(Just Melky bein' Melky...)
Melky Cabrera has been a popular topic around the Yankosphere this week after his performance in the All Star game. I guess getting punked out by a former player that your team gave up on national TV in a game that was over after the top of the 1st inning has a way of making that happen. Melky's 2006-2009 Yankee career was one defined by "not enough." He could hit for a little bit of average, but not enough to be a legit top-of-the-lineup threat; he could hit for some power, but not enough to justify a full-time position in the lineup or make up for his lack of average; he could do some things defensively, but not enough to be called a good defensive outfielder. All of this took place between the ages of 21-24 for Melky, a time where only the most elite players are playing at or close to the full potential.
What made Melky special was his personality and knack for always being in the middle of memorable moments. He brought a little bit of fun, youthful, unpredictable energy to an otherwise stale clubhouse and the palling around that he and a young Robinson Cano did was always a topic to be touched on when discussing Melky. He was essentially Nick Swisher before the Yankees signed Nick Swisher, just not with the level of production, and with the Yankees still somewhat married to the idea that an All Star, current or former, at every position was the way to go, he was shipped off to Atlanta before the 2009 season. It didn't seem like a tremendous loss at the time; the Yankees were giving up a player who had never hit more than 13 HR in a season, never driven in more than 73, and never posted a wOBA higher than .333.
Towards the end of his Bronx tenure, and much more after it ended, stories came out about Melky's hard-partying ways and the belief within the organization that they were hindering his, and more importantly Cano's, ability to reach their potential as players. Melky was painted as a distraction to Robbie and that was how the Yankees justified giving up on a 24-year-old switch-hitting outfielder with a plus arm. Melky bottomed out with the Braves in '09, putting on weight and being the statistically-worst player in baseball with enough PA to qualify for the batting title. Things finally clicked for him when he went to Kansas City last year with little to no expectations. He kicked his partying habits, got into great physical shape, and had a career year (.305/.339/.470, .349 wOBA, 4.2 fWAR).
Fast forward less than a year and Melky is now MVP-ing the All Star Game and having an outstanding first half (.389 wOBA, 3.3 fWAR) to establish himself as one of the best outfielders in the National League. He's still a month away from his 28th birthday, and after this season he'll hit the free agent market to earn what will surely be a very nice contract. The Yankees have done just fine in the outfield, with Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson performing at All Star levels and Brett Gardner continuing to be one of the most underappreciated left fielders in the game when he's healthy, but with their upcoming budget plan and uncertainty surrounding how guys like Swish and C-Grand fit into said plan, it's funny to look at what Melky has become and wonder
Melky now hits for both average (.353) and power (33 XBH). He doesn't walk much (6.3%) but he also doesn't strike out much (12.6), and he makes a lot of good contact, with a combined 74.6% of it coming on line drives and groundballs. He's a switch-hitting outfielder without an extreme platoon split who can run the bases well and play a serviceable outfield in his prime. It's unknown if the Yankees are going to get involved with Melky this offseason, or if they could even afford him if they do, but he's played the last 3 seasons outside of New York for a combined $10.35 million. If he had been playing at that rate in New York, the Yankees would at least have a better chance of re-signing him to a team-friendly deal or getting the most bang for their buck on a guy still in his late-20s rather than his early 30s like Curtis and Swish.
There will be plenty of people who would say that Melky never would have improved the way he has if he stayed in New York. They'd probably even go as far as to say that Cano wouldn't be the player he is right now if Melky were still around. The allure, the nightlife, it was too much for him; "he couldn't handle playing in New York." There's no way to know if any of that is true. Some guys take longer than others to grow up, and I certainly can't get on a kid in his early-20s playing for the Yankees who wants to live it up a little bit. What we do know is that Melky has made himself into an All Star-caliber outfielder, and that makes him look like another one that got away because the Yankees gave up on him too quickly. It's almost ironic that the same guy who the organization didn't think could hack it as an everyday outfielder is now the exact type of player that could help their plans moving forward.