Is Asdrubal Cabrera another Carlos Baerga in the making?
By Jeff Ellis
December 4, 2012
I remember after the 1995 season there was talk that Roberto Alomar was going to come to Cleveland. The Indians were on the rise and loaded with talent. The team had money to burn, a full house every night, and Alomar wanted to play with his brother. The Indians approached Carlos Baerga, who was a below average second basemen, if he was willing to move to third base. His answer was no, and the Indians failed to sign Alomar.
At the time no one knew that Baerga would not even last the next year with the Tribe, and that his career overnight would go from All Star to below average player.
In many ways Baerga is one of the more underappreciated Indians. I remember the Akron Beacon Journal listing him, Rogers Hornsby, and one other second basemen in a small club as the only second basemen to have 200 hits, 20 homeruns, 100 RBI, and hit .300 in the same season. If not for Alomar he would have been the premiere second basemen in all of baseball, and just when he should have been hitting his prime it was over.
Baerga was traded on July 29, 1996 with Alvaro Espinoza for Jeff Kent and José Vizcaino. The Indians panic sold on Kent a few months later because they needed to add power after the loss of Albert Belle, and got Matt Williams who would then get flipped for Travis Fryman a year later.
Over the course of the next decade the Indians constantly looked outside their organization to try and find a second baseman. Some like Ronnie Belliard and Roberto Alomar worked, and some not so much with the likes of Ricky Gutierrez and Josh Barfield. The Indians always looked in free agency or through trades to fill the second base void, and an option from the minors never really presented itself until Asdrubal Cabrera in 2007 - a player who in a lot of ways is very similar to Baerga.
Both players were acquired by the Indians when they were 20 years of age and would end up in the majors the following year with the Tribe, both debuting at second base at the age of 21. Both were players the Indians wanted to change positions with, something they actually did with Asdrubal, and they both were All Stars and Silver Sluggers the sometimes left a lot to be desired on defense.
In terms of stats both have been slightly better players in the first half of the season, and their career numbers are eerily similar. They have the same first half OPS+ for their career at 102, and the second half numbers are similar as Baerga has a 98 OPS+ plus and Cabrera a 96 OPS+. They are extremely similar hitters, right down to both rarely walking, though Baerga did strike out less. For their careers Asdrubal has a .757 OPS and Baegra has a .754 OPS. Their career WAR's are also similar as Baerga had a 17.2 and Cabrera has a 17.1 to date. The stats show two similar hitters with comparable offensive abilities where Cabrera hit for more power and Baerga got on base more.
While the offensive numbers are very similar, it would be hard to compare these two players without talking about some of the negatives. As mentioned before Baerga was a below average defender and Cabrera has been better but nothing more than average at best. I know people see the web gems and don't believe he can be below average or average defensively, but Cabrera has been on par with Jhonny Peralta defensively the majority of his career at shortstop.
The other issue for both of these players is a continued lack of conditioning. Baerga would often show up for spring training out of shape, round into form, and then get tired towards the end of the year. This is exactly the case with Cabrera today as he is out of shape at the outset of spring training and his performance fades in the second half because of his weight issues. This is a major concern as even the most ardent Cabrera fan would agree his defense slipped last year, and in the second half his bat completely fell off.
What makes this comparison so scary is Baerga fell apart at the age of 27, which is the age Asdrubal will be at the start of next season. The reason for this collapse was a mix of a history of bad conditioning, late night partying, and because his skill set was not the type that meshed with the decline in his skills. A hitter like Jim Thome has lasted so long because he has an eye to spot and destroy mistakes while also taking walks and getting on base, he just can't always catch up to them like he once did.
Other skills diminish but a batters eye does not, but neither Baerga or Asdrubal have had great eyes in their careers. Their skills are based on being able to see the ball then hit the ball, and the lack of conditioning means a skill like this is going to decline quicker than someone who stays in top form.
Cabrera is unlikely to stay on the same career path as Baegra even if the stats do show an extreme similarity. I can't see him falling off a cliff like Baegra did, but I think a decline would not be unexpected. This is part of the reason I think the Indians should sell and sell now on Cabrera. I am 100% sure his value will never be higher. When you add in the fact the Indians have Mike Aviles - who is a starter in this league as I don't see how there are 32 better shortstops out there - it only makes sense to move Cabrera in a trade this offseason.
Much like Baegra, Cabrera was a steal in a deal. Baegra was a lesser piece in a major deal, while Asdrubal was the only piece n a minor deal. Even still, both players provided greater value than could have been expected. Yet it seems to be time to make sure and get as much value as the Indians can and be proactive by moving Cabrera while his value is peaked and while he can be replaced.
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Certainly a disappointment after his great early years, but still seemed to be pretty consistent although at a lower level of performance.
Weight was certainly a problem for Baerga, I suspect that it did end up prematurely bringing down his career. However, I do think he was pretty consistent but on two levels, a great hitter for 5 years and then an average batter for the rest of his career.
Likewise with ACab, I suspect this past season is pretty much what he'll do the next 5 or so years. It isn't what one may have hoped based on his previous season, but I basically see him as a consistent .270/.330/.440 type of batter with 15 or so HRs.
BTW who are the rumored players for Cabera?