Orlando to Cincinnati

As the Reds’ rebuilding efforts move closer and closer to contention in 2010, one remaining roster hole was at SS, where incumbent Paul Janish failed to impress in 2009. The Reds attempted to boost the position on Monday, as the team agreed to a one-year contract with Orlando Cabrera that will pay the 35-year-old 3.02 million dollars.

Cabrera is a known quantity when it comes to his batting. Respectively, over the last two years, Cabrera’s put up 88 and 89 wRC+ totals against a career average of 90. Bill James, CHONE, Marcel, and the Fans all have him between 87 and 89. Over 600 plate appearances, that’s about 8 or 9 runs below average.

What will define Cabrera’s productivity in 2010 will be his defense. After consistently posting great fielding numbers in the UZR era, including a +30 overall total and +8 and +14 totals in 2007 and 2008, O-Cab hit a wall in 2009. In split time between Oakland and Minnesota, Cabrera put up an atrocious -15.3 UZR in 2010. It’s hard to imagine a player collapsing that quickly, especially one as durable as Cabrera (700+ PAs in three straight seasons). Given the measurement error possible in one season of UZR, it’s probable that Cabrera isn’t a -15 fielder now. However, given his age, it is also quite possible if not likely that Cabrera is now a below-average fielder.

Depending on if you think Cabrera is as bad as he is last year (0.5 WAR), just below average, or about -5 UZR (1.5 WAR), or still above average, or about +5 UZR (2.5 WAR), Cabrera is either a steal at $3M or a terrible signing. To the Reds, what’s more important than this signing in a vacuum is the kind of upgrade he represents over Janish.

Paul Janish may be most famous for his 90 MPH fastball, which he flashed in two Reds games last year en route to a 49.50 ERA. Janish put up a stellar +12 UZR last season in a mere 82 games (63 starts), a number backed up by excellent Fan’s Scouting Report numbers. It’s hard to believe that he’s the +24 UZR SS that his 2009 UZR numbers suggest, but +5, as CHONE projects, is very reasonable and better is possible if not probable.

Janish just can’t hit. He hasn’t hit in the minors since A-ball and hasn’t put up a .700+ OPS in AA or AAA, and in 300 major league PAs, he posted a meager 60 wRC+. His BABIP was atrocious last year, at .240, but as a fly ball hitter with minimial power (only above .100 minor league ISO once) and with many infield flies (16.0% IFFB, 7% of total PA). Even with BABIP improvement, CHONE projects a slight increase, to a 77 wRC+, but that’s still brutal. As a +5 SS, that sort of hitting perfomance makes Janish worth about 1.3 wins. With room for breakout and better fielding numbers, Janish could approach 2 WAR, much like Cabrera’s upside.

From a resource standpoint, it doesn’t appear that this is the best use of the Reds’ money. On the surface, Cabrera doesn’t appear to be a major upgrade over Janish. However, we can’t evaluate this deal in a vacuum. The Reds don’t have any other major holes in their roster, perhaps apart from depth. Given the lack of game-changing talent left on the free agent market, both at the SS position and overall, Cabrera should be a good addition. Cabrera won’t be a significant overpay unless his fielding collapse is real, and the depth added by this move could be key if the Reds find themselves in contention this year.

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Mike
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Mike

Maybe I’m missing something, but Cabrera’s value (if he ever had much, and I’d suggest he never had as much as he was paid for on past contracts) was almost entirely driven by his defensive reputation and durability. It would seem to me that such a large decrease in his UZR performance last year in a large single season sample size would indicate regression at best; and complete implosion at worst. Given his age and wear and tear, i’d be inclined to believe the implosion is at least possible. If he can’t play defense he is a useless ml player. In a vacuum, the contract isn’t much, but when compared to the alternatives it seems absurd. Janish is almost certain to be (much) better defensively; likely at least enough better to compensate for however much worse he is offensively, even in a vacuum. The fact, also, is that the difference in how they will be utilized (the Reds have announced that Cabrera will hit 2nd full-time, and Janish would have hit 8th and been pinch hit for often) makes the offensive difference less. Factor in that although Cabrera’s contract wasn’t much, it’s still $3.02M guaranteed (unless they move him), and this is about 7.5 times more than Janish will make (likely around $.4M) and this seems like an extremely wasteful use of resources. To say nothing of the need to free up the payroll room to accomodate the contract cost them Adam Rosales, a player that is still young and has a future and a successful minor league resume. This is before we even talk control of Rosales or the development of Janish, who is still only 27 himself, the age at which many players ‘break out’. $3M here and there adds up for a mid-level market like Cincinnatti. The Willy Taveras deal last year on the face of it was not for an incredibly large dollar amount, but case in point; perhaps the best (maybe only) positive of this whole situation to me seems to be the shedding of Taveras and unblocking of a roster spot for a young outfielder. The Reds to me seem caught in between a full rebuild and trying to sneak in as a WC contender and the loss of financial resources and players in an attempt to compete before the rebuilt core is ready will only serve to siphen off the depth that is on display in, say, the Rays young ML core and ML ready prospects. Shame on Walt Jocketty for buying into Orlando Cabrera’s defensive reputation and not placing more reliance on recent actual performance and age trending.