PHILADELPHIA — What could Asdrubal Cabrera do to boost his market this coming winter?
He seems determined to find out.
Oh, Cabrera won’t discuss this much.
“I don’t want to think about it,” he said Saturday at Citizens Bank Park, before the Mets’ game against the Phillies was postponed, and then he reiterated: “I don’t want to think about it. I just come here to do my job, and after the season, we’ll see.”
Yet the 32-year-old is off to the sort of start that, if sustained even partially, can challenge the conventions established during last winter’s free-agent drought.
Cabrera entered Saturday set to start for the 36th time in the Mets’ 37 games, and you could understand both sides’ enthusiasm over such frequency. He carried a .326/.375/.551 slash line, and his 45 hits tied him (with the Braves’ Freddie Freeman, the Pirates’ Starling Marte and the Reds’ Scooter Gennett) for the fourth-most in the National League.
“We want him in the lineup every day,” Mickey Callaway said of Cabrera. “He and [Yoenis Cespedes] have kind of been on the same page. They want to go out there and play. Even when we were going good, especially now that we’re going bad, they want to play every day, go out there and help the team. And I don’t blame them.
“So my conversations with them are tough. At some point, these days off will end and we’re going to have to make sure that they just sit. We’ve done it a couple of times for these guys. But right now, they’re wanting to play every day.”
Cespedes has been battling an achy right quad that compromises his availability and athleticism. If Cabrera faces any such restrictions, he is hiding them well. Though he said, “I’m not doing anything different” at the plate, 27 percent of his batted balls had been line drives, as per FanGraphs — a noticeable jump from last year’s 20.4 percent and his previous career best of 23.4 percent with the 2012 Indians.
Let’s assume the grind of the season slows him down some so that he winds up with, say, three wins above replacement instead of the current 4.5 or so for which he projects, as per Baseball-Reference.com. How large of a package could Cabrera land entering his age-33 season?
It’s hard to find a good parallel to Cabrera, who can switch-hit, draw a walk, play multiple infield positions competently and owns a good reputation as a clubhouse asset. Nevertheless, if you look at how the market largely frowned upon position players over 30, you’d bet that it’ll be hard for him to match the two-year, $18.25-million package the Mets gave him in December 2015, which turned into a three-year, $24.75 million contract when the Mets exercised his team option for 2018.
“They picked up the option right away after the World Series,” Cabrera said. “I was happy about it.”
Had the Mets bought out the $8.25 million option for $2 million, it’s questionable whether Cabrera could have matched the $6 million on which he would’ve lost out. Remember that infielder Eduardo Nunez, who turns 31 in June, signed a one-year contract with a team option for 2019 guaranteeing him $6 million. Or that Cabrera’s former Mets double-play partner Neil Walker, who is about two months older than Cabrera, received just $4 million for the Yankees to rescue him from spring-training oblivion.
“I know it was really tough last year,” Cabrera acknowledged.
The Players Association’s saber-rattling notwithstanding, little reason exists to think it won’t be much easier this coming offseason. Even if the Yankees and Dodgers spend a few more bucks after getting under the $197 million luxury-tax threshold and resetting their tax rates, they’re both all aboard their respective youth movements.
“I’m not worried about it,” Cabrera asserted, and that’s the right approach to take. For those of us who study this sort of stuff, though, he could represent another interesting test case in baseball’s rapidly evolving economic scene.
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