Alex Anthopoulos’s Canadian roots are showing again. Who says Christmas shopping doesn’t start until U.S. Thanksgiving?
The Toronto Blue Jays’ general manager finished off what will be a career-defining week on Friday when the team agreed to terms with free agent Melky Cabrera, betting two years and $16-million (U.S.) that he will make good on a second chance after missing out on the San Francisco Giants’ World Series run. It leaves the Blue Jays looking at a payroll between $120-million and $130-million.
Cabrera was suspended for 50 games in August after elevated levels of testosterone were found in one of his urine samples.
There was no official announcement on the signing, just as there was no formal announcement about the 12-player trade the Blue Jays made with the Miami Marlins on Tuesday.
Nobody in baseball expects commissioner Bud Selig to overturn the Blue Jays’ acquisition of Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio, although he might enjoy letting Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria twist through the weekend.
There will be questions about what type of player the Blue Jays are receiving in Cabrera – the juiced-up hitter who was in the middle of a .346 season and on his way to the National League batting title when he flunked his test, or the player who hit .255 in 147 games with the 2010 Atlanta Braves. But Cabrera, a 28-year-old switch hitter whose suspension was clouded by the bizarre creation of a fake website for a non-existent supplement, can help the Blue Jays if he plays up to his career averages.
Anthopoulos went into the off-season needing an upgrade in overall on-base percentage, and pitchers who can give a team 200 innings – welcome, Johnson and Buehrle.
The career OBPs of Reyes and Bonifacio – .342 and .329, respectively – would put them ahead of the 2012 statistics of every Blue Jays starter with the exceptions of Edwin Encarnacion (.384) and Jose Bautista (.358). So would Cabrera’s career OBP (.338).
More to the point, if the 28-year-old Cabrera is in fact the Blue Jays’ left fielder in 2013, he will be a significant upgrade at that position if he just plays up to his average season: a .284 batting average with 11 homers and 69 runs batted in, and a .752 on-base plus slugging, compared to the puny .245/.656 numbers put up by the odds and sods of 2012.
Cabrera’s career numbers are skewed by at least one season in which he failed a test for performance-enhancing drugs. But coupled with the additions of Reyes and Bonifacio, who are both jackrabbits, his presence gives the Blue Jays a deeper lineup that will have four switch hitters if another free-agent signing, Maicer Izturis, is on the field.
Cabrera’s career average against left-handed pitching is .279 with a .749 OPS, so he’ll help in the Blue Jays’ quest to add some length to their lineup against lefty starters. Cabrera hit .395 with a 1.111 OPS against lefties last season, so look out if there is a new, non-drug reality that is closer to the 2012 Melky than the career Melky.
Now all the Blue Jays need is a manager able to speak Spanish and skipper the hell out of a lineup loaded with speed and switch hitters. Whether it’s Cabrera or Bonifacio hitting second – or even if Cabrera ends up as a middle-of-the-order lefty bat, breaking up the righty logjam of Brett Lawrie, Bautista and Encarnacion – it is a scandalously fast team for artificial turf at a time when speed, pitching and defence are the orders of the day.
It is a fact that the Giants’ players decided against putting Cabrera on their World Series roster, and it is a fact that Cabrera has already broken hearts once. So there is a leap of faith here. But Cabrera has paid a financial price.
Torii Hunter, nine years older, signed a $26-million contract over two years with the Detroit Tigers, and if the Melk Man is smart enough not to leave any more surprise messages in a bottle, Anthopoulos’s 2013 chemistry experiment could be something to behold.