Back in 2006, the Indians had the bright idea of a first base platoon of Ben Broussard and the 36-year old right-handed free agent signee Eduardo Perez. All credit to the great Anthony Castrovince, now of MLB.com and formerly at Indians.com, who came up with perhaps the greatest nickname in baseball platoon history: Benuardo.
The Benuardo experience left us all hollow. Perez lasted three months before being sent to Seattle, a team desperate for right-handed pop, for a light-hitting minor league shortstop with great hands. His name was Asdrubal Cabrera. At the time, nobody knew who Asdrubal was and nobody had any idea if he could play or not.
Then came the 2007 season. The Indians caught fire and raced out to a division lead for the first time in six years. They had a major hole at second base with the slumping Josh Barfield just not doing the job. Then GM Mark Shapiro reached down to AAA and called up Cabrera, a natural shortstop and the heir to the position once Jhonny Peralta moved over or moved on.
The man we call “Cabbie” energized the team down the stretch, starting out as a bottom-of-the-order bat and turning into the perfect two-hole hitter while the Indians rode into the playoffs. In 45 games, Cabrera hit .283/.354/.421 while playing stellar defense. His range and hands had us all thinking we had just unearthed another gem for literally nothing.
A year later, he was back as the everyday second baseman and shortstop-in-waiting. He didn’t put up great numbers (.259/.346/.366) but he had a solid 3.0 WAR and a career-high 1.7 dWAR. Manager Eric Wedge was very fond of him and the future seemed bright. Then, 2009 rolled around and the Peralta to third experiment was on. It was time for Cabrera to take his rightful place on the left side of the diamond. He hit .308/.361/.438 and stole 17 bases.
After an injury-plagued 2010, the best two seasons of his career were about to begin. Asdrubal made back-to-back All star teams in ’11 and ’12, but in both seasons, he became known just as much for his great first halves as he did for falling off a cliff after the All-Star break. His swing also got bigger as his body began to change. Asdrubal’s love for the long ball became an issue after he crushed a career-high 25 homers while driving in 92 runs in 2011. His swing got longer and the strikeouts became more frequent. The Indians were still enamored enough with him to extend his contract before the 2012 season; it was a three-year $21.05 million deal which had a third year of $10 million. That is where we sat coming into 2014.
While Asdrubal’s bat was becoming more powerful, his defense suffered. Anyone who has watched the Indians regularly over the past four seasons can tell you his range went from great to good to average to brutal. The more pounds that came onto his frame, the slower he got in the field. There was an aura about him as the years went on here, almost like he was just “out there.” His play at both the plate and in the field got sloppy. Routine plays were no longer routine. He dropped more throws on double-play balls than he should have and his at-bats became extremely frustrating over the past two seasons.
After the 2012 season, the Indians had their chances to send Cabrera out for a decent haul. He was a back-to-back All-Star, despite his slow second halves, and was under club control for two more seasons. Plus the Indians had acquired Mike Aviles from Toronto and had All-World prospect Francisco Lindor in the pipeline. Instead, they held onto Cabrera and watched as his value plummeted during a painful-to-watch 2013 campaign. Cabrera hit just .242/.299/.402 with 114 K’s and a career-low -0.9 dWAR. Despite his team’s success, Asdrubal looked like a guy on the wrong side of 30 instead of in his prime at age 27.
The Indians were all but stuck with Cabrera in the last year of his deal that paid him $10 million this season. They decided to play out the string with him, hope for one last renaissance year, and then either get a nice haul for him at the deadline, or potentially get a draft pick for him in free agency. To me, that bet was one that shouldn’t have been made. You could see him slowing down over two seasons ago and did nothing about it. The end for me was his first-pitch swinging, double-play grounder with the bases loaded with the Tribe down 3-0 to the Rays in last year’s playoff loss. It was just another in a long line of frustrating, zero patience at-bats that we had become all too familiar with.
Because of the public outcry after trade deadline deals of CC Sabathia (a clear Tribe win), Cliff Lee (the right move, the WRONG trade), and Victor Martinez (call it a wash), it was almost as if the front office became gun shy of selling guys off at their peak value. Exhibit A in this exercise is Cabrera. We had heard the previous two offseasons that the St. Louis Cardinals – desperate for shortstop help – had their eyes on Cabrera. Yet the Indians held him, and held him, and held him. Then they watched as his skills diminished with the stick and with the glove.
So now Asdrubal is gone, off to Washington to play second base for the Nationals. I can’t say I am sad to see him go as he had worn on me over the past few seasons, but the guy gave us seven and a half seasons. When I saw that, I couldn’t believe how long he had been here. Where did that time go? Cabbie was part of the Eric Wedge, Manny Acta, and Terry Francona regimes. He has seen a lot here in Cleveland. But with Lindor a year away and Aviles and Jose Ramirez more than capable, there was no reason to keep Cabrera around to play out the string. And before you even mention it, no … NO … no way Lindor should be called up right now. He has played less than two weeks in AAA and is 20 years old. Let him spread his wings a little and re-evaluate the plan this winter.
With Cabbie being a rental, the Nats weren’t going to offer up much in the way of top prospects. The Indians are getting 24-year old AAA infielder Zach Walters, a shortstop by trade who can play second or third as well. He hit 29 homers in AAA a season ago. Walters could end up being the next Cabrera, a guy nobody knew or thought much of who ends up giving his new team some nice years. Say what you want about the Indians front office and their inability to draft and develop top-tier players, but the one thing you can say is they have a knack for finding diamonds in the rough.
They just traded one of those guys today.