The Mets made a pair of moves yesterday, and the first one was the headliner, as they sent Jon Niese to the Pittsburgh Pirates for second baseman Neil Walker. But a few hours later, the team agreed to a two-year, $18.5 million deal with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. The contract also includes a team option for a third year. With that, the Mets got themselves a new middle infield in one day.
Born in Venezuela on November 13, 1985, Cabrera signed with the Seattle Mariners in 2002. He made his debut in Low-A ball in 2004 and spent two seasons and part of a third in the Mariners’ system until they traded him to the Cleveland Indians in the middle of the 2006 season. By that time, he was playing in Triple-A, as Seattle had him skip Double-A, and Cleveland kept him there for the rest of that season. But he spent much of 2007 in Double-A before getting called up for his first shot at the big leagues.
After seven-and-a-half seasons with Cleveland, Cabrera was traded to the Washington Nationals at the trade deadline in 2014. He hit free agency following the season and signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. With them for all of the 2015 season, he hit .265/.315/.430 with 15 home runs and a 104 wRC+, his best season at the plate in the past few years.
A career .267/.329/.412 hitter with a 103 wRC+, Cabrera’s best seasons at the plate came in 2011 and 2012. Over those two years, he hit .272/.335/.443 with 41 home runs and a 116 wRC+, but he didn’t come close to matching those numbers over the two seasons that followed.
Like Neil Walker, Cabrera is a switch-hitter. Unlike Walker, he has no significant platoon split as a hitter. Cabrera has been slightly above league average from both sides of the plate over the course of his career.
Cabrera doesn’t figure to be great in the field at shortstop, at least per defensive metrics DRS and UZR/150, both of which rated his work relatively poorly—at -7 and -10.4, respectively—in 2015. Those numbers were nearly identical to the ones he posted in 2014, but his worst year by both metrics actually came in 2013. That doesn’t necessarily make him a major defensive liability, but Andrelton Simmons he is not.
With Ruben Tejada and Wilmer Flores still on their roster, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Mets made a move that involved one of them, as Cabrera figures to get the starting job at short. He might not be a drastic improvement over either Tejada or Flores, but he seems like a surer thing than either player over the next couple of years. The contract looks fine relative to salaries across baseball in 2015, even if it seems a bit rich for the Mets’ low payroll.