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Yankees Potential Trade Target: Edward Cabrera

Is there ace potential waiting to be unlocked in the young righty starter?

Miami Marlins v Chicago Cubs Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

This winter features no shortage of impact free agent pitchers, as even though Aaron Nola’s and Sonny Gray’s names have come off the board following their pacts with the Phillies and Cardinals, respectively, the likes of Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Blake Snell, and Jordan Montgomery remain available to buyers. Should the starting pitching-needy teams miss out on the trophy fish of this year’s free agency, they could turn to the other big fish in the pitching trade market pond: the Marlins.

For years now, it feels like Miami has been trying to deal from its deep reserve of starting pitchers to upgrade their offense. This winter is no different, with electric starter Edward Cabrera coming up in trade rumors.

2023 Statistics: 22 games (20 starts), 99.2 IP, 4.24 ERA (106 ERA+), 4.43 FIP, 4.30 xFIP, 27.2 percent K%, 15.2 percent BB%, 1.0 fWAR

2024 FanGraphs Depth Charts Projections: 26 starts, 139 IP, 4.13 ERA, 4.22 FIP, 25.3 percent K%, 11.5 percent BB%, 1.8 fWAR

Contract Status: Pre-arbitration-eligible, free agent following 2028 season.

Originally signed out of the Dominican Republic for $100,000 in 2015, Cabrera had established himself as Miami’s second-best prospect by the start of the 2022 season. Shoulder and biceps injuries delayed his major league debut until late August, after which he pitched to an uninspiring 5.81 ERA in seven starts. His development took a massive step over the following year, allowing Cabrera to break out in 2022 to the tune of a 3.01 ERA across 14 starts. It was enough to name Cabrera to the major league starting rotation, where he’d start the team’s third game of the season en route to finishing just shy of the 100.1-inning high-water mark he set in the minors in 2018.

Cabrera is another off the Marlin’s conveyer belt of flame-throwing right-handed starters, joining the ranks of Sandy Alcantara, Sixto Sánchez, Eury Pérez and others to come before and after him. His four-seamer averages 96.2 mph, tied for the 18th-fastest heater among starting pitchers. He leverages his imposing 6-foot-5-inch frame and low three-quarters arm slot to generate a heavy fastball that bears in on a righty’s hands.

Velocity is the name of the game for Cabrera. He’s a unicorn pitcher in that he throws his offspeed pitches harder than just about anyone in the majors, his changeup the third-hardest in MLB at 92.9 mph and curveball ninth-hardest at 84.6 mph. The curveball is a legitimate out-pitch, holding batters to a .185 expected batting average and .262 xwOBA, while turning in the fourth-best put-away rate (33.1 percent), ninth-best strikeout rate (45.1 percent), and 25th-best whiff rate (38 percent) among pitchers who saw at least 50 plate appearances end with a curveball.

However, it’s the changeup that truly sets Cabrera apart from the rest of the pack. Opposing hitters only batted .186 against the change while whiffing on 36.3 percent of swings. Compared to other changeups, its movement doesn’t stand out, but when held up against sinkers thrown at the same velocity, it displays above-average movement horizontally and vertically. He recorded the fastest strikeout on a changeup in Statcast history, blowing a 96-mph change past Christian Yelich, though you do wonder how much more effective the pitch could be if he could bleed off a little velocity to create better separation off the heater.

2023 saw Cabrera take strides that certainly bode well for the future. He upped his whiff rate on pitches out of the zone by four points relative to the previous two years, allowing him to convert what were foul ball that prolonged plate appearances into punch outs, a skill which can help him go deeper into games. He also shaved five degrees off the previous year’s launch angle, resulting in a 55.2-percent ground-ball rate that was sixth-highest among starters with at least 90 innings pitched.

Of course, there are two major concerns that accompany Cabrera to the mound: wayward command and injury history. Among starters with at least 90 inning pitched, Cabrera’s walk rate of 14.6 percent was second-highest behind only Michael Kopech. In fact, he has never managed a walk rate in the single digits at Triple-A or higher. And while he’s managed to avoid serious injury so far, ailments to his toe, finger, elbow, ankle and shoulder have led to many stints on the shelf adding up to significant missed time over the last three years. A shoulder impingement cost Cabrera a month in 2023, though he did return to tie a Marlins franchise record by striking out eight in a relief appearance against the Dodgers his first game back.

While the Marlins have indeed been active in trying to convert their starters into offensive contributors on the trade market — the Yankees and Miami were in negotiations to swap Pablo López and Gleyber Torres before the Marlins sent the former to Minnesota for Luis Arraez — that reservoir has dried up over the last 12 months. In addition to López’s departure, staff ace Alcantara is expected to miss 2024 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, prospect Jake Eder was dealt in the Jake Burger trade, and the trio of top prospects in Max Meyer, Dax Fulton and Sánchez are recovering from injuries of their own. That leaves the Marlins’ 2024 starting staff in a rather precarious position, with Cabrera penciled into the rotation alongside Pérez, Jesús Luzardo, Trevor Rogers, and Braxton Garrett.

Thus, the Marlins’ vaunted starting pitching depth is nowhere near where it used to be, so it would likely require quite an offer for Miami to part with one of their remaining healthy starters. What’s more, Cabrera comes with five years of team control so there is really no urgency to deal him this offseason. When you combine these factors — Cabrera’s injury history and Miami’s likely inflated asking price — the Yankees may be better served looking elsewhere to reinforce their rotation.