At this point in the winter, we pretty much know what the Yankees roster will look like going into spring training: the starting lineup is pretty much set, the top of the rotation is penciled in, and the bullpen’s four big arms are ready to go. But that doesn’t mean there still isn’t room for improvement through the addition of quality depth pieces.
If the Yankees decide to seek an upgrade to Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada, Asdrúbal Cabrera likely sits near the top of the list. A middle infielder by trade, the fourteen-year veteran has added both corner infield spots to his repertoire over the last three seasons, all while posting a 98 OPS+ over the last two years and 108 OPS+ dating back to 2016 — a respectable number for a middle infielder, particularly one used in a reserve role.
The Statcast data from the 2020 season give mixed signals for Cabrera. On the one hand, his 18.8 K% was in the 77th percentile and he posted a slightly above-average exit velocity (89.5 MPH, compared to league-average 88.3); on the other, his xwOBA was only .306, in the 38th percentile, and his 38.3 hard hit percentage was in the 44th. For a guy entering his age-35 season, it’s more likely that the xwOBA is a sign of decline than the exit velocity is a sign that he should have a bounce-back season.
That said, Cabrera would be a replacement for Wade or Estrada, not DJ LeMahieu or Gleyber Torres, which means that, so long as his glove is around league average, even a small decline would still be a net positive for the Yankees. Unfortunately, that’s a bit harder to project. Over the last three years, Statcast has indicated that Cabrera has received positive marks at every infield position, accruing 15 OAA. In 2017, however, he accrued -10 OAA between shortstop and third base, which is more in line with his DRS values (-42 DRS from 2017-2020). Moreover, he has not played shortstop since 2018, playing 204.1 innings for the Philadelphia Phillies. Given his age, I personally would be hesitant to count too much on his defensive prowess at this point.
A veteran like Cabrera might seem like an enticing guy for the Yankees to pursue, a veteran infielder whose bat will almost certainly be an upgrade and who has already demonstrated the debatably-existent “ability to play in New York,” having spent two parts of two years with the Mets. At the moment, however, he currently does not appear to have a spot on the roster, as his defensive questions and his questionable ability to play shortstop at this stage prevents him from adequately filling a utility role. And that’s assuming he’s willing to fill that role in the first place, since he’s played at least 131 games in every full season since 2015.