The Giants’ road to the postseason just got a lot steeper. News broke Wednesday morning that Melky Cabrera tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. And just like that, the air was sucked right out of the Giants’ clubhouse.
Cabrera, who was in the midst of a career year, batting .346 with 11 home runs and 60 RBIs, will miss the remainder of the regular season and if the Giants move onto the postseason, he won’t be eliblge to return until the NLCS. Quite simply, he won’t be wearing the orange and black again this season, and possibly ever. Even if San Francisco reaches the NLCS, it’s unlikely that the organization would let Cabrera return. It’s not like he would be returning from an injury. He would be returning from a drug scandal. He even admitted it.
So while everyone presses the panic button, don’t forget about the 1-2-3 punch of Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence. Yes, Cabrera was arguably their best hitter, but it’s not a loss that instantly salvages their postseason hopes. In comparison, his absence won’t be as meaningful as Posey’s was last season simply because they still have the pieces to make a run at the postseason. Last season, Sandoval was the lone bopper left in the mix.
However, a player like Cabrera, who had a 4.5 WAR this season, can’t be replaced at this point in the year, six weeks away from the end of the season. Gregor Blanco will seemingly be the prime candidate to takeover left field. Although, coming into today’s game, he hadn’t had a hit in 19 at-bats. The Giants are left to wonder if he could transform back into May form where he posted an .884 OPS. Everybody can dream, though, right?
What the suspension truly does though, is amplify how important the trade for Hunter Pence was for the Giants. Granted, Pence is nowhere near a replica of Cabrera, but he will have to be the guy who steps up in the wake of this suspension. No one should forget about Pablo Sandoval, either. Manager Bruce Bochy had Cabrera, Posey, Sandoval, and Pence all in the same lineup on the same day exactly once this season. Ironically, that day was Tuesday night, the night that will always been remembered as the Melk Man’s last game in 2012.
The point is, the Giants still have enough. Cabrera departs San Francisco facing a ton of questions, but they can still reach the playoffs without him. In fact, in the back of Bochy’s head, I bet he has the slightest intention that this could benefit the team’s mentality. Cabrera is irreplaceable at this point. That’s crystal clear. Yet, the loss of him could bring together the Giants’ clubhouse even more so that it already is. Of course they have always been a tightly knitted group, but they need to pick each other up now more than ever.
For Cabrera, the $50+ million contract that he was eyeing to sign after season’s end, becomes a lost cause. The 201 hits he collected last season, and the numbers he put up in 113 games this season, now seems suspicious more than anything. Not just because of the positive testing, but also because he had never had a batting average higher than .300 before breaking out last year. Ryan Braun was essentially in the same boat during the offseason, but he won his appeal and is currently on pace to have a better year this season than he did last year in his MVP campaign. So that comparison shouldn’t even be considered.
Yes, some team will take a flyer on him, though it won’t be a long term contract. At most, it will be a two year deal because he needs to prove that he can perform without the PEDs.
Will that team be the Giants? Only time will tell.