Orioles beat reporter Eduardo A. Encina talks about the club being close to signing a one-year deal with former All-Star infielder Everth Cabrera. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
SARASOTA, FLA. — The Orioles have been down this path before, as recently as last year. The club is preparing to open spring training while evaluating a list of free agents that all bear some level of risk.
But they see the potential upside of signing infielder Everth Cabrera – who has had his share of problems on and off the field over the past two seasons – and think it outweighs the inherent gamble.
The Orioles were finalizing a one-year deal with the former All-Star shortstop on Wednesday night that, according to multiple sources, was believed to be in the range of the $2.4 million he made in 2014 before being non-tendered by the San Diego Padres this offseason.
As of Wednesday night, Cabrera had taken a club physical, but a deal had not been completed. The Orioles must also clear space on the team's 40-man roster to make room for Cabrera.
Executive vice president Dan Duquette was not available to the media on Wednesday, but a source said a deal could be finalized by this weekend.
"This guy, he needs a place," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "That's one thing, we do have a reputation as a place [for opportunity]."
Last season, the Orioles didn't make much offseason noise until arriving in Sarasota, making their most high-profile signings -- outfielder Nelson Cruz and right-handed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez -- only after spring training had begun.
The pending addition of Cabrera, 28, gives the Orioles a player who has recently been one of the game's top stolen-base threats and a switch hitter who can play a variety of positions. He can also offer a leadoff option that could help fill the void created by the departure of right fielder Nick Markakis.
The Nicaragua-born Cabrera fits the mold of one of Duquette's reclamation signings. He's coming off a difficult season, hitting just .232 with a .272 on-base and .300 slugging percentage with 18 stolen bases in 26 attempts. He spent 69 days on the disabled list for left hamstring injuries and also has a pending misdemeanor charge for resisting arrest stemming from an incident last September, when he was pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana.
Cabrera also served a 50-game suspension at the end of the 2013 season for involvement in the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal.
The Orioles are known as a club that gives opportunity and offers second chances. And as with previous signings of players with off-field problems -- such as Cruz or designated hitter/outfielder Delmon Young -- the Orioles were thorough in doing their research on Cabrera before pursuing a deal, according to sources.
At his best, Cabrera would give the Orioles – who placed last in the majors in stolen bases last season with 44 – their best stolen-base threat since Nate McLouth, who stole 30 bases in 2013. Cabrera has combined to steal 99 bases in the past three seasons despite averaging just 100 games per year in that span.
Cabrera led the National League with 44 stolen bases (on 48 attempts) in 115 games in 2012. He led the NL with 37 steals in 49 attempts in 2013 in 95 games before his season was cut short by the Biogenesis suspension.
Cabrera has been a shortstop for his entire big league career, but J.J. Hardy inked a three-year extension at the end of last season. Cabrera would likely see most of his playing time at second base, but the switch hitter could occasionally spell Hardy – who missed 18 games due to injury last season – at shortstop.
Even though he's never played the outfield at the major league level – he played seven games there in the minors – the Orioles see an opportunity to use him there, as well.
Cabrera made 228 of his 452 major league starts (50.4 percent) from the leadoff spot and could be an option atop the batting order, especially against left-handed pitching, against which he owns a career .264/.327/.353 batting line. Cabrera is a career .247/.315/.316 hitter from the leadoff spot.
The acquisition of Cabrera, however, would make for a crowded middle infield mix this spring. Jonathan Schoop took over the starting second base job last year, hitting 16 home rus as a rookie, and Ryan Flaherty served as the team's utility man for most of the past three seasons because of his ability to play all four infield positions. He has also been Hardy's primary backup at shortstop.
The club likely won't be able to keep all three players on the Opening Day roster, but since all three still have a minor league option, there is some roster flexibility.
Cabrera having a minor league option was an important part of the deal, and if he doesn't perform well, the Orioles are comfortable paying him significant money to play in Triple-A.
If Cabrera does play well, the Orioles control his rights for another season after 2015. He has one more year of arbitration eligibility following this season and wouldn't become a free agent until after 2016.
However, the Orioles would like to know that Cabrera's September arrest will be resolved quickly. Cabrera was pulled over on Sept. 3 in California on suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana, according to the (San Diego) Union-Tribune. He was later charged with resisting arrest and would face up to a year in jail if convicted. Cabrera pleaded not guilty to the charge and a trial is set for April 13, which is one week after Opening Day.
Cabrera was also cited for possession of marijuana, which carried a fine of up to $100. He was not charged with DUI.
But the Orioles have had great success with other players who have come to the club with histories of off-field issues. Cruz served a 50-game suspension at the end of the 2013 season as part of BioGenesis before the Orioles signed him to a one-year deal and Young joined the club on a minor league deal last offseason following an aggravated harassment charge in 2012.
Both players fit well into the Orioles clubhouse – a group with strong veteran leadership -- and helped the club to their first American League East title since 1997 and a trip to the AL Championship Series. Cruz led the majors with 40 homers and cashed in with a four-year, $57 million deal with the Seattle Mariners this offseason. The Orioles re-signed Young to a one-year, $2.25 million contract this offseason.