Yankees land Didi Gregorius in three-team trade, send Shane Greene to Tigers

So what's the Sterling call? (Presswire)
So what’s the Sterling call? (Presswire)

1:58pm: It’s a done deal, the Yankees have officially announced the trade. The deal is as reported this morning: Greene to the Tigers, Ray and Leyba to the D’Backs, and Gregorious to the Yankees. Welcome to the Bronx, Didi.

12:01pm: The Yankees have landed their shortstop of the future. Or at least their shortstop for 2015. The team has agreed to acquire Didi Gregorius from the D’Backs in a three-team trade that sends Shane Greene to the Tigers. Detroit is sending left-hander Robbie Ray and minor league infielder Domingo Leyba to Arizona. It doesn’t appear there are any other pieces involved. The deal is still pending physicals. The always reliable Sweeny Murti and Ken Rosenthal had the news. Bob Nightengale says Arizona rejected Greene-for-Gregorius straight up before the Tigers got involved.

In a nutshell, the trade plugs the Yankees’ shortstop hole with a young player who can actually play above-average defense and may improve at the plate. It also creates an even bigger hole in the rotation — Greene was the only MLB starter on New York’s roster without some kind of injury concern heading into 2015. The Yankees needed rotation help before the trade and they need even more now. It seems like they will dip into free agency to take care of that. Plenty of arms still available.

Gregorius, 24, was originally signed and developed by the Reds. He went to Arizona in the three-team trade that sent Shin-Soo Choo to Cincinnati and Trevor Bauer to the Indians two offseasons ago. Gregorius is from Amsterdam and he comes from a baseball family. His father pitched in Honkbal Hoofdklasse — the highest level of pro baseball in the Netherlands — and his brother plays in that league now. Didi’s real name is Mariekson Julius, by the way.

This past season Gregorius hit .226/.293/.393 (76 wRC+) with six homers in 229 plate appearances for the D’Backs. He spent much of the summer in Triple-A — he hit .310/.389/.447 (122 wRC+) with three homers in 260 plate appearances in Triple-A in 2014 — after losing the starting shortstop job to Chris Owings in Spring Training. Arizona has clearly identified Owings as their shortstop of the future and used Gregorius to fill their pitching needs.

Didi, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 205 lbs., hit .252/.332/.373 (92 wRC+) with seven homers in 404 plate appearances in 2013, his first extended stint in MLB. He actually hit his first career homer at Yankee Stadium last April, but it came against Phil Hughes, so that hardly counts:

The Yankees are clearly hoping Gregorius, a left-handed hitter, can get back to his 2013 level of production and improve on it going forward. It’s worth noting Gregorius does draw a fair amount of walks (career 8.1 BB%) without striking out much (16.9 K%), and those are two traits that generally portend well for the future. He hasn’t hit lefties at all as a big leaguer though — 33 wRC+ against lefties and 102 wRC+ against righties.

In the field, Gregorius is considered an above-average defender by scouts while the various stats say he’s been about average if not a tick below so far in the show. I wouldn’t take the numbers to heart right now given the relatively small sample size. “He has smooth actions, plus range and a sniper rifle of an arm. His arm rates as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, allowing him to make plays from deep in the hole that other shortstops can’t,” said Baseball America (subs. req’d) when they ranked him Cincinnati’s fifth best prospect following the 2012 season, before the trade to Arizona.

Gregorius has been healthy throughout his career aside from an elbow strain in 2013 that kept him out for just about all of Spring Training plus the first two weeks of the regular season. He missed another week in April 2013 after suffering a concussion when he was hit in the head by a pitch. Otherwise his medical history is clean. Gregorius is considered a good makeup/clubhouse guy and he also speaks four languages: English, Spanish, Dutch, and Papiamento. That’ll come in handy in the clubhouse.

Greene, 26, was pretty much a rotation savior for the Yankees this summer. He had a 3.78 ERA (3.73 FIP) in 78.2 innings during his MLB debut with strong strikeout (9.27 K/9 and 23.5 K%) and ground ball (50.2 GB%) rates. His walk rate (3.32 BB/9 and 8.4 BB%) was solid and his command has been much improved these last two years thanks to some mechanical tweaks make by minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson. I like Greene, I think his mid-90s sinker/upper-80s slider combo is legit, though he did struggle against lefties this season, as detailed in our season review post.

Because he spent a big chunk of 2014 season in the minors, Gregorius currently has less than two years of service time, so he can not become a free agent until after the 2019 season. He will be a Super Two though, meaning he will be arbitration-eligible for the first time next offseason and have three more years or arbitration after that. Greene won’t be arbitration-eligible until after 2017 or a free agent until after 2020. The Yankees are giving up six years of Greene for five years of Gregorius. I don’t see a problem with that.

The Yankees desperately needed a shortstop, both for the short-term and long-term, and while we have to wait to see if Gregorius can become that long-term piece, the team got him at what I think is a more than fair price if not an outright bargain. I really like Greene and think he’ll be a solid pitcher going forward, but pitchers like him are much easier to find that 24-year-old shortstops these days. I don’t love Didi, I’m skeptical about his bat going forward, but this is a shot the Yankees had to take.

Mailbag: Non-tenders, Rule 5 Draft, Harper, Niese, Lineup

Seven questions in this week’s mailbag, which feels pretty damn long by mailbag standards. Lots of wordy answers this week. As a reminder, we now have a “For The Mailbag” widget in the sidebar that you can use to send us questions each week. I know it doesn’t look like the question goes through, but trust me, it does. We’re working on that.

That Medlen kid. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)
That Medlen kid. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Many asked: What about Kris Medlen? Any other interesting players among this year’s non-tenders?

Medlen is definitely the most interesting non-tender. He’s rehabbing from his second Tommy John surgery in the last four years and the Braves opted to cut him loose rather than pay him a projected $5.8M in 2015. Medlen, 29, had a 2.45 ERA (3.03 FIP) in 337.1 innings across 43 starts and 41 relief appearances between elbow reconstructions from 2011-13. That includes a 3.11 ERA (3.48 FIP) in 197 innings as a full-time starter in 2013.

The second Tommy John surgery has a much lower success rate than the first — Chris Capuano is pretty much the only guy who had the procedure twice and both stayed healthy and returned to his previous level of performance. Medlen has shown he can be effective as both a starter and a reliever, though there’s also the possibility of getting zero return, especially in 2015 since he’s still rehabbing. Chances are he won’t be ready until midseason. I’d still like to see the Yankees sign him, obviously to something with a low-base salary and incentives. Maybe Brian McCann can talk him into coming to New York or something.

I wrote about this at CBS the other day: I like the idea of signing Medlen to a Josh Johnson-esque contract, meaning a contract with a club option that kicks in only if he makes fewer than a certain number of appearances. (Johnson’s contract including a $4M option the Padres could only exercise if he made fewer than seven starts.) That would allow Medlen to hit the market again next winter if he stays healthy and contributes, and allow the team to keep him and try again in 2016 if he doesn’t. Both sides get some protection.

As for the rest of the non-tenders … there’s not much to see there. We already discussed Everth Cabrera yesterday. John Mayberry Jr. would have been interesting had the Yankees not already re-signed Chris Young. We now have nearly 3,000 plate appearances telling us Gordon Beckham can’t hit (career 83 wRC+), but I’d probably still give him $750k and see what happens. Alexi Ogando and Brandon Beachy are both coming off elbow injuries (Beachy had his second Tommy John surgery in the span of three years). I like them considerably less than Medlen.

J. Wong asks: A few years ago as I recall the Yankees “traded up” to pick up someone they liked in the Rule 5 draft. Since they now have officially 2 spots open to make selections, do you think they have anyone specific in mind they want to take, and if it’s necessary to move to one of the top slots what it’ll take in terms of talent to pick earlier?

They actually have four spots open right now, but they won’t take four players in the Rule 5 Draft. Two is a stretch. Four would be ridiculous. The Yankees “traded up” to get the first overall pick in the 2009 Rule 5 Draft (Jamie Hoffmann) and again to get the fourth overall pick in the 2012 Rule 5 Draft (Cesar Cabral). Technically they were trades for players to be named later — they sent Brian Bruney to the Nationals in 2009 and $100,000 to the Royals in 2012, then those teams took the players New York wanted and sent them to the Yankees as the player to be named. You can’t trade the actual Rule 5 Draft pick.

So, if the Yankees do want to move up again this year, it won’t cost very much to do it. Some cash or a fringe big leaguer (out of options Austin Romine?). J.J. Cooper put together an excellent Rule 5 Draft preview and, as usual, the vast majority of the players available are relievers and extra outfielders. The Yankees could use a shortstop but the best shortstop available in the Rule 5 Draft is probably Cito Culver. I’m not joking. Rockies shortstop prospect Taylor Featherston is available — “Featherston isn’t the traditional utility infielder. But he can play on either side of second base and he has the arm to play third base if needed as well,” wrote Cooper — after hitting .260/.322/.439 (116 wRC+) and 16 homers as a 25-year-old in Double-A last year. Meh.

If the Yankees do take a player(s) in the Rule 5 Draft next week, chances are it’ll be a bullpen arm(s). Relievers represent like 95% of the players taken in the Rule 5 Draft. I made that up but it feels like it could be true. Looking over Cooper’s list, Tigers righty Edgar De La Rosa (“The massive 6-foot-8 de la Rosa can run it up to 100 mph at his best and pairs it with a usable changeup”) and Marlins righty Jake Esch (“Esch has a plus fastball  (91-95 mph) and a hard slider that sometimes looks more like a cutter as well as a downer curveball … with excellent athleticism and steady development, he’s turning into something interesting”) seem most intriguing to me. The Yankees do love their super tall pitchers. De La Rosa seems like someone they might target.

Jonathan asks: It seems like every offseason everyone waits to see when/where one particular FA lands before everyone else starts signing. This year that player seems to be Jon Lester. Why is that? And who’s signing first, Lester or Max Scherzer?

I’ll answer the second question first: I think Lester will sign first simply because there are many more rumors about him going around right now. The Scherzer market has been very quiet and that is not uncommon for a top Scott Boras client at this point of the offseason. As for the first question, I think it’s because no one wants to set the market. Boras and Scherzer want to see what Lester gets, because then they can ask for more than that because a) Scherzer is better, and b) there’s one fewer high-end starter on the market to compete against. That’s why Chase Headley didn’t sign before Pablo Sandoval — now that Sandoval is off the board, he is clearly the number one third baseman available.

In the NFL, NBA, and NHL, players sign as soon as possible because they’re salary cap leagues and no one wants to be left unsigned when everyone runs out of cap space. In MLB, with no cap, it seems like the top free agents are willing to wait for a GM (or an owner) to get desperate later in the offseason.

Bring to me. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
Bring to me. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

New Guy asks: With recent rumors that there may be dissention between Bryce Harper and the Nationals, any chance Yankees try to put something together to bring him to the Bronx? Do they even have enough to get it done?

Ken Rosenthal recently reported the Nationals and Harper are likely to go to a grievance hearing later this month because of a dispute over an opt-out clause in his contract. The Nationals say there is no opt-out, Harper (and Boras, his agent) say there is supposed to be. The opt-out would allow Harper to forego the final year of the five-year Major League contract and instead file for salary arbitration. His contract says he will earn $2.25M in 2015, but MLBTR’s projections say he could earn $2.5M through arbitration in his first year as a Super Two. That doesn’t sound like much, but it carries over into future years and boosts his future salaries. The difference could be millions over his four years of arbitration-eligibility.

Anyway, I don’t think the Yankees have enough to swing a trade for Harper. He just turned 22 — fun fact: Harper has never faced a pitcher younger than him in a professional game, Majors or minors — and he’s a career .272/.351/.465 (125 wRC+) hitter in nearly 1,500 big league plate appearances who also happens to have a rocket arm and play strong defense. Also, he can do this:

Harper’s biggest problem is that he plays too hard. I don’t mean that in a cutesy “my biggest fault is that I work too hard” kinda way. Harper runs into walls and slides into bases aggressively, and it’s landed him on the DL more than a few times. He hurt his knee and shoulder running into walls — the knee required offseason surgery a year ago — and torn ligaments in his thumb sliding into third on a triple. Harper’s aggressive play puts him at risk of injury in a Slade Heathcott kinda way and it’s a problem. He needs to not play with the dialed turned to eleven all the time.

Even with the injury concerns, Harper would command a massive haul because of his age, production, and four remaining years of team contract. Would you really say no to, say, Masahiro Tanaka plus Luis Severino and Aaron Judge for Harper? I sure as hell wouldn’t. (Judge is six months older than Harper, by the way.) Outside of his stupid haircut, Harper’s a franchise player in every way. Incredibly productive and marketable. Stick him in the middle of the lineup and in every commercial for the next decade. I don’t think the Nationals are open to moving him even with this recent contract dispute and I don’t think the Yankees have enough to get him even if he was available. Other clubs would surely outbid them.

Dustin asks: Ken Davidoff is saying the Mets  Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee or Jon Niese. The first 2 do nothing for me, but wouldn’t Niese be a good guy to go after?

I liked Niese a few years ago, but he’s had a lot of nagging arm injuries the last two or three years. Both shoulder and elbow. Nothing major, but some inflammation here, some soreness there, stuff like that. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before he blows out completely. That said, he just turned 28 in October and he has a 3.49 ERA (3.69 FIP) in 521 innings over the last three years, so he’s a perfectly fine mid-rotation starter. His contract isn’t onerous either — Niese is owed $7M in 2015 and $9M in 2016, with $10M and $11M club options for 2017 and 2018, respectively. I’m not quite sure what the Mets want in return — they need a shortstop but the Yankees don’t have one to give — but if it’s just a salary dump situation where they’re willing to take some prospects to clear money, then I think Niese would make sense for the Yankees. Risky, sure, but he’s a quality MLB starter when on the mound.

Liam asks: Who is batting fourth if the season started today?

I would think McCann. If the season did start today, I’m guessing the regular lineups would look something like this:

vs. RHP vs. LHP
1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury 1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2. LF Brett Gardner 2. 3B Martin Prado
3. RF Carlos Beltran 3. RF Carlos Beltran
4. C Brian McCann 4. 1B Mark Teixeira
5. 1B Mark Teixeira 5. DH Alex Rodriguez
6. 3B Martin Prado 6. C Brian McCann
7. DH Alex Rodriguez 7. LF Chris Young
8. 2B Rob Refsnyder 8. 2B Rob Refsnyder
9. SS Brendan Ryan 9. SS Brendan Ryan

That’s just what I think the lineups would be given the current roster, not the lineup I would use. Based on his platoon splits the last few years, Beltran should be the one sitting in favor of Young against lefties, not Gardner. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jose Pirela started the year at second instead of Refsnyder either. If the Yankees go into Spring Training with those two competing for the second base job, I do think it would be a true competition, not a fake competition rigged in favor of someone, which the Yankees have been known to do in the past.

Mark S. asks: Derek Jeter will still probably have the most jerseys sold in 2015. What active Yankee player do you think will have the most sold?

Yeah I think it’s a safe bet Jeter will still lead the team in merchandise sales next year, especially if they bring him back for some kind of number retirement ceremony. Among active players, I think Tanaka would probably sell the most jerseys. He’s the biggest star on the team in terms of name value, plus he’ll tap into the Japanese market. Ellsbury and Beltran and whoever else can’t do that. So Tanaka’s my guess.

Thursday Night Open Thread

Here is the open thread for the night. The Bears and Cowboys are the Thursday NFL game, plus the Nets are playing and there’s college basketball on somewhere. Talk about anything and everything right here.

Passan: Headley has four-year, $65M offer in hand

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Free agent third baseman Chase Headley has a four-year contract offer worth $65M in hand, reports Jeff Passan. It’s unclear which team made the offer. Jon Heyman says the Marlins are very interested in Headley and “may be ready to make a significant offer.” The Yankees are reportedly reluctant to go more than three years for their incumbent third baseman.

Four years at $16.25M annually for Headley is pretty steep — I was thinking four years at $14M annually would get it done, but I always underestimate free agent contracts — but it is in line with the market when Pablo Sandoval gets $19M per year and Nelson Cruz gets $14.25M per year. David Freese is scheduled to be the best free agent third baseman next winter and 37-year-old Adrian Beltre the year after that, so it’s going to be a while until a third baseman as good as Headley is available for nothing more than money.

The Yankees do have a perfectly fine third base alternative in Martin Prado, but they could easily slot Prado in at second if they were to bring Headley back. If Headley does walk and Prado plays third, the presumption is Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder and whoever else would compete for the second base job in Spring Training. I’d like to see the Yankees bring back Headley. Having a Major League caliber infield would be cool. Four years is perfectly reasonable to me.

2014 Season Review: The Manager

Joe Girardi
(Chris Carlson/AP)

Joe Girardi is a good manager. Figure I might as well get that out of the way. He seems to be a dividing force among Yankees fans. You either think he’s in the top 5 managers or in the bottom 5.*

*Yes, I know there are people who think he’s average, but it’s hard to be vocal about averageness, so the extremes, as per usual, pervade.

Here is the thing with Joe Girardi: if you think he’s in the bottom 5 managers, you feel he performed poorly in 2014. If you think he’s in the top 5, you feel he again performed well with a not-so-good roster.

Never one to back down from an unwinnable argument, here is the case for Joe Girardi’s greatness as a manager.

He has little patience for idiocy

After each game, Girardi has no choice but to sit in front of reporters for the postgame press conference. But he doesn’t have to like it, and oftentimes he shows exactly how thrilled he is.

This is obviously a personal thing. I know a few fans who don’t like when Girardi snipes at reporters who ask dumb questions. But I don’t see why. If reporters ask dumb questions, they should get dumb answers.

Yes, I understand that it’s tough to ask fresh, original questions 162 times a year. But it’s also tough to sit up there and listen to the same old, “what were you thinking?” sleep-inducers. Reporters have all game to think about an original question. It’s not that difficult to come up with just one.

So here’s applauding Girardi for, at least sometimes, not tolerating these kinds of questions. He’s no Mike Mussina in that regard — miss that guy — but with Derek Jeter gone at least there will be one guy in the Yankees clubhouse unwilling to constantly tolerate dumb questions.

He manages a quality bullpen

Again, we might find people who contend with the idea that Joe Girardi manages a fine bullpen. They’ll point to instances where he brought in a clearly inferior reliever, when he should have brought in Betances.

On this point, unlike the one above, I won’t concede much. Through the years it has become clear that Girardi puts his relievers in a position to succeed.

What does that mean, exactly?

1) He settles guys into roles. We might decry managers pigeonholing guys into roles like closer, 8th inning, 7th inning. It seems inflexible. But if players feel comfortable knowing they play a specific role, they might perform better.

2) He knows when guys need a break. You can’t keep calling on the same guys day in and day out. Girardi seems to know pretty well when his guys need a breather.

3) At the same time, he remains as aggressive with his usage as is responsible and reasonable.

For the last point, Betances is a great example. Girardi used him as much as possible early in the season, while knowing when to back off before getting him hurt or losing his effectiveness.

Heading into the season it didn’t appear that the Yankees had the strongest bullpen. They’d lost the greatest relief pitcher of all time, and didn’t do much to strengthen it over the off-season (signed Matt Thornton and that’s about it). Even though he needed the bullpen extensively, they still performed relatively well.

He gets the call right

This comes from baseballsavant.com’s replay tool, which is simply awesome. Their other tools are excellent as well.

MLB ChallengeJoe Girardi Challenge
On the left is the MLB average rate for manager challenges overturned. On the right is Joe Girardi’s rate. If you need hard numbers, he got the call overturned 82.14 percent of the time, while the average manager got it right 47.65 percent of the time.

He outmanages expectations

If a team outperforms its Pythagorean record, is that a reflection of the manager’s work? In isolated incidents, no, there are plenty of factors that can play into a team winning more or fewer games than their run differential indicates. But when it happens year after year, with the manager being the only constant? That’s another story.

In the last two seasons, given a roster that averaged 641.5 runs, against the AL average of 689.5, Giradi managed to beat the team’s negative run differential and win 13 games more than expected. If that happens in one season, maybe it’s a fluke. If it happens two in a row, both with similar conditions of poor offense and a patchwork pitching staff, the manager can start to take at least a little credit.

One question that came to mind: do teams with good pitching and poor offenses naturally out-perform their Pythagorean records in this low run environment? The answer seems to be no.

Tampa Bay, a team that allowed fewer runs than the Yankees, had a higher Pythagorean record than them, yet underperformed that number, winning only 77 vs a projection of 79.

Atlanta, which allowed under 600 runs, outperformed their Pythagorean record by one win.

Miami, which was close to New York with a -29 run differential, underperformed their Pythagorean by a win.

Cincinnati, with a -17 run differential and only 612 runs allowed, underperformed their Pythagorean by three wins.

San Diego is the closest to a team outperforming their Pythagorean in the same way as the Yankees, with plus-two wins.

The Yankees were the only team with a negative run differential to finish with a winning record — in both 2013 and 2014. In 2014 only the Cardinals, darlings of the league, outperformed their Pythagorean by as many runs as the Yankees did. No team matched their six wins over expectations in 2013.

Again, this trend (or, phenomenon) can’t be 100 percent credited to the manager. But Girardi does deserve a share of the credit. We know that managers can outperform run expectancy tables. It stands to reason, then, that they can scale that and outperform win expectancy tables.

Love him or hate him, Girardi is under contract for the next three seasons. Given how he’s performed since taking the job in 2008, he’s probably going to last those three seasons.

Guess it’s fortunate that he’s a good manager, eh?

Prado begins baseball workouts following appendectomy, taking grounders all over infield

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tentative starting third baseman Martin Prado has resumed baseball workouts after having an emergency appendectomy in September, he told Brendan Kuty at a charity event on Wednesday. Prado has been working out since October 20th — he had the season-ending appendectomy on September 16th — and he has been taking ground balls all over the infield in preparation for 2015.

“I’ve always been doing that. It’s not something new,” said Prado when asked about taking ground balls at all different positions in the offseason. “I just put myself in a spot where, whatever you need from me, I’ll be there. I can’t lock in with one spot.”

Prado, 31, hit .316/.336/.541 (146 wRC+) with seven homers in 37 games with the Yankees this past season after hitting .270/.317/.370 (89 wRC+) with five homers in 106 games with the Diamondbacks. He played mostly second base with New York but also saw time at third and in both outfield corners. Prado has played everywhere in his career but he’s best at second and third these days.

Prado’s versatility gives the Yankees a lot of flexibility and not just in games — he allows them to pursue either a second or third baseman this offseason. They can focus on getting the best deal knowing Prado can play the other position. I like him most at second and hope the Yankees can find a real — meaning not replacement level (or worse!) — third baseman this winter. Either way, it’s good Prado’s back to working out following the appendectomy.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Everth Cabrera

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The non-tender deadline came and went on Tuesday, and all told a total of 32 new free agents hit the market, including Slade Heathcott, Jose Campos, and David Huff. Most of those 32 players are fringy Quad-A types or bench players who were slated to make too much money through arbitration. That’s the case every year. The non-tender deadline is more exciting in our heads than in reality.

Anyway, one of the most interesting players non-tendered earlier this week is shortstop Everth Cabrera, who was cut loose by the Padres. He’s interesting only because he’s still relatively young (turned 28 last month), he once led the NL in stolen bases (44 in 48 attempts in 2012), and because he’s a shortstop (the Yankees need a shortstop). When someone like Cabrera hits a market in which the best available shortstops are Stephen Drew, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jed Lowrie, yeah he’s worth investigating. Let’s see if he makes sense for the Yankees.

Offense, If That’s What You Want To Call It

Cabrera’s backstory is pretty interesting. He’s one of only 23 players in history from Nicaragua — only Marvin Bernard has more career plate appearances among Nicaraguan-born players — and the Padres originally acquired him from the Rockies in the 2008 Rule 5 Draft. He stuck too. San Diego gave Cabrera 438 plate appearances as a 22-year-old in 2009 even though he had only four career games above Low Class-A — all four at High-A, so he essentially jumped from Low-A to MLB — and the results were actually pretty good all things considered: .255/.342/.361 (95 wRC+) with 25 steals.

Since he stuck as a Rule 5 pick and the Padres controlled his rights, they took advantage and had Cabrera spend most of the 2010-11 seasons in the minors for more seasoning. He didn’t return to the big leagues for good until 2012. They were pretty patient with him. Here’s what Cabrera has done in his three full seasons since returning to MLB:

PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ BABIP K% BB% SB (SB%) wRC+ vs. RHP wRC+ vs.LHP
2012 449 .246 .324 .324 87 .336 24.5% 9.6% 44 (92%) 102 47
2013 435 .283 .355 .381 114 .337 15.9% 9.4% 37 (76%) 90 169
2014 391 .232 .272 .300 65 .294 22.0% 5.1% 18 (69%) 59 84
TOTAL 1,275 .254 .319 .335 89 .323 20.8% 8.2% 99 (80%) 84 103

The 2013 season went pretty well — Cabrera was San Diego’s token All-Star* that year — but 2012 and 2014 were pretty bad. Cabrera is a switch-hitter who hasn’t done a whole lot against right-handed pitchers, meaning he wouldn’t even be on the heavy side of the platoon. He has zero power — he’s hit 21 homers in 3,522 career plate appearances between MLB and the minors — but that’s not his game, he’s a speedy leadoff type who steals bases, and he’s been quite good at stealing bases.

In fact, Cabrera has been one of the game’s most valuable base-runners over the last three years. That’s not just stealing bases either, I’m talking about going first-to-third on a single, scoring from first on a double, advancing on wild pitches, the whole nine. FanGraphs’ base-running stats say he’s been worth 16.0 runs on the bases since 2012, tenth most among the 223 players with at least 1,000 plate appearances during that time. He’s right behind noted base-runner Elvis Andrus (16.4 base-running runs) in 800 fewer plate appearances. Running the bases isn’t the most valuable thing in the world — 16.0 runs is about a win and half spread across three years — but it is Cabrera’s elite skill.

Everth’s best year at the plate came when he cut his strikeout rate by about one-third, though his swing rates on pitches both in and out of the zone were right in line with his career averages. His contact rates — 92.9% in the zone and 71.0% out of the zone — were much higher than his career averages (89.8% and 92.9%, respectively), however. That success could be attributed to some swing adjustments he made in Spring Training. Here are some details from Corey Brock back in March 2013:

“It’s more of a shorter, direct path to the ball,” manager Bud Black said of Cabrera. “It’s trying to keep the ball out of the air. He needs to work on line drive, down. That’s his challenge.”

“He and [hitting coach Phil Plantier] have been working real hard on his swing this winter,” Black said. “Everth spent a lot of time in Los Angeles working at a performance center. Then he would drive down to Phil’s house and work in his backyard.”

According to Brock, the focus of the work was on Cabrera’s right-handed swing, and it showed in his performance against left-handed pitchers that year (169 wRC+). That success didn’t carry over into 2014 and his production from the left side of the plate has been trending downward as well. There is some tangible evidence suggesting the improved contact rates in 2013 weren’t a fluke, though it’s unclear why Cabrera was unable to repeat that success this past season.

For what it’s worth, Cabrera has done a very good job of slapping the ball on the ground and using his speed the last three years — his 65.6% ground ball rate since 2012 is the second highest in baseball behind Ben Revere (64.3%). (Derek Jeter is third at 65.5%, by the way.) That’s his game. It hasn’t turned into results outside of 2013, however. You have to really squint your eyes and hope Cabrera suddenly improves his contract rates again to see him as even a league-average hitter going forward. The base-running is nice, but that alone isn’t enough to keep a player in the lineup.

In The Field

Cabrera has spent very limited time at second base (80 innings) and third base (two innings) in his MLB career. He did start his career in the minors at second base before sliding over to shortstop full-time once he got to the Padres, where he’s been ever since. Here’s what the four main defensive systems say about Everth’s work in the field these last three years:

Innings at SS DRS UZR Total Zone FRAA
2012 915.1 -4 -5.0 -11 7.0
2013 847.2 -3 -1.1 4 0.7
2014 804.0 -3 -4.8 1 1.4
TOTAL 2,567.0 -10 -10.9 -6 9.1

Mostly negative. I wouldn’t get too caught up in the exact numbers. The consensus seems to be that Cabrera was a bit below-average in the field these last three years. That’s enough detail for me. The only scouting report I can find about Cabrera’s defense comes from way back in 2009, when Baseball America ranked him as the 24th best prospect in San Diego’s system. “Cabrera … seamlessly shifted across the bag during the second half of 2008, showing solid range and arm strength at short,” said the write-up. That’s all we’ve got.

As sketchy as they are, the defensive stats are much more recent than Baseball America’s scouting report, so I trust them more. I think we have to say Cabrera is a below-average defender right now. The evidence points in that direction.

Injury History

Staying on the field has been a challenge for Cabrera over the years. Here’s a recap of everything that sent him to the disabled list since his MLB debut in 2009:

  • 2009: Broken hamate in left wrist, suffered on a hit-by-pitch. Out 60 days.
  • 2010: Two right hamstring strains. Out 49 total days.
  • 2011: Broken hamate in right wrist, out 47 days. Left shoulder subluxation, out 33 days.
  • 2012: Healthy!
  • 2013: Left hamstring strain, out 17 days.
  • 2014: Two left hamstring strains. Out 78 total days.

That’s an awful lot of injuries, and, as serious as the two wrist fractures and shoulder problem are, the continued hamstring issues scary me the most. Cabrera is a speed first player who needs his legs to be valuable. If they are starting to be compromised by injury, he’ll become unrosterable in a hurry. He needs his legs to be healthy to contribute. That’s not up for debate.

Off-the-Field Issues

This is where it really starts to get ugly. Cabrera’s had numerous off-the-field problems and run-ins with the law these last few years. Here’s a recap:

  • June 2012: Arrested for domestic violence. The case was eventually dismissed.
  • August 2013: Suspended 50 games for his ties to Biogenesis. He admitted to taking an undisclosed banned substance to help get healthy after the 2011 shoulder injury after the suspension was announced.
  • September 2014: Arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana and was later charged with resisting arrest. The case is still pending.

Performance-enhancing drugs are bad but the Biogenesis stuff is the least bad thing in Cabrera’s history. Even though the case was dismissed, domestic violence is not something to brush under the rug, especially since MLB hopes to have a domestic violence policy in place by next season. The resisting arrest charge is still pending too. That carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail if he’s found guilty.

Teams are willing to overlook this sort of stuff if you’re a star player, they’ve shown that time and time again, but a fringe player like Cabrera? He’s probably not worth the headache. The Yankees were all about second chances under George Steinbrenner, most notably signing Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, but those guys were former stars. Not borderline big leaguers.

Contract Situation

Cabrera earned $2.45M this past season, his second of four trips through arbitration as a Super Two. MLBTR projected him to make $2.9M through arbitration in 2015. Cabrera will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2016 before becoming eligible for free agency during the 2016-17 offseason.

Wrapping Up

After non-tendering Cabrera earlier this week, new Padres GM A.J. Preller told Jeff Sanders the team won’t try to re-sign him and it was “pretty much a move that (means) we’re going in a different direction.” They opted to cut Cabrera loose rather than pay him a modest $2.9M next year even though he’s a shortstop and shortstops are really hard to find.

The speed and the fact that he’s on the right side of 30 make Cabrera interesting, but aside from his base-running, there’s not a whole lot to like here. He’d have to improve his contact rates to provide more offense and, well, that’s really hard to do. Cabrera can run and that’s wonderful, but he doesn’t hit much, isn’t great in the field, doesn’t stay healthy, and has a police record. That’s … not really a guy I want on my team.

The Yankees have emphasized strong makeup and character the last few years now and that leads me to believe they’ll steer clear of Cabrera even though they really need a shortstop. My guess is he’ll have to settle for a minor league contract somewhere and impress in Spring Training just to stick around as a team’s Triple-A shortstop come April. I would be very surprised if a team guaranteed him a roster spot this winter.

* Fun Fact: A Padre has not actually played in the All-Star Game since Heath Bell faced one batter in the 2011 Midsummer Classic.