A’s Sign Cabrera

The AL West continues to get more interesting. Capitalizing on a winter of depressed salaries, the A’s today signed shortstop Orlando Cabrera to a one year, $4 million deal – according to our dollar values here on FanGraphs, Cabrera has been worth an average of $13.5 million over the last four years, and hasn’t been worth less than $10 million in any season since 2004. In any other market environment, Cabrera would have received a significantly larger contract, but the combination of an imploding economy and his Type A free agent status drove down the suitors, so Cabrera had to settle for the best offer from the only team that expressed serious interest.

That suitor, of course, was an A’s team that has clearly shifted it’s focus towards trying to steal the AL West in 2009. With the Angels likely to take a significant step backwards in terms of wins, the winner of the AL West could finish with less than 90 wins. CHONE has the Angels as the best team in the division, but only projected to finish 85-77. The A’s, before signing Cabrera, were projected at 81-81, clearly within striking distance of a playoff berth.

So, how much ground do the A’s make up on the Angels with this move? Cabrera’s playing time will come at the expense of Bobby Crosby, so we simply need to take a look at their respective projected performances to see how much of a boost Oakland should expect.

We’ll start with Cabrera. CHONE is down on his offense, as 34 year old middle infielders don’t age particularly well. He’s projected for a park adjusted -13 runs offensively over a full season, slightly worse than the -11 he posted last year.

However, the A’s are acquiring Cabrera for his glove, not his bat – his UZR of +16.4 last year was the best in baseball among shortstops. Of course, it was also a significant leap over his prior two years performance, and we’ve consistently cautioned against using a single year’s worth of defensive data to project future performance. Over his career, UZR has Cabrera at +7.2 runs per full season, and he’s +7.9 over the last three years. A more accurate assumption about his defense going forward is that he’s above average to good, but not likely to be +16 again.

If we project Cabrera as +5 defensively at shortstop to go along with his -13 offensively, add in the +7.5 run position adjustment, and the +20 run replacement level adjustment, it adds up to +19.5 runs above replacement. Basically, that makes Cabrera a league average shortstop. If you think we’re underselling his defense, you can add half a win, but the A’s should expect Cabrera to be something like +1.5 to +2.5 wins above a replacement level shortstop in 2009.

However, while Crosby has struggled the last few years, he’s still been slightly better than replacement level. He hasn’t hit, but he’s played average defense for an SS, and his combination of -19 offense, +0 defense, +7.5 position adjustment, and +20 replacement level adjustment adds up to +8.5 runs above replacement over a full season, or a little less than one win.

In total, Cabrera should be about a +1 win upgrade over Crosby at shortstop for the A’s. Given their new roster, you can bump the A’s up to 82 or 83 projected wins, but they’re still a couple of games behind the Angels.

Is that win worth $4 million and a second round draft pick? Probably. The marginal value of wins rises significantly as a team gets close to playoff contention – the revenues generated from playing in October are significant to every organization. The A’s still aren’t the favorites in the AL West, but they’re not that far behind the Angels, and this move gives them one more weapon to try to bring down the Angels.

For $4 million and a second round pick, it’s a gamble worth taking.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Jacob Jackson
13 years ago

Other positive considerations for the A’s:

*The A’s will probably finish with one of the 15 best records in baseball this year. So, this was the year to invest in a Type A free agent, when it wouldn’t cost a first-rounder.

*Next year, the team will have the flexibility to offer Cabrera arbitration, if a better shortstop replacement hasn’t presented itself internally (which is very likely, unfortunately).

*If another team suffers a shortstop injury this spring and Bobby Crosby magically develops trade value, he may garner the equivalent value of the second-round pick (approximately #60-63) in return via trade.

*If Mark Ellis winds up on the shelf for an extended period of time, the A’s still have two starting middle infielders to open the season. In this scenario, I’d imagine Cabrera would be the one who shifted over to 2b, even though he’s the better defender.

*Having Crosby as the team’s backup MIF for the time being is a slight upgrade over Pennington/Petit, even if we’re only talking 1/2 a win. Perhaps more importantly, it allows the team to start Pennington and Petit in Sacramento so that they can continue to get daily at-bats. It’s still possible one of that duo will be the team’s opening-day 2010 shortstop.