0.129

49.3%

7.0%

103

vs. LHP

10.6%

7.7%

0.277

0.335

0.407

0.130

48.1%

8.3%

99

He's more of a line drive hitter as a lefty and has a little more pop as a righty. That won't necessarily benefit him in Safeco Field but his pop from either side isn't insignificant either. Baseball Heat Maps was giving me a database error while I was researching so all I'm working off of is data from ESPN's Home Run Tracker. Over the last four years, Cabrera's average distance on his home runs is 391.5 ft. and the average speed off the bat for those homers is 104.7 mph. Against righties and lefties, those averages don't fluctuate very much:

Average HR Distance

Average Speed Off Bat

vs. RHP

395.0

104.8

vs. LHP

388.2

104.9

Like Nelson Cruz, Cabrera hits the ball hard and, while he doesn't hit it as far, he shouldn't be drastically affected by the cavernous confines of Safeco Field.

Jon Heyman reports that Cabrera is looking for a deal similar in total value to the one Cruz signed -- $57 million -- but with an added year tacked on. The FanGraphs crowd pegged him for four-years, $52 million while MLB Trade Rumors guessed five-years, $66 million. Having already given up their first round draft pick by signing Nelson Cruz, signing Cabrara -- who also has a qualifying offer attached to him -- would cost the Mariners their second round pick. The value of draft picks after the first round drops exponentially and shouldn't be a major factor in bringing Cabrera to Seattle.

If Cabrera signs with Seattle at the average yearly value of the estimated contracts above, he would cost $12.5 million in 2014. By my rough calculations, based on estimated Arbitration settlements and some cash from Toronto received in the Saunders trade, I have the Mariners' payroll at $130.7 million if they sign Cabrera. That's on the high end of the estimates people were throwing around when we were trying to figure out how much the payroll would increase this year. Adding his Steamer projection to the Mariners' depth chart on FanGraphs places the Mariners second in the majors in projected WAR. That's a good place to be with two more months of the offseason to go.

Between all of the talent that the Mariners would have to give up to acquire some of the more prominent trade targets, Melky Cabrera presents a pretty appealing option for the Mariners. Signing him would block the Mariners from pursuing any of the many free agent outfielders who will be available next year (the outfield free agent class for next year is pretty stacked) but the priority should be on 2015, not waiting to make an acquisition next year. Cabrera would be the final piece to the Mariners' puzzle,  capping a major overhaul to their roster in just a few weeks time.