On Saturday, with less than 24 hours before the non-waiver trade deadline, the Cleveland Indians pulled off one of the best deals of the season. No, not the deal that brought Ubaldo Jimenez to Progressive Field—I’m talking, of course, about the trade with the San Francisco Giants that netted the Tribe prospect Thomas Neal for second baseman Orlando Cabrera.
Cabrera, 36, was signed as a free agent last winter to provide clubhouse leadership and stability at second base. In this first regard he performed spectacularly—he’s at least partly responsible for Asdrubal Cabrera’s power surge—but his on-field contributionsleft something to be desired.
In 91 games with the Indians, he hit .244/.277/.321 with 4 homers, 6 steals, a 66 wRC+ and -0.6 WAR. The converted shortstop had trouble adjusting to the supposedly easier position as well, costing the Indians -7.2 runs with his glove, per UZR.
Neal isn’t likely to be a future All-Star, but he’s a great return on investment for the Indians. The 23-year-old outfielder is hitting .295/.351/.409 at Triple-A Fresno. He made Baseball America‘s Top 100 prospects list before the 2010 season, and Keith Law called him a really good fourth outfielder.
But the best part of this deal isn’t that we got a worthwhile prospect—it’s that Manny Acta can no longer put Cabrera’s name into the starting lineup in place of someone better.
When Cord Phelps was called up in June, his Triple-A statistics suggested that he would be a huge improvement over Cabrera at second base. And yet, for whatever reason, Cabrera kept his job as the starting second baseman. Thanks to the inconsistent playing time (and some very bad luck) Phelps floundered in the majors, hitting just .196 in only 55 plate appearances.
Cabrera would have been a great fit as a utility infielder off the bench, but Acta didn’t use him that way. From the moment Phelps came up, Orlando had no business occupying a regular starting spot, but he still did.
With top prospect Jason Kipnis now at second base in Cleveland, I was concerned that he, too,, would have to battle Cabrera for playing time, which would have hampered both Kipnis’ development and the Tribe’s playoff chances. This trade means the Indians are committed to putting their best possible second baseman on the field every game.
Cabrera was fun to watch and great in the clubhouse, and I will be eternally grateful for whatever he did to help Asdrubal find his power. But his departure definitely helps the Indians.