Cleveland Indians sign Melky Cabrera for some reason

DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 29: Melky Cabrera
DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 29: Melky Cabrera /

The Cleveland Indians offense has gotten off to a slow start, and apparently, their solution is… Melky Cabrera?

The Cleveland Indians have signed 12-year major league veteran outfielder, Melky Cabrera, to a minor league deal. Melky Cabrera will be paid $1 million if he makes the big league club and can make up to another million in incentives.

The deal also includes an opt-out if Melky Cabrera fails to make the club by June 1st. On the surface, this is a low-risk move for a team that is looking for any way to infuse some offense into the lineup. However, it’s difficult for me to see the fit here.

The Cleveland Indians are signing Melky Cabrera for his offensive potential and yet there have only been four seasons in his career in which he was an above-average offensive performer.

Two of which led up to him being suspended for performance-enhancing drugs. He has never been much of a power threat with just a .132 career ISO, and he’s never hit more than 18 home runs in a season.

His most exceptional offensive skill is that he doesn’t strike out much, but that’s only so valuable when you don’t provide much pop.

One thing he has going for him is that he was slightly unlucky last-above-average his expected weighted on-base average was a good bit higher than his actual number, but even still that would’ve just pushed him to more of an average hitter instead of a below average one.

While Melky Cabrera is nothing special with the bat, he is much worse on the bases. He’s stolen a grand total of six bases over the past three seasons, and he’s been worth around -3.5 baserunning runs per year the past five years.

Unsurprisingly, he has really slowed down in his 30’s. Melky Cabrera ranked 408th in baseball last season in sprint speed according to Baseball Savant with an average top speed of just 26.2 feet per second.

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The lack of speed plays into his ineptitude in the outfield as well. Last season, Melky Cabrera was worth -20 runs in the outfield according to Defensive Runs Saved and -11.6 according to Ultimate Zone Rating.

While he hasn’t been a good outfielder for several years, his numbers did fall off of a cliff last year. My personal favorite stat for outfield defense is the Outs Above Average statistic from Baseball Savant.

They calculate catch probability from the Statcast hit tracking data and determine how many more or fewer fly balls an outfielder should’ve caught. According to this methodology, Melky Cabrera was the second worst defensive outfielder last season with -13 outs above average.

The only player worse than him was Matt Kemp. Defensive statistics can sometimes be a bit noisy from year to year, but when they are all saying the same thing, it is hard to ignore.

The Cleveland Indians offense has been awful so far this season, and perhaps Melky can provide some offensive stability. I’m not sure how you get him plate appearances though.

He’s pretty much a DH at this point in his career, and I can’t imagine him getting plate appearances over Edwin Encarnacion. He could get some playing time in right field, but putting him out there on defense is a scary proposition.

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Perhaps they can use him as a pinch hitter late in games. Whatever the plan, it is a low-risk signing and I understand the move. However, the upside here is quite low as well, and I wouldn’t expect a whole lot to come out of this experiment.