Kevin Long talks about Melky Cabrera, superstar

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

As you know, former Yankee Melky Cabrera has been one of the very best players in all of baseball this season. He’s hitting .363/.399/.532 with a league-leading 101 hits for the Giants, resulting in 3.0 fWAR and a .401 wOBA that rank 10th and 14th in MLB, respectively. Melky broke out with the Royals last season — .349 wOBA and 4.2 fWAR — but he’s taken his game to another level in 2012.

Cabrera’s career was basically left for dead after 2010, when he was literally the worst player in baseball (-1.0 fWAR) before being released by the Braves. Melky was never a great player for the Yankees but he wasn’t terrible, just a useful fourth outfielder that often played full-time. Getting cut by Atlanta seems to have been the wake-up call he needed to start taking his career seriously, as hitting coach Kevin Long indicated to Joel Sherman

“He’s a hell of a player,” said Long. “He has totally gotten committed to his career. He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t take anything for granted any more. His personal trainer is with him all the time. When you go all in and have talent, this is what happens — and it is evident he has the talent.

“If Melky committed himself to the Yankees as he does now, he would still be a Yankee,” added Long. “And he would say the same thing. He made himself tradeable then.”

Just do a simple Google Images search of “Melky Cabrera Braves” and compare it to “Melky Cabrera Giants” and the difference is obvious. Melky was fat in Atlanta, fatter than he ever was in New York. Maybe it had to do with the huge ($3.1M) arbitration award he received that winter; he just got a little too comfortable or something. I dunno, whatever. Now? He’s not fat. Not even close. He appears to have rededicated himself to baseball after being released and is going to be rewarded with a monster contract after this season.

The Yankees could sure use Melky right now given Brett Gardner‘s injury but so could every team in baseball. He’s been that good, a star-caliber hitter for over 1,000 plate appearances now. Had he not been traded to the Braves three offseasons ago, there’s a very real chance he would not have developed into the player he is today though. Getting traded away by the team that signed and developed you and then getting released is often the worst moment of a player’s career, but it appears to have been a blessing for the Melkman.

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Past Trade Review: Javier Vazquez, Part II

(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty)

TYA/Yankeeist readers may recall a semi-regular offseason feature I always greatly enjoyed doing, “Bizarre Moves from Seasons Past,” in which I’d examine a particular move or non-move the Yankees made and try to make sense of why they opted to go the way they did. For your reading enjoyment, here’s the full roster of previous “Bizarre Moves” posts:

I’d been racking my brain for some new entries in this series, but kept coming up blank until it finally hit me why: Brian Cashman and the Yankees haven’t really made any so-called “Bizarre” moves during the last few seasons. I won’t go so far as to say the transaction record has been flawless, but, for the most part, the trades, free agent signings and non-moves made by Cash since the 2008-2009 offseason have been understandable/defensible. Sure, we can all decry the A.J. Burnett contract now — and it certainly had its detractors back when it was signed — but the 2009 Yankees needed pitching, and though it may have been an overpay, Burnett filled an important need on the team that season.

Off the top of my head, the only flat-out terrible moves made by Cash — and here I’m defining flat-out terrible as “completely obvious to the entire world that they wouldn’t work out” — during the last couple of years were the additions of Randy Winn and Chan Ho Park. And even though they were pointless signings, it’s still hard to kill Cash for trying to bolster the bullpen and bench on the relatively cheap. I think we can all agree that nothing better underscores Cash’s restraint than his (non)activities during the previous calendar year (save Pedro Feliciano), which include remaining calm in the face of growing unrest regarding the pitching staff last January, and passing on unrealistic trades for questionable pitchers at last July’s trade deadline.

However, as quiet as Cash has been, we also know he won’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a deal when he thinks he’s found a good one. Being that the Javier Vazquez/Boone Logan for Melky Cabrera/Arodys Vizcaino/Mike Dunn deal was the last blockbuster trade Cash orchestrated, I thought I’d take a look back at it from RAB’s “Past Trade Review” perspective, as it really doesn’t fall under the “Bizarre Moves” heading. One other note — in fairness, Mike and Joe were a bit hesitant about me reviewing this deal seeing as how the book is still out on Vizcaino, but I think we can take a look at how the trade worked out given the other players involved while keeping Vizcaino in the backs of our minds.

Anyway.

Not content to rest on the laurels of the franchise’s 27th World Championship, Brian Cashman quickly went to work in the 2009-2010 offseason to bolster (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) the pitching staff, as the Yankees managed to win it all despite being just the second team in the last 20 years to utilize a three-man rotation throughout the entire postseason.

Noted workhorse and one-time Yankee Javier Vazquez — who Cashman had previously traded three players (Nick Johnson, Juan River, and Randy Choate) for in November 2003 following a superb season by Vazquez in which he struck out 9.4 men per nine, walked 2.2, and put up a pitcher triple slash 3.24 ERA/3.31 FIP/3.41 xFIP worth 6.0 fWAR, only to have Vazquez come apart at the seams in the second half of the 2004 season after an All-Star first half and subsequently get shipped out of town for Randy Johnson — was coming off a superb 2009 campaign with Atlanta, in which he racked up his fifth straight season of 200-plus innings (and 9th in the last 10 years), 2.87 ERA, and 9.77 K/9 and 1.81 BB/9, which led to a matching 2.77 FIP and xFIP, the latter of which led the entire National League.

With Brett Gardner showing that, at the very least, he was a reliable 4th outfielder if not outright platoon player, and the execrable Melky Cabrera coming off his 4th straight season of below-average offense (wRC+es of 98, 89, 69 and 94), the Yankees correctly made the no-brainer move of dealing from a position of strength in shipping the ever-underwhelming Cabrera to the Braves as the centerpiece of a deal that reunited Vazquez with the Yankees. Of course, Melky alone wasn’t enough (1.6 fWAR in 2009) to get a player of Vazquez’s caliber (fresh off a 6.5 fWAR campaign), and so the Yankees added the highly touted, right-handed, flame-throwing Arodys Vizcaino (who had just come off a 2.13 ERA/2.49 FIP season in 42.1 innings with Staten Island) and left-handed reliever Mike Dunn. The Braves also chipped in a lefty reliever of their own to complete the deal, sending Boone Logan to the Bronx.

After putting up a 4.91 ERA/4.78 FIP/4.51 xFIP in 198 innings (worth 2.2 fWAR) for the 2004 Yankees, there were high evenly tempered hopes that Home Run Javy’s second tour of duty as a Yankee would turn out significantly better. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, as HRJ battled A.J. Burnett for much of the 2010 season to see who could be more historically awful. Javy wound up winning this ignominious battle with flying colors, putting up a 5.32 ERA/5.56 FIP/4.69 xFIP in 157.1 innings (worth -0.1 fWAR) and posting career-worsts in just about every major category.

However, for as wretched as Javy was in his second go-round with the Yanks, Melky was arguably even worse for the Braves, tying Carlos Lee for the least-valuable player in all of MLB in 2010. Somehow, both men found new employers for 2011 and each enjoyed an absurd amount of success relative to their 2010 failures, with Vazquez recording a 3.69/3.57/3.87 year in 192.2 innings (worth 3.2 fWAR) for the Marlins, while Melky had the year of his life in Kansas City, boasting a .305/.339/.470 slash in a season worth 4.2 fWAR. Suffice it to say, I don’t think either player would ever have put those respective seasons up at any point as members of the Yankees. Melky maybe, but Vazquez pretty clearly needs the National League to be a successful pitcher. In any event, if you look at the trade primarily as a Melky-for-Javy swap, I’d still say the Yankees wound up ahead even with Javy’s terrible season, as he out-fWARed Melky by 0.9.

What about the secondary components of the trade? For all the griping about Boone Logan, he’s actually been pretty effective as the Yankees’ sole left-handed reliever these last two seasons, putting up 0.7 combined fWAR across just over 80 innings (yes, I know fWAR is near-worthless in assessing relievers, but I’m using it anyway). Mike Dunn threw 19.1 frames for the Braves in 2010 (1.89 ERA/3.61 FIP) and walked 8.05(!) men per nine, before hooking on with the Marlins this past season and hurling 63 innings of 3.43 ERA/4.30 FIP ball, almost halving that absurd walk rate (though it still checked in at an unsightly 4.43 per nine) but not enough to provide positive value to the team (-0.1 fWAR). I’d say the Yankees got the better end of the left-handed reliever swap as well.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, while they may not regret losing Melky or Dunn, they almost certainly regret including Vizcaino — who ranked 16th on Baseball America’s midseason Top 50 list this past season, and currently checks in as the Braves’ second-best prospect overall on both BA’s list and John Sickels‘, behind only Julio Teheran — in the deal, as Vizacaino rocketed through the Braves’ system and reached the big league club this past August, throwing 17.1 innings of 4.67 ERA/3.54 FIP ball out of the bullpen with an 8.83 K/9. Vizcaino — still just 21 years old —  is expected to compete for a rotation spot on the staff come Spring Training. While the Yankees have their share of minor league pitching talent knocking on the door, having Vizcaino — who our own Mike Axisa would have slotted as #3 in between Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances on his  Top 30 Yankee Prospect list — in the mix for a potential rotation spot would certainly make the team’s 2012 starting rotation picture a bit less fuzzy.

Mailbag: Former Yankee Edition

Here’s a special Thursday edition of the RAB Mailbag, with three questions about former Yankees that may or may not be useful to the 2011 team. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in any questions.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Sam asks: Would you have any interest in trading for the Giambino to take over for Posada as a DH?

The Rockies just placed Jason Giambi on the disabled list with a quad strain, so he won’t be traded before the deadline. This question was sent in before then, obviously. Giambi is a prime candidate for an August waiver trade though, assuming the quad isn’t that serious and he can get back on the field within two weeks or so.

Unlike the subject of the next question, Giambi has hit all year and really hasn’t stopped hitting for any length of time in recent years. He’s got a .253/.378/.486 batting line in just about two seasons with the Rockies, and this year he’s rocking a .418 wOBA in 112 plate appearances. Giambi has been a part-time player though, mostly pinch-hitting and starting at first once or twice a week. Because he’s outperforming Jorge Posada both this year and last year (especially against RHP), he’d be a fine upgrade, though I doubt he maintains that level of performance playing every day. He might fall off to what, maybe a .360 wOBA? .375? .340? Either way, it’s an upgrade, but one they would have to wait to acquire if they wanted to at all.

Chris asks: What would it take to get Matsui? I’d rather him than a guy like Beltran. 1. Matsui is a proven clutch player unlike Beltran who was left holding the bag in 06-08 during the worst collapses ever. 2. Matsui knows and hits Red Sox pitching unlike Beltran and 3. He costs less (in terms of money and probably prospects).

This was sent in before the Carlos Beltran trade, and I’m not going to spend any time disproving the three points made. Beltran’s a better player than Hideki Matsui and always has been (as for the clutch stuff, look their numbers with RISP, Beltran destroys Matsui), and there’s very little to argue otherwise. But Beltran’s not an option now and probably never really was, so let’s move on.

Anyway, signs point to Matsui being pretty much done. He had a great game against the Yankees on Sunday (5-for-5 with two doubles) and has been on a tear over the last week or so (.500/.528/.882 in eighth games), but that doesn’t make the rest of the season moot. Before this current hot streak, Godzilla was hitting just .212/.294/.328 overall with sub-.300 wOBA’s both at home and on the road. It wasn’t just an Oakland Coliseum thing. Posada’s days as a productive player are over, but he’s still outhitting Matsui against right-handed pitchers, .339 wOBA vs. .290. Andruw Jones is also outhitting Matsui against lefties, .374 wOBA vs. .367, so I’m not sure where the upgrade is.

If the Athletics were to trade Matsui, the return would have to be minimal. He’s got no defensive value and is in clear decline, one hot week doesn’t change that.

(AP)

Matt asks: Any chance the Yankees will make a play for Melky Cabrera? He’s having a good season in KC and he’s a switch hitter.

Melky’s having a great year, he’s hitting .297/.333/.453 (.347 wOBA) and has been worth 3.2 fWAR, more than the first five-plus years of his career combined (2.6). Where does he play though? Is the plan for him to replace Andruw? Jones is outhitting Melky against left-handed pitchers (.374 wOBA vs. .332), though he’s a definite upgrade over Chris Dickerson. What would happen when Alex Rodriguez comes back though? Dickerson’s the one going down for him. I’m also unconvinced that Melky could play like he has in a part-time role, it’s not an accident that he’s having his best season when he knows he’ll be playing everyday (or when he’s in his age 26 season, but that’s besides the point).

The Royals appear uninterested in dealing Cabrera because they will be able to retain him as an arbitration-eligible player next year, and it would take quite a bit to acquire him now. I don’t think the upgrade is big enough to warrant a move, not when he’d only be a bench player.

* * *

I don’t really see any of these three guys as a fit for the Yankees. They have a big bat waiting in Triple-A if they want to replace their designated hitter, and the cost associated with acquiring Melky to replace Jones makes it a lateral move at best. Reunions are always fun, but there’s no match here. Nostalgia won’t win them anything this year, not unless they bring back early-2000’s Andy Pettitte or Mike Mussina.

A-Rod ‘begged’ Yankees to sign Melky this winter

Via Jon Heyman, Alex Rodriguez “begged” the Yankees to sign Melky Cabrera this past offseason after the two trained together in Miami over the winter. For what it’s worth, Melky showed up to Royals’ camp legitimately in the best shape of his life this spring, but it hasn’t helped him with his play. After signing for $1.25M, the Melkman is hitting just .274/.280/.397 in 75 plate appearances this season, which is worse than what he did with Atlanta last year in terms of OBP, but better in terms of SLG. Either way, it still stinks.

I assume that if the Yankees had listened to A-Rod, Melky would have filled the Andruw Jones role of lefty mashing fourth outfielder. The problem with that is that Cabrera is a .274/.330/.390 career hitter against southpaws, his weaker side. Hey, Melky was a fun and energetic guy with a knack for big hits, but Alex should really stick to hitting baseballs.

Melky lands in Kansas City

While Carl Crawford may have landed in Boston tonight, the Kansas City Royals nabbed themselves a former Yankee outfielder today. According to Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi, former RAB whipping boy Melky Cabrera is on the verge of a one-year deal with Kansas City worth $1.25 million. Melky, who hit .255/.317/.354 with 4 HR in 509 PAs for Atlanta this year and was released last month, will join the newly acquired Jeff Francoeur in a Spring Training fight for a starting job. Talk about a fearsome outfield.