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The Price of Melk These Days

From Carl Steward earlier in the week:

Would you give (Melky Cabrera) an Aaron Rowand contract — 5 years, $60 million — right now?

Oh, god, no.

Let’s take a vote. All those in favor say please, please, pretty please, yes.

No. No. No.

All opposed?

Me. Over here.

Thought so.



/eats decaying plant material

Cabrera is an interesting, interesting case. I'm not suggesting there's no chance he'll be worth 5/$60M. If he plays as well as he did last year -- and he's been even better this year -- he'd be worth every penny. But here's another quick recap of his professional career:

Rushed through minors, reaching AAA at 20. His career minor-league numbers, .296/.349/.420, aren't that impressive until you remember that he was exceptionally young in each league.

Good! A .360 OBP for a 21-year-old rookie is kind of a big deal.

Kind of bad. Yankees fans were only including him in fake trades for Mark Buehrle, not Cliff Lee.

Really, really bad. Awful. Worse than a replacement player. Like Juan Uribe playing center, but without the power.

Good. Really, really good. Almost certainly a little overextended as a center fielder, but still a fine player.

And now, a month-and-a-half of him not sinking into the tar pit that is the Giants offense. What in the absolute heck are you supposed to make of him? He's 27, so a four- or five-year deal wouldn't take him too far past his expected peak. He could even be getting better -- last year, he had the lowest walk rate and highest strikeout rate of his career, yet still had a career year. If he could maintain the production and bring back the plate discipline, he'd be even better.

It's probably not a great idea to guarantee his increased production last year has to do with a fluky average on balls in play, either. Hitters control BABIP much more than pitchers do. His .332 mark last year is something dozens of players have maintained for their entire career. It's just as appropriate to assume that an improved Melky caused a higher BABIP as it is to assume a higher BABIP caused an improved Melky.

There might not be a more confusing player to evaluate in baseball right now. He was fluffy, now he's trim. He was good, then bad, then really good, all before he turned 27. The conflicting evidence is impossible to parse, like two different time-traveling versions of yourself, each of them telling you to shoot the other one.

So the best strategy, the only strategy, is to wait. See what the rest of the season brings. Unless Melky is willing to go for a two- or three-year deal at a reasonable rate -- which he isn't -- a long-term deal right now is texting-on-a-motorcycle goofy right now. The reward of sending a text on a motorcycle is that you can let Jason know right now that you figuratively laughed out loud because you saw Christine downtown! Technology is amazing! The risk is a fiery tangle of blood and limbs. It's probably best to wait.

The risk of a long-term deal is right there in the intro: Aaron Rowand. He killed the Giants' budget, and when it became clear he wasn't worth the roster spot, his release riled up the part of the ownership group that didn't understand the concept of a sunk cost. The shrapnel from that deal is still getting picked out from unfortunate places today. If the Giants weren't paying Rowand $12 million, they might have a real shortstop. Heck, they might still have Bill Neukom signing off on the budget.

The reward of a long-term deal, limiting future costs, isn't worth it. How much value could Melky add between now and the end of the season to make it a good idea to avoid that increase? If his numbers don't decline at all and he hits .338 for the rest of the year, will his price really change? Probably a little, but not nearly enough to make it worth the risk right now. And he's almost certainly not going to hit .338 this year. If he's not at his peak value right now, he's close.

I like Melky Cabrera. Not only is he not Jonathan Sanchez, but he's been fantastic for the Giants this year. But sloooooooow down on those extension talks. Sloooooow down. I still have no idea what kind of player he'll be in June, much less June, 2016.