The San Francisco Giants have traded minor league outfield prospect Thomas Neal to the Cleveland Indians for thirty-six year old shortstop Orlando Cabrera. This is a deal that perfectly illustrates an ongoing addiction to the safety of mediocrity that occasionally overcomes General Manager Brian Sabean and the Giants’ front office.
What we have here is yet another past his prime veteran player brought in by the Giants who instantly becomes a roadblock for more talented organizational players in need the kind of development you can only get at the Major League level.
Neal is a mid-level outfield prospect with declining power numbers but I will guarantee the local sports talk radio shows in the Bay Area will be awash with fans outraged over losing Neal. Thanks to the infosocial network, serious baseball fans are more knowledgeable about their team’s minor league system and the annual draft, which leads to a level of identification with specific minor league players that was unknown prior to the 1990s.
So when Zack Wheeler gets traded for Carlos Beltran, or Thomas Neal for Orlando Cabrera, fans feel something is lost even though they’ve likely never seen either of those players in a ballgame. But they know the latest stats for players at Single A San Jose and they’re hyped about the possibility of seeing those players come up to the bigs.
In the Giants’ case, trading Thomas Neal is not a dramatic loss. (Remind me I wrote that three years from now when Neal wins the American League Most Valuable Player Award.) San Francisco has two outstanding outfield prospects who are doing great, Gary Brown and Francisco Peguero, and there are a number of emerging minor league outfielders who are about to pass Thomas Neal by. So losing Neal is not the issue.
The loss here is bringing in yet one more aging, past his prime infielder in an attempt to squeeze out even a little more run production from the shortstop position. And so continues a 3 year tradition at AT&T Park of trotting out another in a series of birthday-challenged shortstops who have no range and seem to think that turning a double play will somehow raise their personal income tax.
Current shortstop Brandon Crawford is a rookie who can’t stop slow dancing with the Mendoza Line, but his range at shortstop is breathtaking and he can turn jaw-dropping double plays. The Giants’ great pitching depends on infielders with great range and a great arm. No matter who they dance with.
So, if I’m correct (and I am), next week the World Champion Giants infield will feature Miguel Tejada batting .242 with a .274 OPB, and Orlando Cabrera hitting .244 with a .277 OBP. Cabrera will be 37 years old this year and Tejada plays like he is just months away from getting his first AARP card. Anything else we need to know about Cabrera? Yes– he’s been on 8 teams in his 15 year career.
This old school reliance on previously talented veterans during times of run scoring stress is not new to GM Brian Sabean. But I thought he had moved on to a better place on this issue. I was wrong.