Add Cabrera to the M’s outfield wish list

 With the signing of free agent slugger Nelson Cruz official the Seattle Mariners have turned their attention to other outfielders that could potentially improve the roster. Melky Cabrera is of interest to the club, according to Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune, and could potentially fill the vacated right field hole.

This comes just days after the Mariners dealt their best all around outfielder Michael Saunders to the Toronto Blue Jays for starter JA Happ. Incidentally, Saunders will essentially fill the left field spot that was occupied by Cabrera in Toronto for the past two seasons.

Cabrera is coming off his first full season of play since 2011 and posted a .301/.351/.458 slash line with a 125 wRC+. He missed 50 games in 2012 due to a suspension for his involvement with the Biogenesis scandal and finished 2013 on the disabled list with what turned out to be a benign tumor in his lower back. Cabrera hit 16 home runs, the second highest mark of his career, and occupied the No. 2 spot in the Blue Jays order for the majority of the season.

The 30-year old is reportedly looking for a five-year deal worth more than $50 million according to Dutton, in line with previous reports that he was after a five-year deal specifically. Given his age a contract of that length is certainly feasible, but we have yet to see the market really heat up for the switch-hitter. It could very soon, however, with Cruz now locked up to a four-year, $57 million contract. Cabrera is the top remaining outfielder on the free agent market.

Cabrera would be a near-perfect addition for the top of the Mariners order as he hits from both sides of the dish and has solid on base skills. There’s also some home run pop in his bat and he hit 35 doubles last year. His 7.2 percent career walk rate isn’t particularly inspiring, but his career .286 average and .339 on base percentage could be. Especially considering the production Seattle received from Abraham Almonte, James Jones, Austin Jackson, Endy Chavez, and Dustin Ackley at the top of the lineup last year.

If the club decides to keep Ackley in left, Cabrera would logically fit on the right side. He saw regular time in center field as recently as 2011, but isn’t a great fielder overall. Cabrera is credited with minus four defensive runs saved in 2014 and hasn’t posted a positive UZR since 2009. He does have a strong arm though, and with the tumor troubles behind him, his mobility in the outfield should be as good as it has ever been. Not having to play half his games on the Rogers Center ‘turf’ in Toronto would certainly help as well.

The switch-hitter received and turned down a qualifying offer from the Blue Jays so he would require a compensatory draft pick to sign. However, after the Mariners signed Nelson Cruz and relinquished their first round pick to the Baltimore Orioles, Cabrera would cost the club their second-round pick in next June’s amateur draft.

[pullquote]Presuming Austin Jackson will hit leadoff to begin 2015, Cabrera would slot between him and Robinson Cano and provide some needed righty-lefty balance. The M’s preference is still to add another bat on the right side.[/pullquote]

Cabrera did indicate a preference to stay on the East Cost, particularly with the Blue Jays, but Dutton says that he is open to other clubs, too. He has spent time with the New York Yankees, Kansas City Royals, and San Francisco Giants aside from the Jays. It is believed that both the Royals and Giants have interest in bringing the outfielder back for a second time.

The biggest factor in bringing Cabrera to Seattle will be, as it always is, the cost. The $50 million number isn’t troubling as much as the five years might be. It’s likely that Seattle will be carrying some dead payroll weight on the back end of the Cruz deal, and considering Cabrera’s injury history and PED connection, there’s a possibility that he will present the same problem. That shouldn’t be a concern for the Mariners though, as the club has signalled a clear intention of competing in 2015.

The loss of the draft pick shouldn’t matter either. If anything, the M’s should be more inclined to add a second qualified free agent given that they’ve already given up 2015’s first round pick, making it much easier to sacrifice a second pick.

On the financial side of things the Mariners are in position to add another significant contract even after the Cruz deal. Reports indicate that Kyle Seager’s brand new extension will be slightly backloaded, as expected, and won’t take up significant space on the 2015 budget. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times asked GM Jack Zduriencik if there was still payroll flexibility available and received, “Yes, yes” as the answer. Given the club’s reported interest in Matt Kemp and Justin Upton, there is certainly room in the budget for a $15 million outfielder.

Cabrera shouldn’t have a problem receiving a four-year deal in the $50-60 million range, akin to the deal signed by Cruz, but it will likely be the team willing to go five years that signs him. We saw the same thing happen with Russell Martin. Five years isn’t terrible if the total value of the deal is between $50 and $60 million, but an average annual value of less than $13 million probably doesn’t get the deal done.

The best thing about Cabrera is that he only costs money, something the Mariners have a lot of. He’s currently projected for 1.7 fWAR in 2015 by Steamer and for comparison Kemp is projected for 2.1 fWAR and is owed $107 million over the next five years. Though the Los Angeles Dodgers are expected to include cash in any potential trade.

A five-year, $75 million contract is a steep price to pay, but certainly isn’t unrealistic at this point. Should the M’s convince Cabrera to head West, the same four-year deal that Cruz signed would be a reasonable price to pay. The fifth year is scary, but as the Mariners are going to find out very quickly, that’s often the cost of success in this industry.

Update: Jon Heyman of CBS Sports confirms the Mariners’ interest in Cabrera and reports that the club is thought to be willing to make a deal in that’s similar in value to the one Cruz signed — four-years and $57 million. Heyman points out the relationship between Cabrera and Cano as a potential point of interest as well as the relationship with Cruz. All three hail from the Dominican Republic and were teammates internationally.

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Tyler Carmont

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