Go Bold or Go Home: Everth Cabrera Cheats and Steals, but Doesn't Lie

You don't like shortstops. They're inconsistent. They're fragile. They put defense first. Let's face it: you wish for the days of Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada, the days of pre-geriatric Derek Jeter and not-yet-disgraced Alex Rodriguez. Heck, you miss Cal Ripken, Robin Yount, and Ernie Banks. You miss Honus Wagner.

You even wish for those days not long ago when Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes were sure things. Well, those days are dead and gone, but I've got a shortstop you can trust: Everth Cabrera.

Trust him? But he got suspended for PED's! Yeah, yeah, but he served his time and he'll be back on the basepaths and (probably) the top of the Padres' order in 2014.

Look, I'm not saying you should let him babysit your kids or pick up your prescriptions from the drugstore.* But you can trust him to do his thing, and his thing is stealing, at which he is very, very good. Last year he swiped 37 bags in 95 games; he was caught 12 times, but that still leaves him with a 76% success rate. No way the Pads slow him down for that. In 2012 it was even better: 44 steals in 115 games, with just four CS. That's a 92% success rate, for those of you keeping score at home. Very, very good.

*Neither am I saying you shouldn't. I do not know Mr. Cabrera and cannot accurately evaluate his character.

Billy Hamilton gets all the press (except from me, I guess) for speed, and rightly so, but there are serious questions about whether or not he'll really start. Why? Because there are serious questions about whether or not he can hit. Most of these questions seem to come from inside the Reds organization, so they're worth taking paying attention to. Cabrera, however, already has the trust of his team, and predictability is a valuable thing in our unpredictable game.

The nice thing about Cabrera is that he can hit. I mean, he isn't Joey Votto or anything, but he brings more bat to the table than most of your speed-first players and most of your shortstops. The steals are elite, and the bat doesn't hurt. That adds up to a very useful player. Not a star--he'll never produce in HR or RBI, but Cabrera looks like he could be a plus in AVG and Runs, to go with his elite status in SB.

The San Diego offense isn't top-notch, but you don't have to be amazing to drive in a run when Cabrera is already on second base. Between Yonder Alonso's singles, the power of Jedd Gyorko and Carlos Quentin, and the wild hope that Chase Headley can be awesome again, Everth ought to be crossing home plate pretty often for the Pad People. Oliver projects him for 81 Runs in 521 AB, but I'll take the over on that number. Steamer sees 600 AB, but just three more Runs, but that sounds low for a leadoff man.

How well will he lead off? Well, Cabrera posted nearly-identical BABIP numbers in 2012 and 2013 (.336 and .337) but his batting average increased by .037 points. Why? Probably because he reduced his K% from 24.5% to 15.9%. His BB% nearly held steady (just a 0.2% drop from 2012) and his OBP was a very respectable .355 last year. These are the markers of a player adjusting to the big leagues and learning to hit at the highest level. I think his hit tool is here to stay, and he'll be an asset in AVG, and the times he's on base will keep his Runs total up too.

So, Everth is good--but why him? Becasue it seems like every other shortstop has even more serious questions than he does and position scacricy demands high draft picks and auction dollars be spent on these questionable characters. I'm not saying I'd draft Cabrera in the first round, just that I'd rather draft him a round earlier than wherever his ADP stabilizes at (about 170 right now, for what that's worth) than spend an early pick on the "elites." Let's take a look at who's above him and their questions:

Hanley Ramirez -- his amazing half-season comeback is erasing the disasters that were 2011 and 2012. I don't think he's going to be a disaster next year, but the risk is too high for a first round or early second round pick.

Troy Tulowitzki -- Made. Of. Glass. If he weren't, he'd be a top five draft pick, but he's a big risk wherever you take him.

Ian Desmond -- Actually, I like Desmond a lot. But that isn't very bold, and it's well worth noting that he lost nearly 60 points off his slugging percentage from 2012 to 2013.

Jose Reyes -- His speed went way down, he isn't very heathy, and he isn't very young. 

Jean Segura -- This guy has one amazing half-season under his belt. I'm a believer, but I'm wary of drafting him next year.

Elvis Andrus -- Yeah, he stole 42 bases last year, but it was half that in more plate appearances the year before. That isn't trustworthiness.

Starlin Castro -- Uh...yeah.

Andrelton Simmons -- He's got upside, but the average is pretty rough and he's no sure thing.

At this point, we're getting to the players currently rated below Cabrera, so I guess it isn't very bold to say I prefer him to them. 

It's paradoxical, I suppose, to boldly suggest that you mitigate some risk, but there you go. Cabrera looks like a very safe option compared to the shortstops that are valued more highly, and the steals are as elite as they come (non-Hamilton division, I suppose). The boldness isn't in the player, it's in the fact that you should do what it takes to get him on your team. In a draft, grab him before all the higher-rated shortstops are off the board to make sure you get him. In an auction, be that owner that just keeps going the extra dollar. Let everyone else get scared off the the PED's or the 2012 average, or enticed by the idea of taking their chances with Elvis Andrus. You just enjoy the results.

Stock Watch: Scandalmakers and Struggling Shortstops

This week on Stock Watch, we're trying out something a little different. Not a lot different--don't worry--but there's been a bit of news out there that might affect your fantasy team....

Biogenesis Scandal

By now, you've probably heard more about this scandal than you care to, and--unlike the witch-hunting masses--your main worry is probably about whether your fantasy stars will be suspended and for how long. You're probably wondering what to do with players like ****** and ****, let alone *******. That's right--I didn't include their names! Why? Because none of the players involved has yet been proved guilty of anything, and none of them need their reputations tarnished by me any more than already has been. But I also need to provide useful fantasy advice, so I'll take the via media of linking to an article that mentions the players you should be concerned about. Among them are superstars, minor leaguers, rookies, veterans, and just about everyone else. 

Who will be suspended and for how long? I can't say. How long will the process take? Still don't know. Will players who've already received PED suspensions get more punishment? Tough to say, but the one bet I wouldn't make is for this process to be carried out in a way that's transparent or fair. Maybe I'm overly pessimistic about MLB's anti-PED unit, but that seems the safest route to me. While the players implicated haven't failed tests, they don't need to to get suspended. Many are mentioned by name in Tony Bosch's ledgers, but others are in by code name or mere association. It might be worth mentioning that Mr. Bosch has plenty of incentive to roll on Major Leaguers, the bigger the names, the better. More worrisome for owners is the report that MLB has" tons of witnesses" to corroborate the allegations. (Report from RotoAuthority alum, Mike Axisa.)

What to do if you own these players? I own several across a few leagues (though I did shy away from most during drafts), and I'm standing pat. Right now will be a very difficult time to trade these guys, because your leaguemates will be watching as much ESPN as you, and you aren't likely to get much value from them if you shop them. Trading for them doesn't seem like a great strategy either, as you may be paying for useless assets. If you want to shoot off some lowball offers, go for it, as the strategy could pay off big, despite a low probability of success. By the same token, if someone offers you, say, 70-80% value on a big-name player, make that trade and hope for the best. And, of course, keep following along with the news to see what happens next.

One guy you might not have to worry about--and whose name I don't mind mentioning--is Gio Gonzalez. Reportedly, he is mentioned but exonerated by the evidence found at Biogenesis, having only purchased legal and unbanned substances. Good news for Gio owners. If you happen to find yourself looking at a good deal for him, pull the trigger.

A final thought is that the suspensions handed out may be lengthy--perhaps 100 games, perhaps more--but they will probably not include lifetime bans. This may be a great opportunity to get quality players on your keeper roster for a low price--especially if you're already out of contention this year. Note that this is a pretty long-term plan, as some of the repercussions of the scandal may last into next season.

The most important thing to do is not to panic and make a bad deal, as any suspensions handed out may take a long time to end up happening--others may not happen at all.

Struggling Shortstops

Most shortstops are bad fantasy players--we all know this. That's why we spend so much auction money or used high draft picks to get the few who can hit. This year, not only are several injured (Jose Reyes, Derek Jeter, Asdrubal Cabrera), most of the other top choices have been pretty terrible.

Ben Zobrist
After putting up consecutive 20-HR seasons and enjoying Swiss-Army position flexibility, Zobrist was one of fantasy's hottest commodities going into the season. He's on most of my fantasy teams, making me glad that I decided to diversify and stay away from him in my final draft of the season. His slugging is down over .100 points, as he's hit just three homers. His batting average is down significantly, despite a BABIP in line with his career norms. His LD% is down and his HR/FB rate has absolutely cratered. The only good news is that his K%, BB%, and OBP haven't taken big hits, but the Rays care more about those numbers than our fantasy teams do. While Zobrist might well bust out of his protracted power slump, his age might be catching up to him. He may only be 32, but he didn't break out until age 27. Late  success is often an indicator of early decline. Sell him if you still can.

Starlin Castro
Another well-hyped early-rounder, Castro was drafted a bit for the success he's already had and a lot for the success he was expected to grow into. He may still grow into a superstar, but maybe the fantasy community was a bit premature drafting him like he already was one. His steals are down, his homers are down and his low-walk nature has kept him from getting on base in spite of his low average. Like Zobrist, his BABIP isn't bad (it's a nearly-average .296). Compared to last year, Castro is hitting slightly fewer line drives, popping up less, and grounding out a bit more. It's tough to be sure why his average is struggling so much, but slumps are a part of playing baseball, especially for young players. He's a good (but not slam-dunk) candidate to improve, so I'd call him a cautious buy.

Jimmy Rollins
At 34, Rollins is a pretty old shortstop, but unlike Ben Zobrist, he came up to the Majors at a young age and had a strong peak as one of the game's top stars. His years have been pretty up-and-down lately, but last year was an up, with 23 homers and 30 steals. This year has not been so good, with just four homers and six steals, despite a batting average and OBP better than what he put up last year. At .293, his BABIP is the highest it's been since 2007, but his HR/FB is his worst since 2003. Shortstops aren't expected to carry power or speed into their mid-30's and it's entirely possible that Rollins' bat and legs have slowed down. Then again, he gave us that impression for all of 2010 and managed to bounce back. Still, I'd say he's a cautious sell.

I was going to talk about Ian Desmond next, but his recent homers put his numbers in a pretty decent place--enough to make him one of the better shortstops this season.

Good luck navigating this week's muddy waters--and pick up Zack Wheeler and Gerrit Cole  if you still can.


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