Cabrera’s cheap in-season signing proved huge for Nats

As our offseason coverage kicks into high gear, we’re going to review each significant player on the Nationals roster. We continue today with Asdrúbal Cabrera, a seemingly minor midseason pickup who wound up playing a major role during the World Series run.

PLAYER REVIEW: ASDRÚBAL CABRERA

Age on opening day 2020: 34

How acquired: Signed as free agent, August 2019

MLB service time: 12 years, 27 days

2019 salary: $3.5 million (Nats were only responsible for $170,000)

Contract status: Free agent

2019 stats (w/TEX and WSH): 131 G, 514 PA, 447 AB, 69 R, 116 H, 25 2B, 1 3B, 18 HR, 91 RBI, 4 SB, 0 CS, 57 BB, 103 SO, .260 AVG, .342 OBP, .441 SLG, .783 OPS, 97 OPS+, 2 DRS (at 2B), -4 DRS (at 3B), 1.9 fWAR, 1.7 bWAR

2019 postseason stats: 12 G, 33 PA, 30 AB, 1 R, 7 H, 1 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 1 BB, 10 SO, .233 AVG, .250 OBP, .267 SLG, .517 OPS

Quotable: “I trust myself. I know what I can do. I’m really thankful to the organization for giving me the opportunity to be here, to do my job, Davey (Martinez) to trust me. I’m always going to home plate to do my job, anything I can do to help the team win.” - Cabrera

Cabrera-Arms-Extrended-Blue-WS-G3-Sidebar.jpg2019 analysis: The early August signing of Cabrera didn’t seem like anything of significance at the time. It happened only because the Nationals were suddenly short on infielders, with Ryan Zimmerman and Howie Kendrick on the injured list. Cabrera, who had been released by the Rangers after a pedestrian four months in Texas, was available for a prorated portion of the big league minimum salary, so the Nats knew it was a low-risk deal.

Little could they have known how much they’d get for their small investment. Cabrera started out filling in at second and first bases. By late August, he was starting at second base almost every day, his bat far more consistently productive than Brian Dozier’s.

What made Cabrera so valuable? His performance in the clutch. In 61 plate appearances for the Nationals with runners in scoring position, he hit .412 with a 1.243 OPS. In only 38 games with the Nats, he recorded 40 RBIs.

With Kendrick and Zimmerman healthy come October, Cabrera mostly came off the bench during the postseason, his starts finally coming in Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 of the World Series when Kendrick was serving as designated hitter and second base opened up. Cabrera didn’t produce at that same rate in the playoffs, and he had some ugly at-bats along the way. But he nonetheless played a major role in his three months with the Nationals, all at an extremely affordable price.

2020 outlook: Cabrera won’t come nearly as cheap next year as he tries to parlay his strong 2019 into a better contract as a free agent. But if the price is right, the Nationals certainly could be interested in bringing him back.

With first, second and third bases all open at the moment, there’s a real need for infield help. Maybe Cabrera wouldn’t be their first choice to start at any of those positions, but he might make for a solid utilityman who could step in and start somewhere if needed. Or he could return to play second base but potentially cede the position to Carter Kieboom if the top prospect proves ready to take over at some point.

No matter how it turns out, Cabrera proved he can still be a productive big league hitter and a capable infielder. Whether it’s in D.C. or somewhere else, he’s still got more career ahead of him.

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