Get me Melky Cabrera.
Yeah, the guy tested positive for a known banned substance. Naturally, the knee jerk reaction is "he's a cheater, his stats are fraudulent and everything he's done over the last two years should be wiped clean." And it's a logical reaction given that most of sports fans in our twenties have had our childhood memories tainted by the steroid cloud. And while I don't agree with that notion, I'm not going to sit here and praise the guy for his honesty either. He's a cheater, an admitted cheater, but a cheater nonetheless. But man would I like to see his redemption story take place in red pinstripes.
A little Melky history for those who aren't aware... He was signed out of the Dominican Republic at the age of 16, was called up to the Yankees at the age of 20, was and a full time player (or at the very least, the more popular part of a platoon) by the age of 21. The guys who have managed a progression like that and stuck in the majors over the past decade or so can be counted on two hands. While his development time in he minors was limited, one thing was clear: he could hit. Said AA coach Bill Masse prior to his call up:
"The thing about Melky is, he has such hand-eye coordination that if there's a fastball up around his chin, he can still hit, and if there is a breaking ball that bounces in the dirt before the plate, he may hit that, too."Baseball America also chimed in back in 2005 with the following:
"Strengths: Cabrera’s swing and hand-eye coordination make him the best hitter for average in the system. One club official compared his offensive game to Jose Vidro's. Cabrera has a quick stroke from both sides of the plate, with quick hands that allow him to catch up to quality fastballs. He also punishes breaking balls and lashes line drives from gap to gap. He has an above-average throwing arm."So here's a raw, yet unpolished, talent from the Dominican Republic who is rushed to the majors to save a flailing Yankees outfield who performs averagely for a few seasons. He's traded to Atlanta and performs dismally (this is the guy who once threw a ball backwards). So bad in fact that he's outright released at the end of 2010. So after a string of failures, and at the still young age of 26 (to put things into perspective, Ryan Howard's first full season in the majors was at the age of 26... Melky had already had nearly 2,400 ABs by the time he was 26!), he drops 20 lbs, finds a groove at the plate with Kansas City, and follows it up with 3/4 of All-Star / MVP caliber baseball in San Francisco.
Then BOOM: Positive for Testosterone. Season over, free agency payday gone, career tainted... says the casual fan.
Luckily, I'm here to tell you he's worth the risk.
- He's not the first "damaged" product to play in Philadelphia. Brett Myers' transgressions were forgiven when he led the team to their first playoff appearance in 15 years, JC Romero's return from PED suspension was embraced (I own a "free JC" tshirt!), and I can't tell you one Phillies fan who doesn't want to see Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame.. If anyone can appreciate a comeback, it's Philadelphia fans.
- He'll come at a discount. The happiest guys in baseball right now: Michael Bourn and Shane Victorino. The Phillies aren't the only team looking for outfielders next year. Bourn is expected to be the cream of the crop despite the fact that he strikes out a ton, he'll be north of 30, and has seen his biggest weapon (SBs) nearly cut in half this year with one month to play. Nevertheless, he's still expected to something in the neighborhood of 5 years, $80M. Victorino's piggy bank will be slightly less stout, but still out of the Phillies price range (in both years and dollars). Melky? He'll be looking for an opportunity to clear his name. It's virtually unprecedented that a player hitting his peak tests positive for PEDS before signing a long term deal. No one knows for sure how the market will unfold, but all indications are that teams aren't going to give a 4-5 year deal to a guy who is coming off a suspension. At age 28, he still has the opportunity to play out 2013 on a one year deal, prove that his numbers aren't a fluke, and sign that long term high dollar deal that he was on pace for as recent as last week.
- He's young by free agent outfield standards. Face it, our outfield is barren with the departure of Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. Pencil Domonic Brown in right field for 2013 and you're still left with two holes. Cross you fingers that you can get away with some sort of Nate Schierholtz/John Mayberry platoon in one of those holes. Hell, you can even beg Juan Pierre to stick around for pennies on the dollar again. But the outfield is still mighty shaky. Scan the list of free agent outfielders for guys under 30, here's what you get: B.J. Upton, Delmon Young, and Melky. That's it. Trade for a young outfielder? What trade chips of value are left? With an infield that averages about 34 years old, your outfield has got to be young. Even if he can't be retained long term, the Phillies core isn't getting any younger. The Phils have only one or two more shots at making a run with the team they have in place. Jimmy Rollins is your lead off hitter, why not pair him with the best #2 hitter in baseball this season and hope the unjury gods are on your side for a change in 2013.
- Isn't it possible that we're giving too much credit to the PEDs? I'm not a sabremetric geek, but something doesn't quite add up. Melky's power numbers aren't particularly gaudy this season. Okay, so this is the part where I get a little nerdy on you... His HR/FB percentage is less than it was in both 2011 and 2009 and his line drive percentage is right here with his career norms. The percentage of his hits that fall for extra bases is less than it was in each of the past three years. So what's different? Batting average on balls in play. His BABIP is an obnoxious and improbable .379. That means that when Melky hits the ball between the lines, it's going to land for a hit of some sort 38% of the time. That's 70 points higher than his career average! Whether it be the spacious outfield in San Francisco allowing more balls to fall in, an improved batting eye, just plain dumb luck, or some combination of the three, balls that come off Melky's bat have gotten him on base at an amazing pace. His ground ball to fly ball ratio is a career high 1.09 suggesting even further that it's the ability to drive the ball hard on the ground that has helped his number spike rather than a Bonds like power binge.