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Reds likely to sign Orlando Cabrera

While Slyde's out living the dream, we here at Red Reporter have serious issues to contend with.

Word 'round the campfire is that Orlando Cabrera is very close to signing a deal with the Reds.  Let's take a look at his recent numbers and some projections, courtesy of FanGraphs:


2007 32.7 LAA 701 9% 6% 18% 0.319 0.301 0.344 0.397 0.096 0.339 1.7 25.8
2008 33.7 CHA 730 10% 8% 21% 0.301 0.281 0.333 0.371 0.089 0.315 -11.2 13.0
2009 34.7 OAK/MIN 708 10% 5% 19% 0.302 0.284 0.314 0.389 0.105 0.316 -11.2 12.1
2010 35.7 CHONE 631 10% 7% --- 0.299 0.275 0.326 0.374 0.099 0.319 -8.1 10.8
2010 35.7 Marcel 627 11% 7% --- 0.297 0.276 0.321 0.381 0.105 0.318 -8.6 10.2
2010 35.7 Fans(33) 615 11% 6% --- 0.305 0.282 0.325 0.377 0.095 0.316 -9.9 8.6

Cabrera's most recent season as a league-average hitter came in 2007 on a fine Angels team.  That offseason, however, he was traded for Jon Garland, and he hasn't really produced offensively since.  He's a good contact guy, but he's never had a ton of power nor much inclination to take a walk (career walk rate = 6.5%, career OBP = 0.322).  He has occasionally flashed modest power for a middle-infielder, but the last time he topped 10 HR was 2004, and the last time he topped 0.400 SLG was 2006 despite the relatively high batting average.  His speed game might be starting to slow as well: he averaged 21 SB & 4 CS per season from 2001-2008, but was just 13-4 last year.  

The three projections I'm listing here put him right about a +10 RAR offensive player next season.  That's largely based on durability--Cabrera hasn't posted less than 600 PA since 2005!  Fans project him at 88% playing time, which is very impressive.  If he starts to lose playing time due to ineffectiveness, however, he starts to fall down into the +5 RAR area offensively...


Of course, his calling card has never been his offense: Cabrera has made his money by being adequate with the stick while flashing a fine glove.  He just turned 35, however, and is at a point when players often do slip defensively.  His projection isn't that bad: Zimmerman's UZR projections put him at +1 runs, TotalZone puts him at -15 runs (more on that in a sec), and the Fans Scouting Report put him at -5 runs.  Averaging all three, as I did with Tejada, puts him at -6 runs per season next year.

As ken pointed out with Tejada, this might be a conservative way of making a fielding projection for an older player.  You should never focus too much on a single year of fielding data, but Cabrera posted a career low -14 UZR last season and a career-worst -17 runs by TotalZone.  TZ seems to factor this more recent year in more heavily in its projection.  And the Fans Scouting Report, which, despite my infatuation with it, does tend to give aging, former plus-defenders a pass for too long...even they rated him as a -5 run per season defender.  I think the reasonable thing to do is project him as somewhere between a -5 to -10 run fielder at SS per season (at 88% playing time, that makes him down to a 4-9 run fielder).

Below the jump, we arrive at a projected value for Cabrera and compare him to Paul Janish.

Projected Value of Cabrera in 2010

Summing it all up, assuming 88% playing time:

Offense: -9 runs
Fielding: -4 to -9 runs
Position: +7.5 runs * 88% = +7 runs
Replacement: +22.5 runs (based on context-neutral offensive projections) * 88% = +20
Total: +9 to +14 runs, or ~+1 to +1.5 Wins Above Replacement

Based on $3.5 M per WAR contracts, that puts his value somewhere around $3.5 M to $5.3 M per season...again, that's assuming 88% playing time, which is optimistic for a below-average player despite his history of durability.  I'll be interested to see where the Reds offer came in.

Update: Tim Brown of Yahoo reports it's a $3 M/1 yr contract, with an option.  That's at the bottom end of the range I'm calculating.  My immediate reaction?  Probably means that the rest of baseball thinks his 2009 fielding numbers were for real.  That's not good--I'd hoped he'd sign for something closer to $6 M.

Update 2/2/2010Mark Sheldan reports that his salary is actually $2.02 M in 2010, with a $4M mutual option ($1 M club buyout, $500K player "buyout").  That means the Reds commit only $3 M, assuming they buy Cabrera out of 2011.  Again, in a way, that's good for the Reds as he's cheap.  In another way, it means that the rest of MLB think that Cabrera has significantly reduced range.

But what about Paul Janish?

...The big question in my mind, of course, is whether Cabrera is an upgrade over the guy the Reds already had penciled into the starting role, Paul Janish.  Here's the projection on Janish:

Playing time: Fans project 508 PA's, which is 73% playing time.  All numbers below reflect that PT estimate:

Offense: [-16 (CHONE) + -15 (Marcel) + -21 (Fans) ] / 3 = -17 runs
Fielding*: [+9 (fans) + 4 (TZ) ] / 2 = + 7 runs 
Position: +7.5 runs * 73% = +6 runs
Replacement: +20 runs * 73% = 15 runs
Total: +11 runs, ~+1 WAR

* I'm ignoring UZR projections because they are based on such a small sample and thus are heavily regressed, but fwiw they rate him at +6 runs per season.  TZ numbers include minor league data, while Fans data are scouting data and therefore are not as volatile as other fielding data.

Basically, it comes down to how good you think Cabrera's glove is.  If he's still a -5 run fielder, this is a slight upgrade for the Reds, mostly because of Cabrera's demonstrated durability.  If he's a -10 fielder--and he might be--it's a wash...or worse, should he start to lose playing time.

Update (2/1/10): I realized that I forgot to address the issue of draft pick compensation for the Cabrera signing.  Cabrera is a class-A free agent according to the Elias rankings.  If the Reds had been good last year, this would mean they'd have to give up their first round pick in exchange for signing him.  As it is, however, with the Reds picking in the first 15 this June, they only have to give up a second-around selection.  After accounting for the signing bonus, this is worth ~$0.8 million, according to Victor Wang's work this past summer.  That's only about 0.25 WAR in value, so it's not a big deal...but given that Cabrera is being paid as a 1 WAR player (the equivalent of Janish's projectable value), it's another knock against this signing.

Nevermind :)