For most of the day I stewed over Mitch Albom’s silly defense of Cabrera as MVP and wanted to write about how ridiculous it was, but then lots of other smart people rushed in to fill that void. I decided to let it go and get back to legitimate baseball discussion, and once again, the Toronto Blue Jays are driving the day’s story.
News broke this afternoon that the Jays and GM Alex Anthopolous had inked Melky Cabrera to a 2 year, $16 million deal. To be clear, this is the switch hitting steroid suspended OF, not the other M. Cabrera that is getting all the attention today.
To me, this is a great sign by one of the game’s better front offices. They bought low on an undervalued player.
But the Melky saga is quite complex. He’s had three bad seasons, two solid seasons, and two great seasons. The two great seasons have been the last two, but the most recent one ended with a 50 game suspension for testing positive for steroids (which he admitted to).
How should we value a player like this? What is he worth and what is the risk?
First, it should be noted that he’s only 28, which means his two great seasons came between ages 26-28, which is exactly when you would expect a player to peak. In other words, there is a very logical explanation for his breakout other than steroids.
We also can’t assume he was using prior to this season, because we would expect that he would have taken 1-3 tests during 2011 as well. None of this is perfectly certain, but it is fair to say that Melky is probably better than the very bad seasons and not quite as good as the very good seasons.
It’s very possible that steroids aided his improvement, but there is still a lot of scientific debate about how steroids help baseball players. Some say power, some say endurance, some say there is no real effect.
So assuming he doesn’t get suspended again and is on the field for the next two years, let’s evaluate this for the Jays.
The Free Agent market is set somewhere around 1.0 WAR per $5-6 million. This is an average, but over two seasons, for Melky to earn $16 million he needs to be worth somewhere between 3.0 and 4.0 WAR in my book if we want to account for a range given imperfect modeling.
Over the last two seasons, 34 MLB hitters fell between 3.0 and 4.0 WAR regardless of how many plate appearance they had. In other words, these are the hitters who ended up being worth about what Melky is going to make regardless of how they were used.
I averaged their production and then divided it into two seasons to get an idea of what Melky needs to look like in order to be worth this deal. I should note this is all hitters, not just OF and there is plenty of variation.
Per Season Stat Line:
113 G, 436 PA, 101 H, 11 HR, 49 R, 46 RBI, 8 SB
8% BB, 19% K
(League average defense and baserunning)
That looks extremely doable for Melky in the next two seasons. He needs to hit .260, walk at a league average rate and hit 11 HR per season to earn this contract. He doesn’t need to be the player he was last year, he needs to be respectable.
To give you a sense of this, let’s consider the players in 2012 who hit between .250 and .270 and slugged between .400 and .420.
A.J. Ellis, Coco Crisp, David DeJesus, and Delmon Young. Those players aren’t good defense comparisons to the player Melky needs to be, but he can certainly hit like those guys and be average in the other aspects of baseball if he stays reasonably healthy.
The Blue Jays were willing to bet on Melky not using PEDs again and certainly willing to pay $8 million a season for a player who could easily be worth close to $12 or $15 million if he’s really who he’s been the last two seasons.
This is a solid deal for the Blue Jays and good chance for Melky to repair his image and still have some good years left when he’s ready to hit the market again after the 2014 season.