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Does character count or should Cubs try to buy low on Cabrera, Escobar?

Does character count or should Cubs try to buy low on Cabrera, Escobar?
Yunel Escobar sure looks like he's really, really sorry

There are two talented players on the market who have substantially hurt their value for non-baseball related issues, Melky Cabrera and Yunel Escobar.  With their value at an all-time low, is it worth it for the Cubs to take a flyer and see if they can reestablish themselves or are there too many questions about their mental makeup?

Cabrera, a potential free agent, was caught using PEDs, and then to make it worse, tried to cover it up with a ridiculous ruse.  After the plot failed, he became very contrite.  Is it too little too late?

Melky Cabrera, 28, was in position to win the batting crown for San Francisco before drawing his 50 game suspension.  He was hitting .346/.379/.390 with 11 HRs in 501 PAs at the time.  He can play all 3 OF positions but is most effective in the corner spots.  The Cubs could play him in CF or move David DeJesus to CF and Cabrera to RF.  Cabrera would also be a solid bat to replace Alfonso Soriano should the Cubs find a taker.

The Cubs are building for the long term and Cabrera is still in his peak athletic years and should continue to produce over the next few years, but the guess here may be that Cabrera would sign a one or two year deal to try and recoup value.  The Cubs could then decide whether he's a part of their future or whether they should move on with younger players.

What of Yunel Escobar, 29, who wore a homophobic slur on his eye black just this past season? This wasn't the first time there have been concerns about the young SS, Escobar has had all kinds of  character questions, starting back when he was with the Braves.  Most of them were vague but some questioned his commitment and his work ethic.  Despite his talents, Escobar is now on the trading block once again.  The Blue Jays, having picked up SS Mike Aviles from Boston as compensation for John Farrrell, are now ready to deal their SS just as is trade value has bottomed out.

While the Cubs are set at SS with Starlin Castro, Escobar can also play 3B and 2B, starting 19 and 20 games respectively, though none since 2007.   That's too long ago and the sample size too small to make a definitive judgment on how he'd play there, but  the Cubs would more likely use him at 3B unless they were to trade Darwin Barney.  Last year was an off year for Escobar (.253/.300/.344), further diminishing his value, but he was  4.3 WAR player (albeit at SS) in 2011 when he hit .290/.369/.413 with 11 HRs.  Even with the position change he would be a significant upgrade over incumbent Luis Valbuena.  Moreover, Escobar's defense is excellent at SS and should probably carry over to 3B.  And lastly, the contract is friendly.  Escobar is on the last guaranteed year of a 2 year/$10M contract and then there are two $5M/yr team options for both 2014 and 2015. His ability to play a good defensive SS and that low, team friendly contract could make him a valuable trade chip if he rebounds.

There is no question each player would upgrade the talent on the 2013 team.  The Cubs could do the usual PR spin and give the "we've talked to the player and they understand it was a mistake, and we feel confident there should be no issues going forward" spiel.  Both players are in their prime. Both players are talented.  But both have concerns about their character.  On a team that prides itself on building with players with good mental makeup, is it worth the gamble?

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  • My knee-jerk reaction (since I appear to be the first to comment):
    Given the Zambrano deal last winter and the comments the FO has made regarding clubhouse chemistry, it is hard for me to see either of these two moves happening. See Stewart, Ian, as a second example of the FO valuing commitment and work ethic.

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    Yes, I'm having a hard time envisioning the front office bringing in a question mark. The team history is too fresh, both with Ian Stewart and Zambrano, but also with Theo and Boston just last year. Stewart, by the way, had some pretty questionable comments on Twitter in an exchange with a fan. They weren't as bad as Escobar's but it may be more than work ethic with Stewart. I'd be very surprised if he comes back.

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    After seeing Aviles go to Toronto -- my immediate thought was to lookup Escobar's #'s and see how his bat would play @ 3B for us next year. On his good years he is a productive SS -- decent OBP for the position. He'd be barely tolerable as a 3B I though -- but then wehn you compare his production to what we had this year I think he'd actually be an upgrade. I'd be for acquiring him -- just want to make sure the gay-bashing stuff was truly a mistake. That kind of stuff (even if you believe it or not) belongs nowhere on a baseball field.

    The end result is that we need productive players though and I think both could be that for us.

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    In reply to Chris Lattier:

    meant OPS...but all his numbers seem good except on his down years.

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    In reply to Chris Lattier:

    Geez -- sorry for all the spelling mistakes. haha -- I need lunch. haha

  • In reply to Chris Lattier:

    Agreed, Chris... on all counts. As a 3B, he wouldn't be a huge asset on offense but if he plays D like he did at SS and produces as he did in 2011, that is definitely an upgrade. Not a bad thing to have an MLB starting caliber SS as a trade chip if he turns himself around. But yeah, you have to make really sure that it was just a dumb mistake and not a serious irreparable character flaw.

  • In reply to Chris Lattier:

    I agree that the Cubs need better players. But don't forget that the club will likely be pretty young next year, in which case you want to make sure the veterans you bring in have good character, and show the pups the right way to play on the field and act off the field. I think if this was a more veteran club with strong leader types, a questionable character like Escobar would be a better gamble, but it's not.

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    In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    That's a really good point...and one I didn't consider in my original post.

  • Melky - Steroids = Replacement

  • In reply to Cubswin4harry:

    He certainly did seem to have a big surge in offensive numbers the last two years.

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    I would prefer neither, but I would take Cabrera before I'd take Escobar.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I think Escobar's character flaws are more serious. On the field, though, I think his superior defense makes him a better fit. In the end, I think some other team will be more willing to pay for Escobar than the Cubs, if for no other reason that true MLB level shortstops are hard to find.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    This is cynical in the extreme, but, given Ryan Braun's numbers this year, i think it's safe to say that either (a) he never took/needed PEDs or (b) he's still taking them. I'm going to go with (b), which means that a Cabrera signing might be worth more than it seems.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Interesting take, Mike. I wonder if that's the case. To me it's obvious that Braun took them and got off on a technicality and I wonder if he really is still taking them now. I suppose, even if he isn't, the fact that he's still performing well one year later makes it seem that a one year gamble on Cabrera may pay off either way.

  • Has a definitive study ever been performed that proves PED'S actually improve baseball performance? Do these drugs improve hand /eye coordination, pitch recognition, etc? I guess I am a sceptic when it comes to baseball and drugs as opposed to other sports in which musculature enhances performance. This is not to say that I approve of drug use.

  • In reply to cavemancubbie:

    There have been studies to try and prove they have no effect on performance but the ones that I've seen are ones include all players, whether they had an iota of talent to begin with or not. I think those studies treat it like a black and white situation and that misses the point.

    You are right that they don't improve hand/eye coordination or baseball specific skills and while I think the idea that PEDs always help is extreme, I think the side that says they don't help at all are equally off base.

    I look at PEDs as something like those old Miracle Gro plant food packets. If you plant it in fertile ground with good seeds (i.e. an already talented ballplayer), it can help create something bigger and better than you would have under normal circumstances. But if you try to use it with poor quality seeds and bad, dried up soil, it won't make a bit of difference. PEDs can help talented players perform better but they can't make bad players good, or even average.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Bottom line is that If they didn't work, there wouldn't be such widespread use.

  • In reply to Cubswin4harry:

    True, although I've seen people make the argument that belief that they work is enough to keep people trying it. I suppose that some of it's true, but when you see what guys like Sosa, Bonds, and McGuire did..as well as guys like Brady Anderson, it's easy to see why players believe they work. I think they help too, but only if you have good baseball specific skills to start with.

  • Acquire either or both if the price is right. The only unforgivable sin in baseball is playing poorly and losing as a result.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    That goes for anybody else out there with "character" issues. If Milton Bradley had followed up his outstanding 2008 with a great 2009 as a Cub, no on in Chicago would have given a damn that he was a psychopath. Just win, baby.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    While it may be true that all would have been forgiven had the Cubs won the WS, Bradley would have worn out his welcome eventually. And maybe it's only the bottom line that counts, but there have been studies that have shown that the introduction of a bad influence on a group can indeed affect the groups overall performance. I think there's been attempts to separate group performance and individual behavior, but I think whenever you're dealing with human beings, you have to take both into account. Epstein and Hoyer already operate under this assumption.

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    I can't help but think of the last time we took a flyer on another "questionable character" guy; viz. Bradley, Milton.

    .

  • In reply to Bobby Douglas:

    That didn't work out too well.

  • The Ricketts family has been working hard to make strides in the gay community. I would be very surprised if they would risk losing any of that goodwill by signing Escobar. Cabrera seems like a greater possibility, although still a long shot.

  • In reply to Ratmoss:

    Agreed. Too much of a PR hit at this stage. Right now they have enough of a hard time trying to sell a rebuild to the average fan.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Even beyond the intangibles John, I'm not sure I even see the baseball sense in it. As your great work on our position analysis is showing, 2B, SS, and 3B are positions of relative strength for us, and this team is going to stink in 2013 also.

    All trying to eke out a couple wins with bad character guys does is maybe gets us closer to .500 next year if they both behave and both perform. I'd rather our kids continue to take their lumps and figure things out surrounded by high character veterans like DeJesus and Sori than either of these two knuckleheads!

  • In reply to Ryno2Grace:

    That is a good point. You can get better, but to what end? They aren't good enough to make the team contenders and they won't help establish the kind of culture the Cubs want.

  • Cabrera's pre-PED and post-PED numbers say it all, so I'd say no to him and if the Cubs think Escobar could be helpful, why not?

  • I like Escobar as a fit and because of potential trade value, just not sure he's the kind of guy you want in your organization.

  • I voted for niether. Without getting into discussion on how much peds help, I do not think it is a good idea to take on a player that has been fought. With the possible exception of the Brewers left fielder, cheaters seldom perform close to their ped numbers.

    As far as Escobar I like CubsFanInNorways take.

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    Interesting news out of the front office today about Bush, Rowson and Bell.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I saw that and tweeted it out but don't know enough about Bell to write an article on him yet. Once Magadan was gone, keeping Rowson didn't surprise me. He shares their philosophy and it will keep continuity, particularly with the young players. I would have been surprised if they let Bush go too.

  • I voted yes for both. Escobar's contract is affordable, and Cabrera will likely want a one-year deal, perhaps with an option. If they both behave and perform well, their value at the trade deadline will be enormous. If not, it's only (someone else's) money.

  • In reply to cubsin:

    That's a very pragmatic approach and I suppose it won't hurt if you're only committed for one year -- and then there is the potential to turn short term assets into long term ones.

  • Something the Cubs were able to do very well this year was keep the clubhouse in line. The players were always motivated, and excited for the opportunity to play regardless of the score. Melky has the type of fire that belongs in a Wrigley dugout.

    Yunel, however, is a wild card. Having character issues won't become a problem unless it has an effect on the rest of the team. As long as designating him for assignment is easy as 1-2-3 (and the friendly contract suggests as much), then we can let him go at the first sight of trouble.

    I'm convinced that both of these guys are the type of player that the Cubs could use right now. PR could deal with it, but only if they take on one of these guys. Both would be a nightmare. Let's just stick to one, with my vote going to Melky.

  • In reply to elusivekarp:

    Another interesting way to look at it. Escobar's issues are more pervasive...that lack of overall mental makeup could be detrimental to the team as a whole while Cabrera's issues are more individualistic in nature.

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    Does the potential negative attitude that these two may have outweigh the trade value they could give us at the deadline? I guess that's the real question.

    If Escobar could be had for pennies on the dollar...and hopefully learned to not be a big enough disruption -- I am thinking I would go for it. Although it's not a no-brainer by any means. Also, the homophobic slur was very troubling...especially w/ all the anti-bullying campaigns out there and w/ baseball being a big think w/ children. It left a bad taste in a lot of peoples mouths.

    As far as Melky -- I think I'd be cautious as far as expectations go. He's had issues w/ staying in shape...his #'s were awesome with help from PED's. I just would expect him to fall a little bit to his career norms. He reminds me a lot of David DeJesus. Good defense, no outstanding offensive tool. I'd consider him -- but wouldn't overpay there either.

  • In reply to Chris Lattier:

    That is tough to overlook. Toronto has shown they've been willing to take on talent with questionable makeup, so if they give up on him, it says something to me. Especially when they are going for a downgrade in Aviles and had to give up their manager for it. He scares me more from that standpoint. And for AA to trade him at his lowest value,that's unlike him. It says a lot.

  • I'd go for Cabrera, even though he's less of a need at this point his situation doesn't seem as harmful to the clubhouse than Escobar's. Escobar just seems like a headcase, and as you stated the maricon incident wasn't his first character incident.

    I think the one worry with Cabrera is that, you wonder how much the steroids helped him? His past 2 years look really solid but, go back to his Yankee years and he looks more like a dud. But if your only giving him a 1-2yr contract will it matter? I mean if he rebounds great, trade him and get some prospects. If he doesn't add this to the Ian Stewart list of failures.

    The thing that jumps out to me most is the high babip (.379) how much of his year was due to steroids or due to luck? Take a look back in 2010 his babip was .332 and his slashline was .305/.339/.470. Now take a look at 2011 his babip was .379 his slashline was .346/.390/.516 an almost 30-40pt increase per each stat. If he finishes the year no way his numbers are as gaudy. Although, you could make an argument that perhaps he's been using peds since his Royals days and he just wasn't caught.

  • In reply to Furiousjeff:

    There may have been some luck involved there. I don't think Cabrera is a .350 hitter, that's for sure. But he could be solid if he performs the way he did with the Royals too -- but like you said, maybe PEDs had something to do with it.

  • I think as a one-year rental, I would not mind seeing Escobar at third base. Yes, there were statements made about him in Atlanta as well as Toronto, but the same statements were made about Melky in Atlanta, too. And I don't want Melky. Better stats, sure. I'm staying away from PEDs, though.

  • In reply to Rob Letterly:

    From a pure baseball standpoint, he's a better fit, but when there are two shrewd front offices who trade a talented young SS away, it makes you wonder.

  • I vote no for both these guys.

    There is no reason for the club to make a decision now. I'd like to see who gets nontendered from other clubs and maybe even if someone unexpected performs well enough in spring training to claim a job.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    I'd like to see them explore other options as well.

  • I voted no to both. I liked the way Melky played in KC, but he may have been enhancing even then, so I give him no hall pass. Escobar's seemingly poor attitude is NOT what we need next to Castro....Starlin needs a more positive infield role model to emulate.
    But I wouldn't be surprised if our feathered friends to the south pick up either or both. They have holes in both the OF and at SS, e.g., Jay's rag-arm, #1 draft-pick Kozma's bad glove, Furcal's decline, et al.

  • Character definitely matters, so not Melky Cabrera. Yunel I give more of a pass on because his whole "you're a fag" eyeblack thing seemed to be more PC media thought policing than anything, so that wouldn't affect me at all. He seems the more tempting of the two. The fact you say he's been known to have other character issues worries me though.

    So either neither or Yunel. They get Melky, I pee in someone's pool.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    So it's okay to use a derogatory word to insult a group of people because you can dismiss it as "PC media"?

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Twice in a week I get to have this conversation. Lucky me.

    What was the exact translation? I'd heard it was "You're a fag" which I don't have a problem with. It's like saying "You're lame" at this point, and doesn't usually connote anything about sexual preference. If it was "Faggots are going to hell" or something, then I agree it was a derogatory word to insult a group, but the former wouldn't be. All about intent and context.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    That is the translation, but I don't look at it as the way you or I might take it. i think of it as insensitive to a group of people because that particular word has been (and still is) used to hurt and demean. That it becomes accepted in the everyday lexicon as something else, with perhaps a different meaning, isn't much consolation. What it might mean to me as an outsider is meaningless, Escobar has to be sensitive to those for whom that word has an intensive, negative meaning that conjures up painful memories/emotions. He has to grow up and think outside himself and his world. It's bad judgment on his part.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I'm just going to copy and paste something I wrote earlier in the week because it pretty succinctly captures my feelings on the matter. And because I really have no desire to have this conversation every time I express myself and it rankles someone.

    "Gay to mean lame is like gay to mean happy. It’s become so ingrained in our vernacular that people use it without connotation to sexual preference. It’s a definition 1, definition 2 thing at this point. Sure some dickhead anti-gay guy might use it that way, but dickhead anti-gay peeps are gonna use whatever they can.

    Buddhists have this great concept that says it causes as much pain in the world to take offense as it does to give it. The movement to rid the world of gay = lame is an attempt by well meaning people who just have absolutely no idea what it takes for different groups of people to get along. I was a white kid growing up in a barrio and I was treated like anyone else. Why? Because I walked around called everyone Mexican-Americans? Hell no. Because I fucked around with their differences, they fucked around with mine, and we treated each other like guys treat each other. I blame our thought policing popular culture for otherwise bright people not getting this rather obvious fact.

    People are gonna talk different than you do. If you can’t accept that… even when there’s no vitriol behind it… how are you going to accept other bigger differences, like say, their sexuality."

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Messing around with friends isn't nearly the same thing.

    If it's just a word, why not use a different one? Why not just use "lame" if it is all so harmless and meaningless ? And especially because "lame" conveys the alleged intention so much more clearly! Why the need to use a word that will undoubtedly offend others? It's about thinking outside of yourself, not as how one thinks other people should feel -- especially when you cannot possibly claim to have the same experience with the word.

    I understand the history and meaning of such words, but I also can understand that they mean something completely different to other people. And I choose to respect that.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    If you truly respect that the word means different things to different people, then you might look for the intent of the person using it and not apply the same rule to everyone.

    "Why not use a different" word can be said for every word in your response. But if I start forcing you to change your words to ones I prefer, are you really the one speaking anymore?

    And why not use another word because this word hurts people? Censorship hurts people too. And the word "cancer" for that matter. Bad memories are stirred up every time I hear that word. But do I want that word to be stricken from the english language? No, of course not, because I know the person using that word isn't intending to hurt me, and intent is what it's all about. You implicitly understand that fact yourself because you say, "So it's okay to use a derogatory word *to insult a group of people* because you can dismiss it as "PC media"?" ...and my point is that if he used the word to insult a group of people, then no, but if that wasn't his intent, then yes.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    That's fine if you think intentions give you freedom to say whatever you want to people. I choose to respect people's feelings even if it infringes on my freedom to use certain words. To me that's a pretty small sacrifice.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    " I really have no desire to have this conversation every time I express myself and it rankles someone."
    And yet you do.
    If as the Buddhists say (you say), it causes pain to give offense as well as to "take" offense, you are doing both. First, by your apologist approach to slurs; and second, by your taking offense towards the equally valid opinions of what you call popular culture police.
    If you put it out there, expect people to respond, as is their privilege.

    Better to have kept out of it, as you said three posts before.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    I take no offense to what John's saying and accept both his and my opinion as
    genuine and well intentioned. And It's not an overly enjoyable conversation for me, and not one I enjoy having, but I have the competing desire to express myself, make no apologies for it, and unlike yourself, have something to contribute.

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    I wouldn't mind we sign both players for team friendly contracts.

    If Melky proves he can be real good, sign him long term and we have another player for our playoff run!!

    If Yunel is good, flip him at the break or offseason for some young players.

    I am not defending Yunel at all, but a lot of these kids from latin american have little to none education and pretty much think the way they talk to there friends is okay to take on to the field. Wrongo Yunel, and hopefully thru some racial sensitivity training, he will learn and so will other young latin players. I have a lot of hispanic friends esp Cuban from living in South Florida for so long and you can hear them say Mericon like we say "your an idiot" "dummy" ect.

    It's kind of sad that it's coming to posts/ideas like this because us Cub fans want to see some kind of improvement for this garbage team and we are willing to take cast offs, cheaters, injured players, ect. Please spend some of those profits and get us 1 great starter for the future and a mixture of low risk/high reward guys.

    With some shrewd moves, this team can be a lot better then the "experts" expect.

  • If they could pitch, I'd say go for it. Since neither does, and both seem to be marginal upgrades at best, why bother.

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    More people (28% to 11%) would rather have a cheater than some one who exercised their right to free speech. I find his speech stupid and ill informed but it is his right. Steroids are both against the rules of the game and against the law of the land. Also, consider that the cheater will most likely not be as good if he is no longer taking.

  • In reply to Ken Roucka:

    Good post!

  • In reply to Ken Roucka:

    I think it has nothing to do with abridging free speech. How you use that right and how it reflects on your employer is the issue here. I think it speaks to his character and poor judgment -- two questions that have plagued him long before he wore his infamous eye black. In case anyone had any doubts before about where this kid's head is, those doubts were quelled that day.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree with that. I think the main question is who's going to provide an example you want the young kids to see. I don't know what Cabrera's like in the clubhouse, but it's pretty clear to me, given the totality of issues in Yunel's past, that he's not someone you want around a young team. If Cabrera's a good clubhouse guy, than I might be open to taking a flyer on him. He's done his time.

  • In reply to Kevin Heckman:

    I do like that, once he was caught, Cabrera owned up and voluntarily excluded himself from qualifying for the batting title even though he could have gotten a few ABs late in the season to qualify. That to me, was more than just words. I also think it's more of an individual thing. He used steroids for himself but his actions don't directly affect anyone else. Between the two, I'd rather have Cabrera around the kids, especially if he really is as sorry as he has shown. Perhaps he can even turn it into a positive.

  • Again I voted for niether, but I do believe second chances so I could accept both if it is on Theo and Jed's agenda.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Agreed, 44slug. I'm a believer in 2nd chances as well. People make mistakes and as long as they learn from them, it can be a positive. If they pass the muster with Theo/Jed, I'm okay with it too.

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    Huge fan of this blog. Thank you for all of your insight. I have always been a big baseball nut, but never really dug into the advanced statistics, so this has been a great education/tool for me! While discussing some of the more questionable FA's out there. Is there ever a time where Nick Swisher has had a lower stock value? Would he be a good stop gap in the outfield for the cubs as they wait for their youngsters to move through the system. Also same for A-Rod. I wouldn't begin to think he would be worth a huge dollar amount, but if you could get him for $4-5M per year for five, then wouldn't he be worth a flyer with no immediate options available? At that price tag he would likely be movable in a couple of years if we needed to make room for Baez or others...I cannot imagine the yankees would expect much if anything in return, and it gives you an immediate impact player in the line-up, albeit significantly down from his $28M/year days, but at the right price, why not?

  • In reply to Jordan Dutcher:

    Your welcome and thank you for the kind words Jordan!

    I think Swisher is a potential fit. My worry would be more whether he'd want to come to a rebuilding situation at this stage in his career. In my opinion, if he's going to sign for less, he'll do it for a team with a chance of winning something.

    Lots of doubts about A-Rod right now. He really seems to be slipping of late. Then again, if he's cheap maybe he can be a draw for a team that lacks star power. Perhaps he needs a change of scenery.

  • They both seem toxic to me. The key issue for the future of the Cubs is to keep the young kids on track. We lose even one of the talented youngsters by bringing in bad attitudes or known PED users, it delays the Cub rebuild far more then what can be gained by bringing in one or both of these players. Perhaps more important, this doesn't look like the list of players that the FO is studying at the moment. They seem to be more interested in players that have had a bad performance as compared to players that have been in trouble.

  • In reply to les561:

    I think this FO does look at statistical indicators a lot. They try to unearth players who had bad seasons that may have been a fluke for one reason or the other. My feeling is that neither of these guys winds up in a Cubs uniform and we're more likely to see a non-tender FA come here on a flyer.

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