It’s become an annual rite of spring. Right before spring training starts, the Cleveland Indians sign a veteran free agent that they do not seem to need.
Last year, it was Russell Branyan, who took at bats away from Matt LaPorta early in the season. He also was a poor defensive player, clogged up the basepaths when he did get on base, and of course, struck out as often as Lindsay Lohan goes to rehab.
This year, the Tribe has signed 36-year-old veteran Orlando Cabrera to compete for the second base position.
We have mixed feelings here, because on one hand, it shows the Indians are not happy with Jayson Nix at that spot. Nix is a below average player and Cleveland shouldn’t be handing him a regular spot.
Also, Cabrera winds up in the post-season a lot. In fact, he’s been on a playoff team six of the last seven seasons. He’s been on winning teams, and perhaps he can share what it takes with his younger teammates.
Here’s the rub, though. All indications are that the veteran can’t play very well any more. He is 36 years old.
Last season, Cabrera hit .263 with 4 HR, 42 RBI and a 657 OPS. Those aren’t impressive numbers. But it gets worse.
Cabrera played his home games last season in Cincinnati at The Great American Ballpark, a great place for hitters. Away from the Queen City, he hit .233 with 1 HR, 16 RBI, and an OPS of 571. That’s the guy you just signed.
Remember that Progressive Field is a pitcher’s park, and you don’t have to be a genius to see Cabrera is going to be an offensive liability.
And his defense has slipped as well, mostly because he’s slowed down due to age.
The reality is that Cabrera hasn’t been a good offensive player since 2004 when he played for Boston’s world championship team.
Plus, his presence is going to retard the progress of some of the young players who should be getting a look this spring with a chance to make the big league roster, Cord Phelps and Jason Kipnis.
Once again, because we’ve been over this before. Phelps is a hitter. He hit over .300 at Columbus (AAA) last season in a little less than 300 at bats. He’s a switch hitter as well.
The Tribe front office gave him an award in the off-season for most being the most consistent hitter at hitting the ball hard.
The other big factor for Phelps is that he just turned 24 years old. The organization needs to find out about him now. He should be given the opportunity to earn and hold a big league job.
Having Cabrera on the roster hinders the chances of young players, guys being hyped by the organization, getting playing time.
Why talk about how good your farm system is if you never give any of them a chance to play in the majors?
Team president Mark Shapiro and his protegé, GM Chris Antonetti seem to be forever haunted by bringing up Brandon Phillips too soon in 2003, when as a 22-year-old, he hit .208. Three years later, he was dealt to Cincinnati and is averaging 20 HR per season and hasn’t had a batting average less than .261.
Phillips recovered from his “traumatic” rookie season, but the front office has been very conservative with young players since. This kind of stance is what losing organizations do.
Instead of bringing in the Cabreras and Austin Kearns of the world. Bring in pitching.
The Tribe front office needs to alter its approach. Nothing will change around Progressive Field until it does.