In 2011, Asdrubal Cabrera had a monster season for the Cleveland Indians. He hit 25 home runs, had a .792 OPS and a 119 wRC+, and was worth 3.6 fWAR—all of those numbers career highs to that point. The tremendous year earned Cabrera an All-Star selection, and he followed it up in 2012 with another solid offensive year, though it wasn’t quite as good as his 2011 season.
The next three years saw the once-great shortstop range merely from below-average to average overall. His star had diminished, and his lackluster hitting paired with his poor shortstop defense was a growing concern. The Mets signed him to a reasonable two-year, $18.5 million contract last offseason, perhaps intrigued by Cabrera’s great second half in 2015 with the Tampa Bay Rays, during which he put up a 151 wRC+ and saw his power numbers spike tremendously.
After a knee injury sidelined him for most of spring training, Cabrera started the season on schedule as the Mets’ Opening Day shortstop. He got off to a nice start to his age-30 season, but his offense, as a whole, took a dip in the middle months of the year. His most consistent source of production was his power; he hit 12 home runs in the first half of the season, which rendered his overall offense around league-average by wRC+.
Perhaps the most notable thing about the first few months of Cabrera’s Mets tenure may have been his brutal numbers with runners in scoring position, highlighted by an obscene 0-for-32 stretch lasting from June to late July. He finally broke the streak on July 27 with an RBI double.
The most encouraging part of Cabrera’s game in the first few months, however, was his noticeably passable defense. He had a reputation going into 2016—from both stats and scouts—of being a very poor defender, with his range quickly becoming so bad that some scouts speculated that he may have to move off shortstop sooner rather than later. But by both the eye test and the defensive metrics in 2016, Cabrera was much better than advertised in the field for the Mets. His steady hands and adept ability at turning double plays was a sight for sore-eyed Mets fans who had just gone through years of questionable middle-infield defense.
In a game against the Rockies on July 31, Cabrera re-aggravated his knee injury while rounding third base. It was an ugly scene, as he needed to be carried off the field, and it raised some questions about whether the Mets’ shortstop would be able to return before the end of the season.
But Cabrera returned from the DL on August 19. He wasn’t fully healthy yet, but he was well enough to play and help the team down the stretch of the season. And did he ever help the team.
Once he returned, something about Cabrera had changed, and it wasn’t just his hair, which was now beach blond. From August 19 to the end of the season, Cabrera hit .345/.406/.636 with a 179 wRC+. He blasted 10 home runs and 11 doubles in that 41-game stretch alone, posted a .291 ISO, struck out only 13.9% of the time, and walked 9.7% of the time. His MVP-level of production was one of the main reasons for the Mets’ drastic late-season turnaround, which saw them go from 60-62 at the time of Cabrera’s return to finishing the year in the first Wild Card spot at 87-75.
That wasn’t all Cabrera did, either. He officially won a spot in Mets fans’ hearts everywhere with a three-run, walk-off home run in the bottom of the eleventh inning against the Phillies on September 22 to give the Mets a wild win at a crucial time in the Wild Card race. Not only was it the most dramatic hit of the season, but it also included the patented double “outta here” call from Gary Cohen:
Almost as great as that home run was the bat flip Cabrera did, knowing the ball was gone as soon as he hit it, and reacting with child-like exuberance immediately:
It is one of the greatest bat flips of all-time, and it’s an image that will live in infamy among Mets fans for years to come.
Cabrera finished his 2016 season with a final line of .280/.336/.474. His 23 home runs, 119 wRC+, and 3.0 fWAR were all his best marks in those respective categories since his 2011 season. Additionally, his -4.5 UZR/150 was the best mark of his career. That said, it’s hard to rely on Cabrera, who turned 31 just yesterday, to match that level of production in 2017. Given his history and age, the Mets probably should plan for some regression from their shortstop.
Regardless, he is due just $8.25 million in 2017, and his contract also includes an $8.25 million team option for 2018. No matter what happens from here, Cabrera’s 2016 season has already rendered him as one of Sandy Alderson’s better signings as Mets general manager.