Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Orlando Cabrera Trade

For the record, I didn't see the Twins acquiring Orlando Cabrera as an upgrade. Cabrera is no longer an elite defensive shortstop, and he's actually a liability there. His offense has been terrible in every month except July, and his on base percentage is absolutely awful. Factoring in all of that, along with the fact that Gardy thinks Cabrera is a #2 hitter, and I felt it was a mistake to trade for Cabrera.

Prior to arriving in Minnesota, Cabrera played in 101 games this season for Oakland, and had amassed a .280/.318/.365 line while playing poor defense. Since arriving in Minnesota, Cabrera has played in 48 games and is hitting .255/.288/.399. The difference in OPS between Oakland and Minnesota is only 4 points, and a sub .700 OPS from a defensive liability at shortstop is hardly a desired commodity at the trading deadline. Unfortunately, Bill Smith didn't get the memo, and he traded a former 2nd round pick to get Cabrera.

Quick sidetrack--friends of mine have argued with me that the Twins hardly gave up a quality prospect in Tyler Ladendorf to land Cabrera, and adding Cabrera makes Mauer more likely to re-sign here because it shows the Twins are doing things to try to win now. First, about Ladendorf, maybe the Twins scouts soured on him and he never makes it to the big leagues. Unfortunately, it was Bill Smith and his scouts that wasted a second round pick on the kid, and shelled out nearly half a million dollars to sign him. Giving up on him after about a years worth of at-bats doesn't bother me, but making such a big mistake that they now feel it's clear he won't make it to the big leagues is indefensible. As far as the Mauer situation, I'll get into that tomorrow in plenty more detail.

Back to Cabrera, though. At the time of the trade, I told friends and family it was the wrong decision to trade for him. They said Cabrera was a major upgrade over Brendan Harris and Nick Punto, and since we gave up a minor leaguer it was a no-brainer. There's obviously plenty wrong with that logic, but the most glaring incorrect statement is that Orlando Cabrera, at this point in his career, isn't a major upgrade over anyone. I agreed that he was a slight upgrade over Punto at shortstop, but what people didn't understand was that there was no way Gardenhire was going to bench Punto and continue to play Harris with Cabrera. Instead, Cabrera's bat replaced Brendan Harris in the every day lineup and at shortstop, with Punto maintaining his starting job at second base.

Harris has a career .267/.324/.396 line, and in his age 28 season it seemed unlikely he would see a major decline in his career averages if given an everyday position. As a part-time player, (AKA limited sample size) Harris has hit .262/.310/.364. That's only 13 points lower than Cabrera's OPS since arriving in Minnesota, and for as often as Gardy criticizes how 'unnatural' Harris looks on defense, he's been a better defensive shortstop this season. (Again, limited sample size, so he very well could be worse)

The Twins gave up a 2nd round pick to basically get equal production from the shortstop position without upgrading significantly anywhere else. The biggest issue I had with the trade, however, was the way the lineup was going to be configured. Prior to Cabrera's arrival, the Twins were consistently going with a lineup of:

Span/Mauer/Morneau/Cuddyer/Kubel/Crede/Young/Harris/Punto

After the Cabrera trade, the lineup has almost exclusively been:

Span/Cabrera/Mauer/Morneau/Kubel/Cuddyer/Crede/Young/Punto

Obviously, Crede's injury has switched the lineup around some. The best defense for the Cabrera trade is that now the Twins can use Brendan Harris at third, since Crede is out for the year. Unfortunately, Gardy has given most the at bats over the last week and a half to Matt Tolbert. Yes, Matt Tolbert. Rather than having Mauer hit with one of the best lead-off hitters in baseball ahead of him and often on base, the Twins are basically giving away an out between Mauer and Span. Cabrera has gotten on base less than 30% of the time since arriving here. That's unacceptable, and even more unacceptable when he's hitting directly in front of the AL MVP and the rest of our productive middle of the order.

I don't think Gardenhire will ever figure out that the #2 slot doesn't need to be filled by a light-hitting middle infielder, which is a shame. It's often said the lineup doesn't make much of a difference over the season, which is true in most cases. However, when the Twins are now 2.5 games back in the division, and were 1 win away last season from making the playoffs, one or two games mean everything. Unfortunately, Bill Smith has failed this team again at the deadline, and Gardy continues to stick to his incorrect beliefs, and chances are it's going to cost the Twins another playoff chance.