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Melky Cabrera: Rick Hahn’s Surprising Prized Trade Piece

About a week ago, Melky Cabrera robbed Aaron Judge of a home run and fooled many by pretending he never caught the ball.

In the next few weeks, Melky Cabrera could rob a team of one of their highest-ranked prospects. Cabrera has quietly put up a great season with the White Sox, as in 2017 he’s hitting .291, good for twelfth in the majors. Though his power lags a bit behind, with a decent .763 OPS, Cabrera’s reliable bat is a coveted tool on the trade market. Though his contract, which expires after this season, might deter some general managers, Cabrera likely will be dealt by the trade deadline.

Though Cabrera is notorious for using PEDs during his sterling 2012 season, he performs well without steroids anyway. For his career, the Melkman owns a .286 average and a .754 OPS, while avoiding any major injuries. Debuting at the age of 20, Cabrera brings with him a lot of experience and a fun-loving attitude, which makes him an excellent clubhouse presence. Though his beard and “fun veteran” demeanor may portray him as an old player, Cabrera is only 32 and has at least a few good seasons left in him.

As Gar Forman, general manager of the Bulls showed us at the NBA deadline, it can be tough dealing players whose contracts run out following the remainder of the campaign since teams are only guaranteed half of a season of value. Though Forman certainly could have gotten more value in return for Taj Gibson than a trio of bench players, it illustrates to some degree that opposing GMs take contracts very seriously. Yet, Cabrera is a slightly better trade piece than Taj Gibson and deserves a top-100 prospect in return.

Of course, Cabrera is a great player, as I outlined earlier, but it can be difficult to pinpoint his trade value when his contract runs out in half of a season. How much would someone pay for a player like Cabrera? As it turns out, the answer is quite a bit. To depict this, let’s look at a similar trade that occurred in 2015.

One day prior to the trade deadline, the Milwaukee Brewers packaged speedy outfielder Carlos Gomez with starting pitcher Mike Fiers in a deal with the Houston Astros. In return, Houston sent four young players to the Brewers. Three of those players now have a legitimate shot at being starters in the MLB.

The headliner is Josh Hader, who is the #31 prospect in all of baseball and is currently lighting it up in the Brewers bullpen. The Brewers also got outfielder Domingo Santana, who at age 24 has matured into a starting outfielder while hitting .278 with Milwaukee. Lastly, the Astros surrendered dynamic prospect Brett Phillips, rated #10 in the Brewers system after batting .288 with an OPS of .910 and exhibiting great defense in AAA this year.

Though Mike Fiers was a significant part of the transaction, Gomez was the linchpin for the Astros. For comparison purposes, I’ll reason that Gomez = Hader and Phillips in the deal, while Fiers = Santana and Adrian Houser. Now, Gomez certainly differs from Cabrera in a couple aspects, but overall it’s a pretty good comparison. Gomez was 28 when dealt, Cabrera 32. Gomez’s contract also was running out at the end of the 2015 season. Finally, Gomez fell slightly short of Cabrera’s numbers, as he slashed .262/.328/.423 in Milwaukee that year before departing for Houston. All in all, Gomez in 2015 and Cabrera in 2017 present similar values. While Gomez has a slight edge in age, speed, and defense, Cabrera’s superior offense makes up for all that.

What can we make of this? It tells me that Cabrera should at the least net a top-75 prospect. Gomez for Hader was the integral exchange in the deal, and considering Hader is the 31st-ranked prospect by, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hahn managed to get a top-50 prospect in a deadline swap, and then some.

What would a deal look like? 

Now that I’ve established the boundaries of Cabrera’s trade value, it’s time to examine Rick Hahn’s options in the market. Choosing from teams that are contending this year with a weakness in left or right field, the St. Louis Cardinals seem like a prime option. Randall Grichuk is struggling mightily this year in left field, and the Cards don’t seem to have an adequate replacement. Enter Melky Cabrera.

Return: RHP Luke Weaver, OF Harrison Bader

Rick Hahn would certainly ask for injured pitching phenom Alex Reyes or well-rounded catcher Carson Kelly first, but he would likely be turned down. A good middle ground would be Weaver, the Cardinals third-ranked prospect who is #56 in the MLB rankings. Arsenal-wise, he possesses an impressive heater and a great changeup but lacks a good curveball. Weaver has plenty of time to develop before his expected arrival in 2019 and would coincide nicely with the rebuild time frame. Bader is an above-average outfielder who could provide some nice depth in the future for the south siders.

Another good fit would be the Tampa Bay Rays. Though their 44-42 record is not dazzling, they’re only a half a game back in the wild-card race and could use an efficient player in left field so they can move Corey Dickerson back to the DH spot. If Dickerson gets comfortable in left, they could insert Cabrera into the DH role as well.

Return: OF Jake Bauers, RHP Chih-Wei Hu

Bauers is the 62nd ranked prospect in baseball, mixing decent hitting with quality baserunning despite the subpar speed. He provides versatility, as he can play in the corner outfield or at first base as displayed in the minors. Hahn could probably get a higher-ranked outfielder from the Rays, but Hu is an intriguing MLB-ready pitcher with a tricky palm ball and a well-rounded profile.

This is Rick Hahn’s last chance to trade Melky Cabrera, and it will be interesting to see where the veteran outfielder goes. It’s possible the age and contract downsides scare aggressive GMs, but looking at the Carlos Gomez trade, a similar swap is probable.


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