The Houston Astros walked an interesting line in 2014. While the team finished the season at just 70-92, a full 28 games out of first place, there were some solid returns on their younger players. With more younger reinforcements coming their way in Carlos Correa and Mark Appel, the Astros are set for some more strides in 2015.
However, in order to make the next leap Houston needs to add a very important piece: veteran leadership. That’s where free agent Melky Cabrera comes into play.
One doesn’t typically assign a veteran leadership tag to a player that has previously received a suspension for usage of performance enhancing substances. However, Melky Cabrera received high marks for his character while a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. Not only did he meld successfully with their clubhouse, but he showed the perseverance and strength of will that the Astros would like to see from their young players.
After struggling through his first season in Toronto, thanks in large part to a benign tumor on his spine. However, he showed just what type of player he really could be with a strong 2014 campaign. In 139 games with the Blue Jays, Cabrera slashed a cool .301/.351/.458 with 16 home runs, 73 RBI.
Call to the Pen
Batting from the 2-hole, behind the ever dangerous Jose Altuve, Cabrera owns a lifetime on-base percentage of .339 and a lifetime BABIP of .311 making Cabrera the perfect bridge to the run producers. That would be a huge upgrade over Robbie Grossman, providing a solid table-setter for an evolving middle of the order including George Springer , Chris Carter, and Jon Singleton.
The first obvious issue in regards to bringing aboard Cabrera is salary. Melky Cabrera and the Blue Jays are already said to be far apart in contract negotiations, with Toronto purported to be offering a three-year deal. Reports are fairly wide as to what the 30-year-old is expecting in terms of a deal, but we can be assured that he is looking for at least five years and an average annual value north of $15 million. That is a lot to swallow for a team that had the lowest salary in all of baseball at $44.5 million in 2014. That said, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle is reporting that the Astros could have upwards of $20 million to add to payroll in 2015, with additional money possible being made available due to the team’s new television contract.
That said, regardless of payroll flexibility, the chances of the Astros convincing a player like Cabrera to come to Houston could be small. The free agent will likely be looking to head to a team that can compete for a championship during what could be his final contract. Houston may have the pieces coming up the line to compete in future years, however that window may not open within the five or six season deal that Cabrera would be looking for.
Outside of money and competitiveness of the team, Cabrera has his own limitations defensively that may create a further desire for Houston to look elsewhere. With a career UZR/150 of -3.9 in left field and dwindling mobility in the outfield, Cabrera doesn’t offer much value long term in the field. Then again, the existing group of Grossman, Max Krauss, and Alex Presley don’t necessarily grade out any better.
There is a lot to like in having Melky Cabrera suit up for the Houston Astros in 2015, but there are also some severe limitations in getting a deal done. While increased financial flexibility may lead to the team pursuing deals that make the team more competitive in 2015 and beyond, the vast needs in the rotation, bullpen, infield, and outfield may prevent the team from sinking the needed funds into only one or two players. That likely takes Cabrera off the table.
Still, we can dream of a day where the Astros are spending money in an effort to win, can’t we?