I have a slightly different take on the Cabrera trade than most others. I believe there are two different statements, both true, that intertwine through this deal. Most people focus on the first one, but the second one is likely why the Mariners made the trade, and why I don’t really mind it.
1. The Mariners value the wrong type of player and do not understand the principles of freely available talent. They care little for established performance, instead valuing players based on tools-oriented scouting reports, mixing in near-worthless statistics like clutch hitting or saves, and believing that career years demonstrate a players potential rather than an unrepeatable outlier. Cabrera fits all these criteria, as a tools fiend who can play anywhere on the field, but has a long history of being a miserable hitter. He had an obvious career year last year, but the odds of it being repeated are between slim and none. Giving up a cheap arm like Looper and an interesting performer like Ketchner for this type of player simply shows that the team didn’t have the forsight to acquire this type of talent in the offseason, when the price was significantly lower. This constant overpaying for underperformance is going to hurt the Mariners in the long haul.
2. Jolbert Cabrera is now the best player on the Mariners’ bench. As sad as this is to hear, this trade legitimately makes the M’s better. PECOTA’s weighted mean projection for Cabrera is .254/.317/.370. That isn’t a good player, but compare it to the options the M’s were looking at. Bloomquist was tabbed for a .247/.303/.341 line. Ramon Santiago is projected at .248/.317/.339. PECOTA expects McCracken at .259/.310/.366. Cabrera is also a legitimately tremendous defensive outfielder with great range. Ideally, I’d like to see Cabrera platoon with Ibanez against southpaws, with Jolbert taking CF and Winn moving to LF. Against southpaws the past three years, Jolbert has hit .282/.321/.411, which isn’t a great line, but beats the tar out of Ibanez’s .253/.294/.399 line, and he’ll add a significant defensive upgrade.
Cabrera’s strengths — hitting southpaws, defensive prowess in the outfield — were glaring weaknesses for the M’s. If properly used, Cabrera should make the M’s a better team in 2004. Even if Melvin refuses to platoon Ibanez against lefties, we have to assume that any playing time Cabrera receives is going to be taken away from inferior players, and that in and of itself is a good thing. There is always the possibility, however slight, that last years improvement was more sustainable than we think, and if Cabrera can come close to anything resembling his 2003 numbers, he’s going to be a very nice addition to the team.
Also, there’s been quite a bit of hand wringing over the decision to trade Aaron Looper and Ryan Ketchner. Looper is being described as a major league ready arm, and Ketchner’s tremendous performance last year in the California League is causing others to claim we traded away a legitimate top prospect. In reality, both of these players are easily replaceable parts with suspect value on the trade market. Ketchner was ranked 19th on the most recent Future Forty, while Looper was right behind him at number 20. Ketchner’s stuff is so underwhelming that even the most optimistic supporters compare him to Craig Anderson, who posted similar numbers in class-A ball before turning into a pumpkin against better hitters. Looper, likewise, lacks an outpitch and has posted ERA’s not matched by his peripheral numbers. He’s a decent option for a team looking for a long reliever at the league minimum, but he’s also a member of the biggest club in baseball; The Below Average Right-Handed Relief Pitcher. You’ll find card carrying members of this club on street corners asking for handouts. You’ll run into six of them at the grocery store. You’ve probably been mugged by one. These guys are everywhere. Losing one isn’t that big of a deal. There are approximately 2.4 million more where he came from.
Now, we all realize that Looper is better than Kevin Jarvis, and in an ideal world, the team would have dumped Jarvis months ago. But this isn’t an ideal world, and we have to realize that this organization was not going to do that. So, in the context of the M’s and the people making the decisions, they traded two bit parts not likely to make an impact in ’04, and only moderately likely to have future value, for someone who instantly became their best reserve and a passable option as a platoon partner for two players who badly need platooning.
Does this trade continue to signal that the Mariners are unable to correctly assess the market for talent and place value on things that aren’t valuable? Sure it does. Does throwing a million dollars at Jolbert Cabrera strike of fiscal irresponsibility on a team that complains over every bonus earned by their stars? Absolutely. But in the end, this trade makes the Mariners better this year, and we have sorely lacked transactions where that was the bottom line. We should be grateful that the M’s improved their chances of winning the division, no matter how slight, because we haven’t had an opportunity to say that after many of the transactions this year.
And so it begins. Billy Beane protege Paul DePodesta — who, I might add, the M’s didn’t even talk to about their vacant GM job despite the fact that he wasn’t under contract at the time — first fleeces the M’s out of two pitchers for Jolbert Cabrera and now adds an All-Star caliber center fielder. In Franklin Gutierrez, DePodesta traded away exactly the sort of prospect you might expect he would — a toolsy outfielder with poor plate discipline.
This isn’t to say he’s not a good prospect, but it’s not as if the Dodgers traded away a can’t miss, top-shelf sort of talent. In any event, the M’s could/should have been in on this one.
Rounding out the weekend’s news, if you haven’t already heard: Bloomquist and Cabrera both make the team, Santiago sent to Tacoma. As expected, Myers gets the last bullpen spot and Mulholland gets released. I’ll have a new Big Board up to reflect all these moves in the next day or so.