From one point of view, Melky Cabrera is a liar, a cheat, and a fraud. He is just another greedy athlete who cheated in order to gain an edge and land the huge payday. He even dug the hole deeper by trying to cover up his cheating with an elaborate scheme involving a fake product placed onto a website purchased by his friend. Not only is his character in question, but so is his production.
But despite all the negatives and unknowns surrounding Cabrera, the Cleveland Indians should offer him a shot at redeeming himself both spiritually and physically this offseason. Strange as it might sound, Cabrera signing with the Tribe would make a ton of sense for both sides.
First, some background. After hitting a home run in the All-Star Game and being named the Midsummer Classic’s MVP, Cabrera told the media that had assembled around him that “the one person that has the most influence on me is the Lord…He is the one that embraced me in terms of playing better.” Less than a month later it was discovered that it wasn’t solely his faith in a higher power that he embraced but the science of synthetic testosterone.
On August 15th, Cabrera was suspended 50 games for violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy. He was in the middle of a magical season; in addition to his All-Star MVP, he was the leading hitter in the National League with a .346 average and his Giants were trailing the rival Dodgers by just a single game in the NL West race. His getting caught was a sucker punch to the gut of his teammates, fans, and the Giants front office.
But the whole story of deceit had not yet been fully divulged. A week after the suspension was announced, news came out that Cabrera had been involved in an elaborate scheme to try to avoid the suspension. He claimed that he bought an online product from a website in the Dominican Republic which resulted in the positive test. Armed with this account, the MLBPA filed a grievance on his behalf, but MLB investigators went to work and uncovered the cover up concocted Cabrera and associate Juan Carlos Nunez.
In 2008, based on the recommendation by the Mitchell Report, Bud Selig created the Department of Investigation (DOI). Senator Mitchell felt that MLB needed an internal investigative team to work with law enforcement. As stated in the Mitchell Report the MLB investigative unit, if nothing else, “will serve as a warning to all players that no one is protected from being identified by his supplier. And suppliers may be more wary of supplying professional athletes if they know that sports organizations are aggressively seeking to identify and facilitate the prosecution of those who supply illegal substances to athletes.”
Prior to hearing the grievance, MLB wanted to test the substance in question and were given the website address where the product was advertised. According to sources, the DOI called the number on the website and traveled to the Dominican Republic to buy the product, which was subsequently sent to the World Anti-Doping Agency to be tested. After laboratory analysis verified that the product contained synthetic testosterone, the website was examined in hopes of finding out who the supplier of the product is and what other athletes may be purchasing the product. A team of forensic investigators discovered that three websites, including the one in question, had been purchased by Nunez and the banner ad with the product in question placed there.
Nunez was a paid consultant of Cabrera’s agency ACES and on August 21st MLB Commissioner Bud Selig released a statement barring Nunez from all clubhouses and nonpublic areas.
”Please be advised that commissioner Selig has directed that all major league clubs are prohibited from granting Juan Carlos Nunez access to their clubhouses or other nonpublic areas,” Manfred wrote in the memo, which was obtained by The Associated Press. ”Nunez is affiliated with ACES Inc. sports agency. Nunez is currently under investigation for misconduct related to our recent matter under the joint drug program.
”In addition, Nunez is not certified as a player agent by the Major League Baseball Players Association. Clubs should not conduct contract negotiations with Nunez or otherwise deal with him regarding players on the 40-man roster.”
The future is very uncertain for Melky Cabrera. He has been outed as a cheater, a liar, and a fraud. His once bright financial future has taken an extreme hit. A week prior to his suspension, Chris Cwik of Fangraphs wrote an article titled What Will Mellky Cabrera Make On The Market?, noting that although Cabrera had posted a total of 9.0 fWAR over the past two seasons “many teams will likely be cautious with Cabrera considering his past performance never gave any indication that he would breakout like this.” His conclusion was that Cabrera would earn somewhere between 45-60 million on the open market.
After the suspension was handed down, Jayson Stark of ESPN.com asked: What’s Melky Cabrera worth now? In his article, Stark surmised that Cabrera had been headed to a $60-80 million payday but afterwards the future looks bleak. According to Stark, one executive told him that he has to be paid on his career performance prior to 2011 and 2012. “Whatever type of hitter you thought he was before, you have to look at him as that type of hitter now,” he said. “You can’t trust that what he was the last two years, he’ll ever be again.”
Cabrera’s first full season came with the New York Yankees in 2006; he played in the Bronx through 2009. Before the 2010 season, Cabrera was dealt along with Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan. That was a low point in Cabrera’s career, as he struggled to a .255/.317/.354 batting line. After the season Cabrera was non-tendered by the Braves and signed with the Royals for $1.25 million. It has been reported that following his release by the Braves that the out of shape Cabrera moved into Juan Carlos Nunez’s South Florida home to train for the upcoming season.
Whatever Cabrera did over that particular offseason with Nunez—which certainly poses a lot of questions—led to a breakthrough season for Cabrera. He hit .305/.339/.470 with 18 homers and an .809 OPS. Following the 2011 season the Royals dealt him to San Francisco in exchange for Jonathan Sanchez. With the Giants he continued to mash the ball, slashing of .346/.390/.516 with 11 homers.
Prior to training with Nunez, Cabrera had a lifetime OPS of .707 and a slash line of .267/.328/.379 with a 162 game average of 10 homers per season. After working with Nunez he has an OPS of .849 with a slash line of .322/.360/.489 with a 162 game average of 14 homers per season. Take from that what you will.
The Indians are a team in need of a talent infusion but are certainly far from an attractive landing spot for free agents. Even if the front office offers a free agent more money or extends a contract to a player an extra year they will have trouble finding takers considering they enter 2013 with a lame duck manager, no immediate help from their farm system, and insufficient financial resources to fill all the holes in the pitching staff and offense.
In order to be competitive in 2013 the Tribe will have to gamble on talented players coming off injury—or, in the case of Melky Cabrera, a player with questionable character and an uncertain talent level. They can offer the switch hitting Cabrera a guaranteed position, a low-stress environment, and an opportunity to sign a one-year deal which should (to borrow a term from Chris Antonetti) align with the organizations economic structure. He would have the opportunity to show the world that his 2011 and 2012 success was due to his maturation as a player and not just the added benefit of illegal drugs and reenter the market as a free agent in following the 2013 season.