How will Melky Cabrera fare in free agency?

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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.

Cardinals encourage players not to hide injuries

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In Major League Baseball, players are routinely pressured to play through injury and pain. Sometimes it’s just a minor ache, and sometimes it’s a very serious injury. The pressure comes from everywhere: the players themselves, their peers, coaches, front offices, media, and fans. Players who develop a reputation for landing on the disabled list are described as “soft” and “fragile.” Players who battle through the pain get talked about as “gritty” and “dedicated.”

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Cardinals are trying to encourage their players to be more honest about their health. The culture surrounding this is tough to change, but manager Mike Matheny wants his players to come to him if “anything that is off.” As Goold notes, Alex Reyes and Matt Bowman revealed they were, in Bowman’s words, not “entirely forthcoming.” Carlos Martinez said he pitched tentatively because he was “scared” of re-injuring himself. Matheny also called pitcher Michael Wacha “a great liar” when talking about his arm health.

Matt Carpenter has also played through injury and takes pride in it. He’s an example of the old mentality the club is trying to pierce through. Caarpenter said, “I’m a believer in if you’re getting paid to do a job and you’re capable of doing the job — even if it’s 85 percent of your best — I feel you have the obligation to be out there. That is the mentality I’ve always used. I could have very easily, at times last year, sat on the [disabled list], but I felt like I could still go out and do my job.”

Goold points out that players approach dealing with health issues differently depending on where they’re at in their careers. A young player who just got called up has pressure to stay in the big leagues and appear in games, so he may not want to address a health issue. A player who has already secured a multi-year contract may have less pressure on him and thus may be more willing to come to the trainer’s room.

I’ve long believed that player health will be the next arena in which front offices will separate themselves from the pack. Analytics had been that battleground for a while, but with every club now having an analytics department in some capacity, front offices will have to find value in new ways. Limiting the amount of time that players miss due to injury would be a significant boost for a team and it will start with players being forthcoming about what’s bothering them rather than trying to fight through pain.