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And In the Middle of Negotiations You Break Down: Jays Looking to Move Salary to Acquire Cabrera?

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Today's title seemed appropriate given Jeff Blair's column yesterday.  According to Blair, the Jays' quiet offseason is coming to an end and a move is imminent. 

I've been told that they have some interest in free-agent shortstop Orlando Cabrera — who has also attracted interest from the Oakland Athletics — but that they need to first clear some payroll, even if it's just a couple of million dollars.

Seriously? Okay, go on, we're listening:

[Clearing salary to sign Cabrera] can be accomplished in a couple of ways:


1. The Blue Jays are trying to get out the message that Scott Rolen is healthy and would love the third baseman to have a strong spring in front of scouts. He has two years left on his deal and they would likely have to pick up some payroll to get rid of him, and while they're loathe to do that they are prepared to listen. They have tried to trade Lyle Overbay since the deadline last season, but the guy's coming off hernia surgery. This much is clear: they will move both of them, in a year that is already a rebuilding year;


2. More likely scenario: the Blue Jays have considerable bullpen depth, barring an injury. That's why Jeremy Accardo's spring will be watched closely by many people. If Casey Janssen and Brett Cecil can latch on to the Major League roster, the Blue Jays will be in a position to move an arm with some upside — possibly Brandon League's — as a sweetener in any deal. Scott Campbell, who played in the Major League Futures All-Star Game, might also be available. The early start to Grapefruit League games has worked in their favour, because it's allowed the Blue Jays to run out a lot of their minor leaguers in front of scouts.

Colour me skeptical.  First of all, the Jays have already gone out and flatly said that signing Cabrera "makes no sense."  Why does it make no sense?  For one, the extent to which Cabrera is an upgrade at all over Marco Scutaro is up for debate.  True, Cabrera was worth about a win more than Scutaro according to Fangraphs, largely on the strength of what UZR pegged as a stellar year in the field, by far Cabrera's best since 2005.  Scutaro also enjoyed a career defensive year according to UZR, and was basically comparable to Cabrera at the plate.  Cabrera has more of a track record as a plus everyday defensive SS.  That said, Cabrera is 34 now and it's not hard to imagine his defense slipping.  Scutaro's defense might not be quite what Cabrera did in 2008, but neither might Cabrera's.  Second, Cabrera has a reputation as a bit of a problematic clubhouse figure, which is not the type of player the Jays have pursued recently.  Finally, and most significantly, JP pointed out that signing Cabrera will cost the Jays their first-round draft pick, and that makes little sense for a team that passed up on much bigger improvements for their team because of payroll reasons.  "Interim" President Paul Beeston recently remarked that the Jays have to be more aggressive in the June draft, leveraging their picks and going above slot.  It's hard to see the Jays throwing away their first-round pick for a questionable upgrade when they really are not planning on competing. 

Of course, the real reason this makes absolutely no sense is Blair says that Overbay and Rolen are leaving to free up salary and because it is "a rebuilding year."  If that's the case, why bring in Cabrera and sacrifice your first-round draft pick, an important part of any team looking to rebuild.  If the Jays want to trade Overbay and Rolen, and while they certainly seem open to the possibility, they hardly appear desparate to do so, why wouldn't they do that and keep their draft pick?  I could see moving Overbay for the purpose of acquiring a DH and putting Lind at first, and moving Rolen for an Inglett-Bautista platoon to free up money to sign a pitcher, but why free up salary to sign someone like Cabrera?  It just seems like it hurts the Jays' future while also hurting them in the present.

Finally, I can't imagine anyone is going to look at a few spring games from Rolen and figure he is fully healthy.  Someone might take a flier, but to really get value back and not have to pay Scott's salary, Rolen is going to have to show that his shoulder can hold up for months at a time.  Of course, if Rolen can do that, the Jays should hold onto him as he would be a key player in 2010.  As for Overbay, I could see someone taking him on later in the season when they have an injury at first base, or for a contending team's stretch run - he's a useful piece, but I doubt the Jays will be able to move him for much value right now.  Blair's point about the bullpen, and perhaps Campbell is a good one - Maybe Overbay or Rolen packaged with a quality arm and Campbell could bring back some real value, but the question remains, if you're looking to rebuild, why Cabrera?  Blair does conclude by saying that it may not be Cabrera the Jays are angling to bring in, and I just can't imagine why it would be.  Does it make any sense to anyone else?

[Note by hugo, 03/01/09 6:26 PM EST ] Update:  Blair now acknowledges the problem of the draft pick and says that the Jays are looking to execute a sign-and-trade deal with Chicago.  That makes a little more sense, although I still don't see a huge upgrade with Cabrera.  Of course, that kind of deal is very difficult to pull off because of all the moving parts.  We'll just have to wait and see.