Saturday, 7 September 2013

The Mystery of Melky Cabrera Solved: Has Benign Tumour Removed

Unexpected news in Blue Jays land today as it was announced that left fielder Melky Cabrera has had a benign tumour removed from his spine. According to the story at Sportsnet Cabrera, in addition to his well documented leg troubles, had also been playing through back pain for three or four months without telling anyone. The tumour was apparently pressing on some nerves, causing weakness in his legs and contributing to the difficulty he's had running all season. Doctors expect Melky to make a full recovery and be ready for spring training.

Obviously this is fantastic news for Melky. While it was benign, tumours are always serious business so I'm sure this has been a scary ordeal for him. Additionally, this could be fantastic news for the Blue Jays organization as they head into the off-season with numerous holes in need of filling.

Melky has looked absolutely decrepit in the field and on the base paths for pretty much all of 2013. Until now, the consensus culprit was the Rogers Center turf, and the persistent nature of Cabrera's leg issues had many doubting if the Jays would be able to count on him to remain healthy in 2014 playing on the surface every day. There's been a lot of talk about the Jays moving him to DH to protect his legs, which would create a hole in left field and cause a bit of a log jam at the position.

The team had to be considering that possibility, because Melky's defense in left field has been unplayable without far greater offensive contributions. Before being shut down for the season, he hit .279/.322/.360 for a .302 wOBA and 86 wRC+. In light of all this, it's probably fair to attribute some of his offensive struggles to the issues he was having in his back. The total lack of power was especially surprising. He's never been a big home run hitter, but still had extra base power. Instead, it often looked like Melky's inability to run was turning doubles into singles and triples into doubles.

I would imagine that the decision on how to proceed is still difficult for the team. Obviously it all comes down to how sure they are that he will make a full recovery and have a good chance of remaining healthy going forward. Even if the team is confident that the issues with his back and legs will largely be cleared up by this procedure, it is far more difficult for them to know how much of his disappointing offensive output can be blamed on those troubles.

I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. He's only 28, so for him to be as broken down as he appeared never made a whole lot of sense. Hopefully that means one less hole for the team to fill in the off-season. Lind's option is reasonable enough, and his bat league average enough, to remain a palatable option at DH next year as long as he has a lefty caddy. It would have been unfortunate if they were forced into moving him just to make room for Melky at the position. It's possible that such a move still makes sense, but you'd rather the team make the decision because it's best for the team, not because Melky had shown himself incapable of fielding a position.

I can't help that think this all greatly improves the odds of a bounce back season from Melky in 2014. Hopefully it means Anthopoulos can consider left field and DH covered, unless obvious upgrades present themselves, and that he can devote energy and resources to the much bigger holes in the rotation, at second base, and catcher.

At this point, anything that makes the off-season look less daunting for the Blue Jays has to be considered excellent news, and we should obviously all be glad that Melky's tumour was benign and that it didn't cause him greater issues than it did. Isn't it nice to finally get a bit of good news?

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