I wrote in this space on Saturday that Joe Christensen had mentioned White Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera as a player the Twins have identified as "someone they might pursue on the free agent market this offseason." I noted then that I felt this was a bad idea, and today I'll break down the reasons why.
Christensen guessed in his post that Cabrera could probably get a three-year deal worth around $30 million. That sounds about right. He's currently finishing up a four-year, $32 million contract that he originally signed with the Angels back in January of 2005 and he'll turn 34 in a little under a month.
So would such a signing be worthwhile for the Twins? Well, they do enter the offseason significantly under-budget and they do have a hole at shortstop. Adam Everett will certainly not be back, and while Nick Punto did a solid job there this year most would agree that he's stretched as an everyday starter. The closest prospect the Twins have at shortstop is probably Trevor Plouffe, and he has yet to post an OPS higher than 735 at any level of the minors.
Cabrera has his strong points. He's durable, experienced and possesses a solid glove. He's played at least 141 games in each of the past eight years, and at least 153 in seven of those. He won a Gold Glove in 2001 and another one in 2007.
But this guy is just not a good hitter. His career line is .274/.322/.399, and this year in Chicago he hit .281/.335/.371. For comparison, Punto hit .284/.344/.382 this season. Punto also is three years younger than Cabrera, at least an equal defender, and considerably less expensive. One can point to Punto's 2007 season as a sign that you just don't know what to expect from him, but I think it's a safe bet that he can post offensive numbers somewhat close to Cabrera's. It doesn't make sense to put significant money toward a player who is not a clear upgrade over what the team currently has.
The Twins could afford to put $10 million towards a mediocre player like Cabrera next year, but that commitment becomes significantly more worrisome in the following seasons. Jason Kubel, Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker will be arbitration eligible soon, and Joe Mauer's contract is up in 2010. I'm not opposed to the idea of trying to tab a free agent to fill a need during this offseason, but Cabrera is just not the right guy to target.
I'll discuss some options that I find more palatable in the coming days.