Out goes one Fernando [Martinez], and in comes the next [Cabrera]. The Mets signed reliever Fernando Cabrera yesterday to a Minor League deal. On the surface, signing a pitcher who’s last appearance in the Major Leagues was in 2010–and was to the tune of a 20.25 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, and 13.5 BB/9 (in 1.3 IP)–doesn’t seem noteworthy. But considering the now 30 year-old hurled a 1.47 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 2.64 K/BB back in 2005, and still possesses a mid-90’s fastball (and three-pitcher repertoire, there’s more than what meets the eye.
Cabrera was originally drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 10th round of the 2000 draft. The 18 year-old was placed in Rookie Ball, where he made 13 starts, and posted a 4.61 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 2.50 K/BB in 68.3 innings. The righty improved in 2001 for Single-A, pitching a 3.61 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and 2.59 K/BB in 94.6 innings. But it was really in 2002 when the pitcher started turning heads in the Indians organization. The 20 year-old pitched a career-high 137 innings (between Single-A, Advanced-A, and Double-A), combining for an encouraging 3.88 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 2.62 K/BB. The Puerto Rico-native did struggle a little in his first Double-A stint (5.33 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, and 2.42 K/BB in 27 IP), but Cabrera proved to be able to handle more advanced hitters in 2003.
The right-handed pitcher dominated Double-A hitters in 2003, owning a 2.97 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 2.88 K/BB in 109 innings. Along with starting 15 games, the Indians decided to transition Cabrera from a starter to a reliever. The move was a success, as the pitcher saw a spike in his K/9 (from 8.9 K/9 in 2002 to 9.5 K/9 in 2003), and he also recorded 5 Saves. The 22 year-old continued pitching well through his promotions, pitching t the tune of a 3.84 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and 2.14 K/BB in 75 innings at Triple-A. But 2004 was much more meaningful to Cabrera than a “mere” Triple-A promotion–he also saw some Major League action. The 22 year-old enjoyed two cups of coffee–one in late-August and the other in late-September–combining for a 3.38 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, and 6.00 K/BB in 5.3 innings. But that was only the start.
Now a full-time reliever, Cabrera absolutely dominated Triple-A hitters with a 1.23 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 6.18 K/BB in 51.3 innings. The 23 year-old was immediately summoned by the Indians, and he picked-up right where he left off in Triple-A, pitching to the tune of a 1.47 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 2.64 K/BB in 30.6 innings. Before the 2006, many organizational folk felt that Cabrera was ready to take over the closer reigns from 36 year-old Bob Wickman, but they eventually agreed that it couldn’t hurt to have Cabrera pitch a full-season in the Major Leagues before taking-on such a high-pressure responsibility. Unfortunately, the righty fell flat on his face.
In 2006, Cabrera owned an overall 5.19 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, and 2.22 K/BB in 60.6 innings. Even though he sported a dominant 10.5 K/9, his 4.7 BB/9 exposed what would become his Achilles heal. Many people pointed to Cabrera’s horrendous April (15.88 ERA, 2.29 WHIP, and 1.14 K/BB), resurrecting tune-up in Triple-A (1.08 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 6.50 K/BB in 8.3 IP), solid rest of the way statistics (4.09 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 2.52 K/BB), and indicative 3.95 xFIP to prove his future success, but unfortunately, things only got worse in 2007. After hurling a dismal 5.61 ERA, 1.78 WHIP, and 1.77 K/BB (fueled by a 5.9 BB/9), the Indians exposed the 25 year-old to waivers, where he was picked-up by the Tampa Bay Rays–but then found his way with the Baltimore Orioles.
Not much changed in Baltimore, as Cabrera got rocked (12.60 ERA, 2.10 WHIP, and 1.00 K/BB in 10 IP). Then after a consecutive bad stint with the Orioles in 2008 (5.40 ERA, 1.72 WHIP, and 1.82 K/BB in 28.3 IP), the Orioles parted ways with the walk-troubled reliever. The Boston Red Sox signed Cabrera in January 2009, but similar to his tenure with the Orioles, he failed to live-up to his past successes (combined 10.80 ERA, 2.25 WHIP, and 1.33 K/BB in 6.6 IP from 2009 to 2010).
Last season, Cabrera spent the entire year in Triple-A for the Oakland Athletics organization. The 29 year-old’s 2.71 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 2.81 K/BB in 63 innings warranted a call-up, but it never came. Considering his last respectable season came in 2005, one can’t really blame the Athletics for keeping the righty in the Minor Leagues.
Fernando Cabrera’s case is an interesting one. While the pitcher’s Minor League career doesn’t exactly scream “control artist” (career 3.5 BB/9 in 736 IP), it hardly accounts for why he has so much trouble throwing strikes in the show (career 5.0 BB/9 in 175.3 IP). In addition, his continual success in the Minor Leagues (career 3.24 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 2.74 K/BB) and three-pitch arsenal (fastball, slider, and change-up) still makes him a prudent guy to have kicking the tires in Triple-A. Cabrera has had three changes of scenery since his Indians-days, but maybe the lofty confines of Citi Field will at least help his gopheritis (career 1.64 HR/9).