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Everth Cabrera could be a difference-maker for Orioles

SARASOTA, FLA. — The Orioles have not finalized a one-year deal with free agent infielder Everth Cabrera, but the strong possibility that they will is certain to spark some debate over the wisdom of acquiring a player with significant off-the-field issues.

Cabrera was a Biogenesis guy and is awaiting trial on a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest after being stopped by police in California on suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana. That doesn't exactly make for a great first impression in a city that has witnessed way too much pro athlete misbehavior over the past year.

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He's also a talented shortstop with speed and on-base potential who was a National League All-Star a couple of years ago and could be a potential difference maker in the Orioles lineup.

Obviously, Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter think he is worth whatever risk is involved in offering him a one-year contract worth about $2.4 million or they would not be this far down the road with him. He has already undergone a physical and could soon be competing with Jonathan Schoop and Ryan Flaherty for two middle infield roles.

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"We've done a lot of homework on him,'' Showalter said on Wednesday, "just as we did on Delmon (Young) and two or three other guys."

The Biogenesis trail was already blazed by Nelson Cruz, who also served a 50-game performance-enhancing drug suspension in 2013 and came to Baltimore last year under a cloud of skepticism. He ended up leading the major leagues in home runs and being named Orioles Most Valuable Player. Cabrera isn't that kind of an impact player, but he stole 99 bases over the past three seasons and just might be this year's big comeback story.

Duquette loves to gamble on guys with sneaky upside and has a pretty good track record doing that. Showalter loves to talk each offseason about finding that player who makes every other team wonder how they overlooked him. Cabrera has a chance to be that kind of success story if he can get some things figured out.

"I talked to some people,'' Showalter said. "The one common thing (I heard) is, he's worth a shot."

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Maybe if Cabrera was an NFL free agent, the Ravens might have to pass. They've had too many players in the wrong kind of headlines since the end of the 2013 season. The Orioles ended the season with Chris Davis serving a 25-game suspension for an amphetamine violation, but they've had enough success with "second-chance" players that Cabrera looks like an interesting project.

Young came to Baltimore with a checkered past, but fit in well in the Orioles clubhouse and delivered some of the biggest hits of the season and postseason. Cruz was a solid citizen and a strong clubhouse presence.

Showalter never seems to worry that a bad apple is going to spoil his team chemistry. He has a lot of confidence in the strong personalities that have formed the club's winning culture and the positive effect that environment seems to have on incoming players, regardless of their circumstances.

"That's a lot of it,'' he said. "Believe me, we wouldn't have done this two or three years ago. With our core players, there's a lot of peer pressure here. There's Adam (Jones), J.J (Hardy) and Matt (Wieters) and Steve (Pearce). That's why we brought up Jonathan (Schoop) and Manny (Machado) early."

The important thing is that the team would be going into this particular situation with its eyes wide open. Cabrera has plenty of negatives — including an inability to stay on the field because of a variety of injuries — so he'll have a lot to prove when and if he gets here.

If he pans out, the Orioles will have some tough decisions to make, but that's what they need right now. Duquette was criticized for failing to re-sign Cruz, Nick Markakis and Andrew Miller, which left the team short on position depth heading into spring training.

The Orioles already were short on speed, which is something a healthy and productive Cabrera could certainly provide.

"That's a dynamic we don't have enough of,'' Showalter said. "He's a switch hitter who also plays shortstop. He was an All-Star and rightfully so. Was it because of something he was doing? I don't know. There's only one way to find out."

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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