Archive for the ‘Melky Cabrera’ Category

markakis

In this guest post from Kyle Matte, he looks at the likelihood that Melky Cabrera will leave the Jays this winter via free agency, and offers the name of a fascinating, near-perfect replacement that few have whispering about. Follow Kyle on Twitter at @KyleMatte.

Within five days of the conclusion of the 2014 World Series, Melky Cabrera will receive and decline a Qualifying Offer from the Toronto Blue Jays. As arguably the top outfield option in a free agent market devoid of high-end talent, he’s going to get paid, and whether we like it or not, the overwhelming odds are that it’s going to be by a team located south of the border. While they’d never admit it publicly, it’s more than likely the front office has accepted this reality and is instead focusing their time and effort on something within their control: finding the replacement.

Doing so will be no easy task. While he has his flaws – namely well below average base running skills and range in the outfield – they are vastly outweighed by his strengths. Cabrera has an above average arm in left field, and while his range is poor, the balls he does get to and should catch, he catches. According to Inside Edge Fielding on Fangraphs, Melky was successful on 209/209 (100%) “routine” plays, 12/13 (92.3%) “likely” plays, and 8/12 (66.7%) “even” plays. By definition, those plays should be made 90-100%, 60-90%, and 40-60% of the time respectively, so he was above average across the board. On the other hand, he was just 1/72 on plays classified as “unlikely”, “remote”, or “impossible”, which emphasizes his limitations.

Steady and unspectacular or not, teams have never been interested in Cabrera for his glove or legs. Melky generates his value with two feet in the batter’s box.  Over his last three healthy years, the 30 year old has produced wRC+ marks of 118, 151, and 125 while hitting a combined .315. Prior to breaking his finger on September 5th, Cabrera had been one of the best table setters in the league, and a reliable force in a lineup that saw more than its fair share of ups and downs. With the reigns in center field likely being handed over to some amalgamation of the youthful trio of Anthony Gose, Kevin Pillar, and Dalton Pompey, it’s imperative that Alex Anthopoulos and friends find a reliable solution in left. With his club option expected to be declined, Nick Markakis might be the answer.

2015 Nick Markakis is not going to be 2008 Nick Markakis; that first needs to be understood and accepted. In 2008, Markakis set career highs in walk rate (14.2%), BABIP (.350), and ISO (.185), leading to an outstanding .306/.406/.491 slash line and 6.1 WAR. In each of the six years since he hasn’t eclipsed 2.5 WAR, but that’s perfectly fine. The Oriole has settled in as a non-All Star calibre starting corner outfielder with an above average bat and below average defense; not unlike the soon-to-be-departed Melky Cabrera.

In a lineup already featuring plenty of boppers, Markakis’ style would fit in damn near perfectly in the potentially vacated two-spot. Over nearly 6000 career plate appearances, Markakis has maintained a well above average .358 on base percentage thanks in no small part to an impressive 9.3% walk rate. While both are slightly inflated because of the aforementioned career year, the more recent numbers are still quite strong. In the five years from 2010 through 2014, Markakis has posted the following OBP’s: .370, .351, .363, .329, and .342. Even the low point in 2013 is above league average, and he’s well above league average in the other four. Markakis gets himself on base, and with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion hitting third and fourth respectively, getting on base is priority number one.

Once a big part of his game, Markakis has seen his power drop off precipitously over the last two seasons: in 1410 plate appearances, he hit just 76 extra base hits. Some of that can be attributed to right wrist and left thumb surgeries during the 2012 season, but the power was definitely trending downwards even before hand. While he’d be unlikely to start hitting twenty-plus home runs again, a move to the Rogers Centre would without a doubt help him in the power department. The table below shows park factors for the 2014 season, as calculated by ESPN:

Rogers Centre

Camden Yards

Home Runs

1.310

0.936

Doubles

1.107

0.935

Triples

1.333

0.636

With park factors, numbers above 1.000 indicate the environment is beneficial to hitters, while numbers below 1.000 indicate the environment is an inhibiting factor. Not only is the Rogers Centre more power-friendly than Camden Yards across the board; the differences are incredible. The launching pad formerly known as the Sky Dome saw a home run rate 37.4% higher than Camden Yards, with 17.2% more doubles, and 69.7% more triples. While you can’t simply apply these increments to Markakis’ 2014 power numbers to picture what he could do in Toronto, I think it’s fair to say he could see a boon in power.

In addition to a reliable on-base rate and a potential boost in power, Markakis has a swing and approach that would make him an ideal fit behind Jose Reyes in the lineup. He’s exceptional at making contact, with 94.7% of his swings at pitches inside the zone resulting in contact, and 84.8% of swings outside the zone resulting in contact last season. The result is a consistently low strikeout rate, with his 11.8% mark in 2014 actually being his highest since 2010. Among Blue Jays last season, only Melky and Reyes struck out at a better rate. After watching the 2014 Blue Jays, his 3.5% swinging strike rate is almost unfathomable (as a comparison, Juan Francisco had a swinging strike rate of 15.2% — he whiffed over four times as often!). John Gibbons seems like a guy who greatly prefers the hit-and-run to straight steals, and with Markakis potentially hitting second, it would be a silky smooth transition from the Melk Man.

One of Cabrera’s greatest assets is his switch-hitting nature and ability to bust hard line drives to all fields regardless of the handedness of the pitcher he’s facing. Incredibly, Markakis can do all of that, too. His 19.6% line drive rate in 2014 was his worst since 2010, as he posted marks of 23.1%, 26.8% (!!), and 22.6% from 2011 through 2013, respectively.

markakisBB

The chart above, taken from Fangraphs, shows Markakis’ batted ball profile for the 2012, 2013, and 2014 seasons, against both left handed and right handed pitchers. When hitting the ball on the ground (green), Markakis uses the left and right sides equally, making him very difficult to use any kind of infield shift against. In terms of line drives (red), Markakis once again uses all fields extremely well, with left field appearing to come out slightly ahead. Finally, with fly balls (blue), Markakis has a similar distribution to his line drives, with all fields being well represented and left being slightly favored. As a comparison, below are the same profiles for switch hitter Melky Cabrera (right), and traditional left handed hitter Colby Rasmus (left).

cabreraBBrasmusBB

Markakis’ profile is extremely similar to Cabrera’s and looks nothing like Rasmus’, who hits ground balls and line drives down the right field line almost exclusively. Despite batting left handed, because of his ability to go with the pitch and use all fields, teams have their hands tied and are forced to play their defenses straight up against Markakis.

He’s no world beater against lefties, but Markakis does more than enough to avoid the “platoon” label. For his career, he’s hit .288/.344/.398 against southpaws, good for a .329 wOBA and an even 100 wRC+. More recently, in 2014, Markakis had a 93 wRC+ against lefties, and in 2013, it was an 80 wRC+. While he continues to make solid contact, lefties have done a very good job of limiting his power, which is unsurprising given that as you can see on the chart above, his true power comes to his pull side. Still, this is a far cry from the Lind/Rasmus/Francisco-type lefties we’ve grown accustomed to, as that trio is literally unplayable against same side pitching. To fuel up some optimism, just three years back, in 2012, Markakis had a 139 wRC+ and .195 ISO against lefties.

In terms of UZR/150, Markakis has been a below average defender in right field in five of the last six seasons, with 2014 being the only year in which he graded positively. Still, he would represent a substantial upgrade over Cabrera, both statistically and in terms of the eye test. According to Inside Edge Fielding, while he was slightly worse than Melky at making the “even” and “likely” plays, he was significantly better at the challenging plays, turning 10/86 into outs (as a reminder, Cabrera was 1/72 on similar plays). With Jose Bautista entrenched in right field for the time being, Markakis would have to be amicable towards a shift to left field, a position he’s played for just 197.2 innings in his major league career. Without knowing him personally, it’s impossible to say whether or not that could be a roadblock.

This brings us to the finances; how much does Markakis want, how much is he actually worth, and can Toronto afford it? As mentioned at the start, Markakis has a 17.5 million dollar club option for 2015, which the Orioles are reportedly going to decline at the cost of a 2 million dollar buyout. This suggests that at least in the eyes of Baltimore, Markakis isn’t worth the net 15.5 million it would take to keep him around. The Qualifying Offer has been set at 15.3 million, so it seems doubtful they’d risk having him accept that, either. In his assessment of QO candidates earlier this month, Mike Petriello of FanGraphs agreed, and with Nelson Cruz also set to hit free agency, Baltimore’s attention and priorities likely lie elsewhere.

It’s still far too early to predict contracts given that we don’t know what the market will even look like with the option and offer decisions yet to come, but I think it’s fair to say that if the Blue Jays are or were ever serious about keeping Melky Cabrera around for a few more years, it’s probable they have the money for Markakis should he tickle their interest. I’ve been on board the “Bring Melky Back” bandwagon all year, but the more I think about Markakis, the more I think the organization as a whole could be better off with him and an extra first round draft pick. The fact they could potentially save on both term and annual salary in doing so might make the decision that much easier.

melky-jose

The season is over, and as sad as this is, for Jays fans that kind of means that the fun is really about to begin. Except… well… fun isn’t maybe always the word for it. To wit: the latest from Shi Davidi at Sportsnet, in which he speaks to Jose Bautista about what the future holds for the Blue Jays — and how, at least according to some of Jose’s casual phrasing, that future likely doesn’t include Melky Cabrera.

And by “likely doesn’t” I mean… well…

The talent is still here. Luckily for us the core of this team will be intact next year except for Melky and Colby and Casey.

. . .

With some salary being gone with Melky, Janssen and Colby, that frees up $20-something million in free agency that can translate into some good additions if he chooses to go that way. If not, there are always trades.

Those do not sound like the words of a man who believes that Melky Cabrera is going to be a part of this team next season. And that is… really dispiriting. Not that we shouldn’t have known, by virtue of the fact that the Jays weren’t able to come to a mid-season extension with Cabrera, that he’s probably not as likely to be back as we want to believe, it’s just… boy, does it ever make the off-season more difficult if the Jays have to go searching for a new left fielder. And does it ever make 2015 seem less exciting to think of them not even doing that, and Kevin Pillar getting the gig by virtue of 81 September plate appearances — even if they’re actually somewhat impressive, nearly replicating Melky’s 125 wRC+ on the season, by virtue of a BABIP-y .289/.333/.447 line that’s led to Pillar putting up a wRC+ of 119 since his recall.

The improved defence could help offset the difference, I suppose, it’s just… gambling on a guy like Pillar sustaining the level of his best ever month in MLB seems a little preposterous for a team that at least wants to pretend it’s serious about winning.

And if it’s not Pillar, then who?

For his part, Alex Anthpoulos isn’t saying anything particularly interesting about the matter. He spoke about the season on the Fan 590′s Brady and Walker this morning, and had this to say about the Melky situation:

I’ve never come out and been specific about contract offers. Janssen, I think, came out a few days ago and mentioned that we had brief discussions at the All-Star break — we made them a proposal, they rejected it and gave us back a counter and we were really far apart. So we just said, look, let’s go back to the off-season. I never would have divulged that, but that’s fine, he felt comfortable doing it. With respect to Melky, just based on past years and some deals that have gotten done — I wouldn’t say what we’ve done, but I it’s safe to say that anyone who’s a good player who we want to retain at some point we have the conversation, and some times both sides agree that they need to see what’s out there. We can’t come to a number, and sometimes you need to have that third party to tell you what someone’s worth. But I think the important part is he wants to be back, we’d like to have him back, and we expect to get started — to have talks some point in the month of October and certainly November.

Certainly November.

So… there’s that.

And now there’s more!

Update

John Lott of the National Post has a piece up on Bautista’s end-of-season comments, and what he’s quoted as saying about Melky in that one sounds even worse. To me, at least.

“I have to assume that,” he said when asked if he assumed Cabrera wouldn’t be coming back. “When you have the chance to re-sign one of the top free agents and you don’t take advantage of that opportunity, the chances of him coming back to you are pretty slim.”

He’s probably not wrong — in fact, most of the piece makes clear that Bautista is pretty on the ball when it comes to where this team is at — but that quote doesn’t exactly sound like someone who is pleased about it.

And why would he be?

melkyshirt

And that’s not the only hot breaking scoop to pass along!

- Heyman: Sky Blue
- Heyman: Water Wet
- Heyman: Women’s Breasts Strangely Alluring

I know, I know, I was stunned too about the water thing.

Of course, what’s Heyman to do here? Not engage in clickbait? Shit, I clicked on it, and I knew there was going to be precisely zero of value to me in his piece. Then again, fans in other markets may be interested to know that the Jays are hypothetically willing to add a $15-million contract to their payroll, or that there is a baseball team in Canada named the Blue Jays — and that they actually play in the major leagues? Naomi Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatts?

Heyman also pulls the trusty old high school trick of pumping up his fluff with a few filler paragraphs like this one:

Word from someone familiar with the Blue Jays’ thinking is that they are so pleased with Cabrera both on and off the field that it is an “easy decision” for them to make him a qualifying offer. Toronto actually hopes it leads to another multi-year arrangement with Cabrera, who should be one of the better hitters on a thin market.

No word on whether he adjusted the margins to make the piece look bigger.

Heyman also says he thinks Melky owes the Jays for believing in him when he was at his lowest point, coming off his P.E.D. suspension. Because that’s totally how this stuff usually works!

Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m all for it if Melky’s hellbent on re-signing here.

Anyway, I’m sure we’ll get an equally valuable piece when Cabrera inevitably declines. Frankly, I’m already breathless in anticipation.

melkyhighfive

UGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

Fuck Everything Update

Melky will have surgery next week for a fractured right pinky finger. His season is done. Fuck off.

Original Post:

Melky Cabrera left tonight’s game in Boston in the sixth inning. He fouled off a ball, and speculation was first that the ball had come up and hit him. When replays showed that wasn’t the case, his back was identified as the possible culprit. That doesn’t seem to be the case either, however, as Mike Wilner tweets that trainer George Poulis was looking at Melky’s right hand when he came into the dugout, and Scott MacArthur tweets that NESN showed a replay showing that Melky may have hurt his hand diving back into first on a pick-off attempt in the third.

Official announcement, via the radio broadcast is that he’s going for x-rays on his right pinky finger. “That’s the last thing the Blue Jays need with zero margin for error rest of the season,” tweets Gregor Chisholm. Uh-huh.

Ugh. For fuck sakes.

Melky Plays!

melkylineup

What’s that? Good injury news for the Blue Jays?

No, it won’t put more runs on the board last night, meaning the Jays still wasted an excellent performance from J.A. Happ, but what seemed like an extra-dispiriting loss is now just a little bit more… uh… spiriting: as you can see above, Melky Cabrera is back in the lineup tonight for the Jays.

Halle-effing-lujah.

In case you missed it, or were stunned into total amnesia by the fact that Anthony Gose went yard, Melky got himself an ugly welt on his elbow last night, after taking a pitch to it in his first at-bat of the game. He stayed in to run the bases, and as DH wasn’t needed again until the third, when Nolan Reimold took his place.

In the aftermath of the game the Jays were non-committal, as usual, about the injury, leading to a whole lot of consternation — though, given their track record of late, even their saying he’d be fine would have led to consternation, I’m sure. But it’s all in the past now: Melky is back in left field and hitting second in the lineup tonight as the Jays host Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers. They needed that.

Read the rest of this entry »

melkyhighfive

In this guest post from Kyle Matte, he looks at the value that Melky Cabrera has provided the Blue Jays this year, and whether it’s realistic, or reasonable, for the club to make him a Qualifying Offer after the season. Follow Kyle on Twitter at @KyleMatte.

Statistics as of the end of the day, July 28th.

Through four months, Melky Cabrera has been the rock in a Jays line-up packed with injury, inconsistency, and underwhelming performance. He’s appeared in 106 of 107 games for the second place Blue Jays, leading off for 16 while Jose Reyes missed the first half of April with a wonky hamstring, and hitting third for nine games with Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind on the disabled list with lower body injuries. Save for one late inning pinch-hit opportunity in the nine-hole, Melky has spent his remaining 80 games in the two-spot, providing a line drive pumping bridge between the speedy Reyes and the dynamic Dominican duo.

For fans who watched their fair share of the embarrassment that was the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays, this comes as a shock. Melky was a shell of his former self, at least in the 88 games he was able to get himself into, looking more like an old man nearing retirement – Raul Ibanez comes to mind – than a 28 year old coming off back-to-back outstanding seasons with the Royals and Giants. On August 2nd, he was placed on the disabled list with what the team called a left knee strain, and the left fielder wouldn’t play again that season. “Good riddance” was a sentiment shared by many, as Melky was looking like a total waste of the guaranteed 16 million dollars he’d received just nine months prior. A boisterous minority were happy to proclaim him nothing more than a product of performance enhancing drugs, and slammed the General Manager for giving a known cheat who in their view had become lazy and complacent so much money.

Words were swallowed and jaws hit the floor a month later when the team announced Cabrera had undergone surgery to have a benign tumor removed from his spinal cord. It was believed this tumor had been pressing against his nerves, causing pain and weakness in his lower half. To say Melky was a wild card entering the 2014 season would be a massive understatement – no one knew what to expect.

Through 474 plate appearances Melky has produced a .313/.362/.487 slash line, contributing to a .371 wOBA and 134 wRC+. Among qualified MLB left fielders, those figures rank 4th and 5th respectively; thoroughly impressive for a player who was well below average offensively last season. His strikeout rate (11.4%) is the lowest it’s been since 2009 despite an upward trend across baseball, while his walk rate (7.0%) is right about at his career mark of 7.2%. His overall approach has shown improvement, too. If maintained, Melky’s current 43.9% swing rate would be his lowest since 2009, and while fewer swings isn’t necessarily positive, the fact that the decline has come predominantly on pitches outside the zone, is. His current 28.6% O-swing rate would be his lowest since, again, 2009, and is between 4% and 8% lower than his rates over his previous three seasons. Melky has the ability to drive just about anything he can reach, but being more selective is always a good thing.

Melky’s 14 home runs in 2014 have averaged 103.9 miles per hour off the bat, with an average true distance of 393.6 feet (per ESPN). In 2012, his last healthy season, he averaged 104.4 miles per hour and 393.1 feet. In 2011, it was 105.0 mph and 406.9 feet. Furthermore, at 21.1%, his line drive rate has remained consistent with the marks he has established since his breakout 2011 season with the Royals.

In terms of bat speed, Cabrera’s still got it.

Things aren’t all chocolate and roses, however. Despite playing arguably the second easiest defensive position on the diamond, Melky remains a below average defender. His UZR/150 in 2014 currently sits at -10.1, and while that’s a significant improvement upon his dismal -14.8 last season, it’s still a far cry from his passable -2.3 UZR/150 in left field for the Giants in 2012 and his -9.8 UZR/150 in center field for the Royals in 2011. He’s passing the eye test a lot better – largely due to the fact, you know, that his legs actually work – but the numbers still don’t particularly like him out there. He ranks 17th in defensive figures among the 20 qualified left fielders, ahead of only Nelson Cruz, Shin-Soo Choo, and Matt Kemp.

With Cabrera’s contract set to expire after the World Series, it creates an interesting profile to project moving forward, both in terms of potential value on a Qualifying Offer and a long-term deal. The left fielder is currently on pace for 3.0 WAR by the ZIPS and Steamer projection systems, and given that both are forecasting a slight improvement in rest-of-season defense and a decline in rest-of-season offense, the figure seems fair.

Referring back to my pre-season article on Colby Rasmus and his impending Qualifying Offer (aside: boy, that “floor” of 2 WAR I assumed sure seems absurd now), we can gain a rough estimate for average annual salary based on cumulative three-year WAR. The total for Melky would be 4.5 (2012) – 0.9 (2013) + 3.0 (2014) = 6.6 WAR, which correlates to an annual salary of around 12.8 million. This equates to a 60% raise on Cabrera’s previous salary, and while some may ask whether the Blue Jays can afford it with their freshly tightened purse strings, the better question may be, can they afford not to?

I’ve been a strong supporter of Rasmus for years now, but with each passing game it’s looking more and more like his days in a Blue Jays uniform are numbered. His defense has been shaky – both visually and statistically – and outside of the occasional home run, his offensive contributions have been unacceptable. He’s proven to be more of a platoon bat that requires a shield from same-side pitching than a true full-time starter, and in a healthy lineup it would be hard to argue he deserves to be hitting any higher than seventh.

Rasmus is a nice piece possessing potential, but when that potential starts costing eight figures per year, it’s probably time to let someone else try to tap into it.

Rasmus’ likely departure makes retaining Melky Cabrera essential, as an outfield that has Kevin Pillar in left and Anthony Gose in center – both as regulars – is simply an impossible scenario to justify. Should Pillar manage to mend the bridges he appears to have burned within the organization’s hierarchy, he and Gose could prove to be a more than adequate platoon in centerfield in 2015. The pair would provide an excellent internal stop-gap, earning around a million dollars combined while keeping the seat warm for the rapidly ascending Dalton Pompey.

Returning to Cabrera; the first step in the process is the aforementioned Qualifying Offer. The value of the Offer is the average of the 125 highest salaries in baseball that year. In 2012 that was 13.3 million, and last winter, it was 14.1 million. If we assume a similar 6% increase, the figure is likely to fall around 14.9 million for free agents this offseason. Completely coincidentally, the combined 2014 salary of Cabrera and Rasmus totals 15 million. There have been some whispers that the Blue Jays would be unable to make a Qualifying Offer to any of their free agents in fear they might accept, but if you consider the salaries of the outfield in a vacuum, the organization could theoretically afford to make the Offer to one without seeing a net increase in payroll. Of course, this ignores the 6 million dollar raise awaiting Jose Reyes, but if Anthopoulos needs an angle with ownership, there’s a decent start here.

By making the Offer, Anthopoulos would lock the Blue Jays into one of three outcomes. The first: that Melky accepts. It would be an awfully large sum on paper, but the saying “There’s no such thing as a bad one year deal” exists for a reason. Last offseason, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs looked into the value of a win on the free agent market and came up with a rough estimate of 6.0 million per WAR, while also noting the 10% or so annual inflation across free agency over the past decade. That would place the going rate at 6.6 million per WAR this offseason. Should Melky sign the Qualifying Offer at 14.9 million, the outfielder would need to produce 2.3 WAR — a plateau he’s reached in 3 of the last 4 years — for the club to get “fair” market value.

Outcome number two would be that Melky declines the Qualifying Offer and signs elsewhere, guaranteeing the Blue Jays a compensatory draft pick at the end of the first round. This would allow the Blue Jays to sign a different free agent with attached compensation — like Nelson Cruz, James Shields, or even Jon Lester — without crippling their draft bonus pool, or, plug Cabrera’s void with a non-qualified free agent or trade acquisition and enter a second consecutive amateur draft with a pair of high picks.

The third possible outcome, and probably the most desirable for both Blue Jays fans and the organization, would be for Melky to decline the Qualifying Offer and find himself in a depressed market. Should Cabrera and his agent discover that the grass isn’t always greener — like so many Qualified free agents did nine months ago — Alex Anthopoulos and friends would find themselves in the highly enviable position of possessing a massive amount of leverage in the market. The Blue Jays would have the opportunity to float a multi-year deal to retain the services of Cabrera in his remaining prime years at a below market rate.

As an example, let’s envision a scenario in which after finding lukewarm interest in his services due to the draft pick noose, Melky Cabrera signs a 3 year deal worth a total of 38.4 million to return to Toronto — the 12.8 million dollar annual salary I had estimated. Taking the projected 6.6 million per win discussed earlier, Melky would only need to produce 5.8 WAR over the course of the deal for the club to get “fair” market value. There’s a very real possibility that he comes up short as his defense falters and his bat is unable to sustain the production; but alternatively, it’s not difficult to see Cabrera reaching and/or exceeding 5.8 WAR in three years with relative ease, and it’s increasingly rare for teams to find surplus value in free agency.

Regardless of which result comes to fruition, it’s increasingly clear that the Blue Jays need to make Melky Cabrera a Qualifying Offer if they can’t get him under contract even sooner. He’s proven invaluable to this organization during its somewhat surprising playoff push, and the front office is in a position to protect both the short and long term aspirations in one fell swoop. Don’t screw this one up, Jays.

trippingolney

Oh, fun. More of this Buster Olney-driven madness, dredging up the ol’ PED issue with respect to Melky Cabrera.

So here’s what’s what:

On Tuesday morning at ESPN.com, Buster Olney decided to contemplate the potential of Cabrera being an all-star — particularly with respect to his PED suspension two years ago. He benevolently gave fans his permission to either care or not care about this — to “take his performance at face value and prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt,” or to be supremely suspicious of his history and of the fact that this seeming return to form *WINK* is coming in a *COUGH* contract year, with numbers that “very closely resemble those he put up the summer he was suspended.”

Get it?

Other players hate PED cheats, he explains, and they especially hate guys getting rich off cheating, so the suggestion is made that Cabrera won’t be voted to the all-star game by the fans, may not be voted by his fellow players, and may end up being left off the roster entirely by manager John Farrell as well. “If Cabrera makes the team, he will have earned his selection through his production,” we’re told. “If Cabrera is left off the team, he will have earned that, too.”

This is a sentiment that, of course, can fuck right off. Is Cabrera more likely to be cheating now than anybody else, just because he was caught once before? Even though he’s under more scrutiny, faces more severe punishment, and is tested more often? Even though his 2013 dip in form and this year’s subsequent return are far more easily attributable to the goddamn tumour he had removed from his spine?

Ugh. No, of course he’s not. Of course he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

So Jose Bautista responded to this, as did Richard Griffin in a piece from the Toronto Star.

Bautista expressed concern for Melky’s ability to negotiate should comments like these get blown up into something bigger, and summed up the rational position quite perfectly: “It’s not my place to say what is right or wrong. I can tell you what my opinion is, not the general opinion of the (other MLB) players. I think if you did something wrong and you were caught and you pay your dues, that should be it. (Failing once) doesn’t mean that you’re always going to be doing something that’s illegal or not allowed.”

Griffin zeroed in on Olney’s stuff about it being a contract year, explaining that “Cabrera is the wrong guy to pick on in trying to make a case that cheating is worthwhile. Down the road, with that suspension in his background, he will likely never get the huge deal he might have expected if the stats were clean. See Nelson Cruz with the O’s.”

He’s right, but I’d add that no player is really the right guy to pick on here. The CBA allows what it allows. If you’re upset about that, your issue is with it and with the two sides who agreed on it.

But evidently the money thing really sticks in Olney’s craw, as he addressed it — and the comments from Griffin and Bautista — a second time, in today’s column at ESPN.com (Insider Olney):

If any player takes PEDs and gains an unfair advantage over his union brethren, that means he’s holding a position somebody else should hold, and making money somebody else should make. Just because somebody doesn’t make as much as Ryan Braun doesn’t mean cheating isn’t worthwhile, and it’s hardly a stretch to suggest that Cabrera made extra cash through his past transgression.

In fact, it’s almost certainly a lock that he already has benefitted from cheating. He made $3.1 million as an extra outfielder with the Braves in 2010 and had such a mediocre season that he was cut free; the Braves agreed with the Yankees’ assessment that he was essentially an extra outfielder. He signed with the Royals for $1.25 million in 2011 and became a star, at a time when he reportedly became a client of Biogenesis. He was suspended in 2012 while playing for the San Francisco Giants, and the Blue Jays then signed him to a two-year, $16 million deal before anybody knew about Tony Bosch and Biogenesis.

And if all that information impacts the market assessment of Cabrera, well, too bad. These are all plain, simple facts, and while Cabrera served his suspension, that doesn’t mean his history is whitewashed.

We seem to see from this insanity the lone track that Olney’s mind is on when it comes to Cabrera. In his world, because prior to this year Melky has only supposedly been good in seasons in which there is evidence of PED use, the fact that he’s playing well now must be highly suspicious. Forget how little we know about how much whatever he was taking — he only tested positive for high levels of testosterone, let’s not forget — actually impacts performance. Forget that, by many accounts, he was out of shape with the Braves and his play improved when his conditioning improved. Forget that he may well have blown the theory apart last year if he had played like this, which he couldn’t because of the goddamn tumour he had removed from his spine. Forget that his breakout year in Kansas City came in his age-26 season — an age at which you might entirely expect a player to really start putting it together as he heads towards his peak years. Forget that, though he certainly did have some intervening down years, he was a talented enough hitter to get a full season’s worth of at-bats for the New York Yankees as a twenty-two-year-old, and put up a .360 on-base in the process!

Nope, it’s just correlation, causation, couching the whole thing with bogus insistence that you’re just exploring different possible opinions here and not really taking a side (sprinkled with garbled nonsense like “almost certainly a lock”), then light a cigar and put your feet up.

Worst of all is how this is evidently only relevant now that he’s playing well. Because, y’know, why acknowledge the fact that there are all kinds of guys who we know took PEDs that still entirely sucked? Do that — acknowledge that these substances aren’t magic elixirs turning ordinary men into baseball gods — and we might be able to take the first step towards actually having a real, adult conversation about the stuff. Trouble is, the whole subject is murky as fuck, and the difficulty we have in wrapping our heads around it — around the arbitrary moralities, the lines drawn in the sand, the problems of the CBA and of the testing, the science behind the drugs and how they impact performance, the influence of all kinds of other variables that impact performance, and the near impossibility of coherently grappling with all the strands that lead in and out of each of these murky spheres of the topic  – makes it awful easy for writers to reduce the issue to a dull-headed question of whether you’re for or against “cheating.”

Emphasis on awful.