Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Catching Up: The Fall of Melky Cabrera

After a season in which Melky Cabrera brought numbers (.242/.296/.337) more appropriate to a 1970s shortstop than a 21st Century outfielder to the mix, the Melk-man was finally sent down to the minors, just four days after his 24th birthday. From June 8 to August 13, Melky had hit only .202/.256/.269, with just 8 extra base hits in 209 PA. Many have taken the opportunity to rewrite history, claiming that Cabrera never belonged in the majors, and saying they wouldn't be surprised if he never makes it back. Others have pointed to the celebrated friendship between Melky and another disappointing youngster, Robinson Cano, as an unhealthy situation that's made both players complacent and altogether too party-minded. Any which way, it's hard to tell if this demotion will just be an obstacle, or if it's the beginning of the end for a popular player.

Melky's demotion left a hole in the Yankee defense. For all his struggles with the bat, Cabrera's been an above-average fielder in center. Shifting Johnny Damon to center, and inserting Xavier Nady in left, is a huge net loss for the Yankee defense. Only days before he became a full-time center fielder again, Damon was bragging about how much he loved DHing--not a great sign, for a player the Yanks acquired for his flycatching ability. Nady, who I'd remembered as a decent defender from his time with the Mets, looks utterly unnatural in left field--his routes to balls make late-era Bernie Williams look efficient and instinctive, his arm is awful. Even though the Yankees could likely use him as a late-inning defensive replacement, if nothing else, the Yanks didn't recall Cabrera with the expanded rosters on September 1--a sign that the demotion may be punitive, as well as performance-related.

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