Should Melky Cabrera Be The Royals' Centerfielder?

In his latest piece on the team site, Dick Kaegel referred to Melky Cabrera as the starting CF for 2011. While it wasn't a direct report per se, Kaegel is as well-connected as anyone. I've thought little about Cabrera since he was signed, perhaps simply because it is easier to go on living without thinking about the Royal outfield that much. I suppose it is likely that Cabrera will get the bulk of playing time in CF, as he likely signed with the Royals on some kind of promise to have the job, and well, he's famous and established. From the beginning of his tenure as the Royals GM, Dayton Moore has been perpetually unsatisfied with the club's internal options in Center, which has led to a stunning number of CF acquisitions: Joey Gathright, Coco Crisp, Dick Ankiel, Brian Anderson, the other Anderson dude, Ryan Freel, Gregor Blanco, etc.

Make no mistake, none of the possible CFs for the 2011 look to be very good. However, there's also no real evidence that Melky Cabrera is any better than Gregor Blanco or even the hated Mitch Maier. He's just named Melky Cabrera and is still somewhat famous. Lets go:

Melky Cabrera - Last 3 seasons: .260/.319/.372 (1502 PAs); Vague Defensive Assessment: slightly below average

Cabrera has been around forever, although he'll only be 26 in 2011. That's just about where the positives end. Cabrera's numbers haven't been the same since 2006, an astoundingly long time ago in professional sports. Neither Total Zone or UZR is terribly high on Cabrera's work in CF, though he's not a disaster out there. By all accounts, he's just a guy out there with the glove. Cabrera's big edge on the other Royal CFs is that he might hit 8 or 9 HRs over the course of the season. So yay!

Gregor Blanco - MLB career: .258/.358/.324; Vague Defensive Assessment: average

I hated Blanco when he arrived from Atlanta... or at least, was prepared to hate him. However, guys who do their damndest to get on base always win me over. Blanco has almost no ability to hit the ball hard. He has no power and can barely even manage a line drive. Still, he's shown some reliability when it comes to getting on base, and at the MLB level has posted a respectable .358 OBP. That's like .400 for a Royal, and is clearly the best that any CF might manage. There's nothing too noteworthy about him in the defensive metrics. He's probably a little better than Melky. Let's vaguely call him average. Blanco's a surprisingly viable option as a stopgap CF.

Mitch Maier - Last 3 seasons: .257/.331/.350; Vague Defensive Assessment: just below average

After becoming a MITCH! advocate in 2009, I was a little disappointed in his 2010. He raised his batting average 20 points and his slugging 40, yet the most important aspect of his game, OBP, stayed exactly the same. Stuck at .333, Maier avoided making a true breakthrough offensively. Maybe it was of his own volition, maybe the Royals were screaming at him daily to show more power and be more aggressive. Who knows. The defensive metrics hated Maier's work in the corners, yet there's reason to believe he's average in CF. Out of the Maier/Melky/Blanco trio, Maier is the oldest (will be 29 next year). I know the weekly double and the monthly homer mean more to some, but when we're talking about players who are all slugging well under .400 no matter what, I'd just as soon just pay attention to the OBP. I still think Maier has the potential to be a better version of Blanco, but he might not be at the moment.

Jarrod Dyson - Minor League Career: .278/.341/.343; Vague Defensive Assessment: good

There were rumblings this fall that Dyson would likely end up with the CF job in 2011, rumblings apparently dashed by the Cabrera signing. There's nothing in Dyson's minor league profile that suggests he can survive at the Major League level at the plate. That being said, given that he'll be 26 in 2011, is believed to be awesomely fast and great with the glove, and did alright in his cup of coffee in 2010, you could kinda sorta talk yourself into seeing him as decent in 2011. Moreover, he's the devil we don't know. Cabrera's arrival, more than simply directly taking his job, also massively alters the feel of the outfield for Dyson. Is there any reason to carry him as a backup when Blanco and Maier are likely objectively better?

Lorenzo Cain - Minor League Career: .291/.366/.416; Vague Defensive Assessment: good

Cain is a more functioning version of the Dyson prototype. He'll be 25 in 2011 and he's shown more at the plate in the minors. Still, the only difference in their OBPs has been 15 points of BA, which, given everything about the context in which it has occurred, means nothing. Unlike Dyson, he has shown some ability to drive the ball, which should augur well down the line. And, like all these minor league guys, lets just assume he's good defensively. Unless we're talking about getting him seasoning, it's not obvious to me that he's better than the other guys as an option for 2011. In any case, he's likely on the fast track to a spot on the Major League roster.

Derrick Robinson - Minor League Career: .253/.316/.330; Vague Defensive Assessment: good

D-Rob's offensive numbers are the worst of a bad bunch, but he's also the youngest player even in the discussion (I'm including him just because he's on the roster for some reason). Better still, at age 22 in 2010, Robinson had a mini-breakout at AA last season, hitting .286/.345/.380 at Coors Arkansas. With Cain, Dyson, and D-Rob, since we don't really have defensive information on them, there's a tendency to imagine that they are all completely awesome, +20 runs allowed guys with the glove. Rarely however, does it turn out like that.

So here we are. Cabrera's contract wasn't terrible, at just over $1 million, yet his apparent ascendancy to the starting CF job is depressing, because it continues to appear mostly pointless. Players like Maier and Blanco aren't impossible to improve upon, but Dayton Moore is making it look so. There's just nothing being accomplished here, other than Cabrera getting one last chance to save his career, on the Royals' dime. As a fan, I just have a hard time caring. If Cabrera hits well, he'll sign elsewhere. If he sucks, we were the last group of fans to suffer it. I cant wait to get his autograph at FanFest!

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