Now this is going to be extremely interesting. Melky Cabrera spent two-thirds of the 2012 season as one of the NL’s 10-best players. Although he’s going to miss the final 46 games after testing positive for enhanced testosterone levels, he has a decent chance of winning the batting title given his current .346 average, with only Andrew McCutchen ahead of him at .359.
Cabrera was also plenty good with the Royals last season, hitting .305/.339/.470 with 18 homers, 87 RBI and 20 steals. That’s not at the level of this year’s .346/.390/.516 line, but it probably would have gotten a three-year contract worth $7 million-$8 million per year had he been a free agent then. Instead, he had to wait one more year.
Now Cabrera will head into free agency with All-Star numbers and a tarnished reputation. If the Giants make the playoffs and Cabrera shows early-season form in October, it could do wonders for his value. However, if the Giants miss the playoffs — as seems quite likely — then there’s nothing Cabrera can do between now and the winter to enhance his value. He wouldn’t even be able to play winter ball given his status as a suspended MLB player.
My thinking was that Cabrera was looking at something like $40 million-$48 million for four years as a free agent this winter. After all, he’s just 28 years old, making him something of a rarity — few quality position players hit free agency prior to turning 30. He’s not really being looked at as a center fielder any longer, but that was OK. There were other center fielders available anyway (Michael Bourn, B.J, Upton, Shane Victorino), and there will be more contenders looking for help in the corners than in center. Given his youth and his recent play, $10 million-$12 million per year seemed pretty reasonable.
Now there’s no way he’s getting that kind of contract. I imagine he’ll need to a take a one-year, make-good contract and then head back into free agency. He’ll still do well enough salary-wise — someone will risk $8 million-$10 million on him — but he’ll need to prove himself all over again in order to get a long-term contract.