As the New York Yankees head into the offseason with just two outfielders, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner, under contract, general manager Brian Cashman will be searching for any players who can improve the team's chances of winning next season. Though free agency has not yet started, one intriguing name being linked to the Yankees is Melky Cabrera.
Cabrera, 28, was in the MVP race as he enjoyed a breakout season playing for the San Francisco Giants this year, until he was suspended for 50 games in mid August after failing a drug test with high testosterone levels. Cabrera missed the remainder of the season and postseason, but finished with a .346 batting average, 11 home runs, and 60 RBI in 113 games played.
Cabrera is an interesting candidate for New York's outfield, as he started his career in pinstripes and played five seasons in the Bronx. The failed drug test is looming over Cabrera's head and the Yankees could look to stay away from any further controversy, but the team has dealt with steroid allegations in the past, with Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez being the two most popular players accused.
Coming off the suspension, Cabrera may need to take a small contract to prove his value and then look for a long-term deal following next season. That would fit New York's plans, since the team is focusing on lowering the team's payroll under $189 million by 2014, rather than handing out a multi-year deal to a player such as Nick Swisher.
Aging veterans Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones are not expected to return as the team looks to get younger through free agency, but Cabrera will be looking for a starter's role so he can boost his value before next offseason. However, Brett Gardner only played in nine regular season games because of a lingering elbow injury and Swisher could test the free agent market to find a long-term contract, so the Yankees could be looking for starting left and right fielders. Ichiro Suzuki is a free agent as well, but people close to Suzuki indicate he would like to return.
Another aspect that could affect Cabrera's return to the Bronx is his relationship with second baseman Robinson Cano. Cabrera was supposedly traded by the Yankees following the 2009 season because he was a bad influence on Cano, but the Yankees have since denied those reports and claim that was not the reason.
It is hard to evaluate Cabrera's value because of the failed drug test. This was his best season, but no team is sure if he can produce those type of stats clean. His season with the Kansas City Royals in 2011 was productive as well, batting .305 with 18 home runs and 87 RBI, but his tenure in Atlanta with the Braves was very disappointing in 2010.
If Cabrera can hit like he did in his last season playing for the Yankees, batting .274 with 13 home runs and 68 RBI, he could still be a productive outfielder. He's familiar with the Yankees organization and the players, he would get plenty of chances to produce in their high-powered lineup, and he would get a chance to win games and compete in the postseason, all factors that would help him earn a bigger contract next time he hits free agency, so don't rule New York out of the Melky Cabrera sweepstakes just yet.
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