Think back to what the front office was like after the Aaron Rowand deal was signed, sealed, and delivered. There were people who thought it was a good idea. If there wasn't a yelp or a holler, there was at least an earnest fist-pump or three. Aaron Rowand, baby. This helps the team in some capacity. Good on us.
Which is to say, bigger isn't necessarily better. Rowand was coming off a career year when he signed with the Giants. It was a bold move. Drinking the styrofoam cocktail that's left in the container after you put some chicken on the grill: also a bold move. The Giants didn't need a bold move like that this offseason.
The Giants could have made a big move just to make a big move. They tried that once.
Gary Matthews, Jr.! … dammit so much how about Juan Pierre? … you gotta be kidding me, okay Aaron Rowand! … YESSSSSS SCORRRRRRE AWLRIGHT FOLKS
/dunks ball through Nerf hoop on back of office door
I'm glad they didn't try it again. It wouldn't have been pretty. As such, maybe we should welcome Melky Cabrera with open arms. He didn't come over on a seven-year deal. He wasn't acquired for Gary Brown. He's a one-year challenge player who was traded for a one-year challenge player. In theory, the Giants trading a bottom-rotation starter for a offensive-minded corner outfielder makes all sorts of sense.
The problem is that the offensive-minded corner outfielder was only an offensive-minded corner outfielder in exactly one of his six seasons in the majors. Last year. Which sort of hints that the stars had to align for even that to happen. In the analytical world, stars aligning is usually referred to as batting average on balls in play. Last year, Melky's BABIP was higher than it ever had been by about 30 points. You can choose to believe that he wasn't lucky. But that isn't the simplest explanation.
If you want to be an optimist, though, you can note that a .332 BABIP isn't freakishly high. There were 30 starters last year with a higher total. There were 37 the year before. Some hitters have made a living out of career BABIPs well above that mark -- Derek Jeter, Ichiro!, and Bobby Abreu among them. For hitters, a high average on balls put in play isn't necessarily luck. There can be skill involved. Maybe Melky figured something out.
Maybe. The thing that's always bugged me about Melky since his rookie season is that he looked so danged promising when he was 21. A 21-year-old who posts a .360 OBP is a rare creature. It doesn't matter if you go by OBP or OPS+ -- 21-year-olds who do what Melky did don't come around that often. Even more impressive: His K/BB ratio was almost 1:1, which wasn't the case for most of the hitters on that list. He was a disciplined little fellow.
He wasn't so disciplined with the Royals last year. I guess it's like showing up to an orgy and figuring, well, I guess no one else is wearing pants, so … Remember, we're talking about the Royals. They had a good offense last year, but it wasn't because of exceptionally disciplined hitters. But when Melky was 21, he was exceptionally disciplined.
When Melky was with the Braves during the 2010 NLDS, I was pretty convinced that he was the worst baseball player in the majors. His bat looked like it was a metaphor in some crappy art-house movie, where it symbolized the fears and suppressed trauma of the protagonist. Or, rather, it looked like it was a 30-pound bat that I was swinging. Me. The guy writing this. The guy whose major physical activity in the past year was figuring out how to beat Dragon Chan, who was trying to kick me during a boxing match, dammit. Point is, Melky Cabrera looked awful in 2010.
But he was awesome in 2011. And he looked so promising in 2006. Maybe there's a way where the two years of promise can come together like some sort of delicious PB&J of statistical history. I'm not sold on the idea. But I don't think it's fair to paint Melky with the "guy coming off a career year" brush and totally dismiss him. That could be the prudent way to look at it, but he was ahead of the curve as a 21-year-old; I'm willing to think that there's something else there. Something that could be unlocked by getting the Best Shape of His Life achievement over the offseason. It's not completely unreasonable.
I'll split the difference. Now that the offseason is over, and we know how the roster shook out, I'd rather have Brandon Belt with a guaranteed spot and the extra $6 million to get someone else. Welp. That's not coming back. As is, I'm okay with Melky getting a chance to build on whatever he found last year. Don't think he'll be horrible; don't think he'll reach the same heights as last year.