Monday, September 17, 2007

What's next for Daniel Cabrera?

I've been a Daniel Cabrera defender for quite a while now. Not one of those folks who still compares him to Randy Johnson and talks wistfully of his upside. No, I've been sure for some time that Cabrera was never going to reach those wild expectations. But he's a guy who is still three years away from free agency after this year. Given the money spent on mediocre starters in the free agent market, if Cabrera can put up his customary 4.50-5.00 ERA, he has value. With a bit of improvement, he becomes an incredibly valuable commodity.

But with tonight's latest debacle against the Yankees, Cabrera drops to 9-17 with a 5.51 ERA. He has given up 104 walks and 25 homers on the season. That ERA puts him in a tie for 36th in the AL among qualifying starters ahead of only Jose Contreras. His 4.6 BB/G ranks him dead last among qualifiers despite a radical improvement in that area this season. He has a 5.12 FIP ERA - that also puts him dead last in the league. And if you care about more traditional stats, his 17 losses is also - you guessed it - dead last in the AL.

Cabrera still has problems with walks, and what's worse, he isn't striking out as many batters and he's getting hit harder. While he was certainly never dominant, he did show flashes of dominance, but those have become much harder to come by this season. At this point it's hard to consider him to even be an acceptable 5th starter.

Even with any residual perceived "upside" or "potential", Cabrera's complete lack of progress at the major league level makes his trade value fairly close to nonexistent. A role in the bullpen could help refine his mechanics and shave down the walks through more frequent usage while allowing Cabrera to throw at max effort for short periods rather than pacing himself for 110 pitches. Assuming that Hayden Penn and Garrett Olson are ready for primetime (a big assumption perhaps), Cabrera's optimal role might be in the bullpen. However, unless he morphs into the relief ace the team needs, it would seem to be a waste to trade 210 innings of a mediocre Cabrera for 70 innings of a slightly improved Cabrera.

In a sense this discussion is probably pointless. Cabrera, along with Erik Bedard, Adam Loewen, and Jeremy Guthrie would seem to be near-locks for the team's Opening Day Rotation. But with Penn, Olson, and Liz in the pipeline behind him, he may need to earn the rotation slot. And that's for the best since Cabrera is a 5th starter at this point.

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