Pittsburgh Pirates: Does Melky Cabrera Make Sense?

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Over the last week, it has been noted that the Pittsburgh Pirates are interested in adding veteran outfielder Melky Cabrera.  Would he help fill the void?

After the Pittsburgh Pirates traded away Andrew McCutchen, there were questions whether they would look to add a new outfielder to help replace him.  At first, many expected a MLB ready prospect to come back in return, like Derek Fisher from the Astros when Gerrit Cole was traded.  However, they were not able to acquire such an outfielder in their trades.  So then questions were raised, would they look to bring in a free agent or let Jordan Luplow and Adam Frazier platoon in right field?

Well, according to Jon Heyman, the Pittsburgh Pirates are looking into the free agent market for an outfielder.  He specifically noted the team is interested in outfielder Melky Cabrera.  Cabrera split time between the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals last season.  Of course, he is known for his time spent with the New York Yankees and his all-star season with the San Francisco Giants.  His year with the Giants was actually the year that he beat out former Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen for the batting title.  That was back in 2012.  Now it is 2017, and he is 35 years old, so what would he bring to the Pirates roster for 2018?

2017 Season

On the offensive side of things, Cabrera had a decent season last year.  He played in 156 games and had 666 at-bats between the White Sox and Giants.  In those at-bats, he had a slash line of .285/.324/.423, which gives him an OPS of .746, right around his career norm.  His OBP is a little underwhelming, but he made up for it with 17 home runs.  Although he had a .423 slugging and 17 homers, his actual power numbers were not very impressive.  Cabrera’s WRC+ last year was at 98, which is just below what is considered league average at 100.  Also, his ISO was .137, which is positive, but definitely not impressive.  For comparison, Josh Harrison, who is not known for his pop, had an ISO of .160.

Although he does bring much in terms of power, he does an alright job of making contact.  He only struck out 11.1 percent of the time, which was 74 times in 156 games.  On the other side of things, he does not walk much either.  He had 36 walks across the season, giving him a meager 5.4 percent walk rate.  Once again for comparison, Josh Harrison walked at a 5.2% rate last season.  Harrison, of course, is not known for his plate discipline, and this shows that Cabrera does not like going deep into counts either. One difference is that Cabrera does make more contact than Harrison.  Harrison’s contact percentage was at 80 percent last year, while Cabrera sat at 88 recent.  Something the Pittsburgh Pirates like in their hitters are players who do not strike out a lot and put the ball in play.

Defensive Numbers

So in terms of offense, Cabrera has some positives and negatives.  Entering his age 34 season, it is hard to say how much upside Cabrera has on the offensive side of things.  Still, if he put up similar numbers to last season, he would probably provide more offensive consistency than the current plan.  However, the biggest issue with Cabrera is not his offense, but rather his defense.  His UZR/150 in the outfield last season was -11, -17.4 in right field, and -9.1 in left field.  He does not seem to be a good fit for PNC Park’s left field, and his numbers in right are even worse.  He also accounted for -20 defensive runs saved.

Next: Nine Days Until Spring Training

All in all, Cabrera is not the player he once was.  He is regressing offensively, does not provide much pop, and does not get on base at a strong clip.  However, he is a veteran and could be a little more reliable than their current options.  He had a decent season last year, and if he replicated his basic stat line, fans would likely be happy.  On the defensive side of things, he would not provide much, though he might fare just as well as Frazier in the outfield.  Cabrera also could turn into a decent fourth outfield option once Meadows is ready.  What it really comes down to is how much money Cabrera would demand.  In this market he does not have much leverage.  If he can be had for a one year deal around $4-5 million a season, he could be worth it for the Pirates.

*All numbers are courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Reference