KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Fantasy baseball owners certainly didn't need to see contributions from outfielder Melky Cabrera, third baseman Pablo Sandoval, catcher Buster Posey and right-hander Matt Cain in Tuesday night's All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium to know how valuable those players are to their teams, let alone the San Francisco Giants.
However, three of those fellows have been fantasy assets pretty much their entire careers. Sandoval hit .345 as a rookie and has a career .307 batting average. Posey won the 2010 Rookie of the Year award and is arguably a top-3 fantasy backstop. Cain has been a top-25 starting pitcher -- at times considerably better -- for more than six years.
For Cabrera, however, acceptance as a terrific fantasy option has surely been a challenge, but he's earning praise this season. Cabrera seemed a fourth outfielder in his New York Yankees days, a guy who hit .269 for that organization with modest totals in home runs and stolen bases. As an Atlanta Braves starter, Cabrera had a poor 2010 season. And even after posting a terrific 2011 campaign for the Kansas City Royals, finishing 23rd in the final Player Rater with 18 home runs, 87 RBIs, 20 stolen bases and a .305 batting average, his name showed up on many bust lists for 2012, especially as he moved back to the NL in a tough hitter's ballpark.
Well, not that anything that occurred Tuesday should mean anything in the big individual picture, but after mashing a two-run home run and single in the 8-0 blowout win for the National League, it's going to be a bit tougher for fantasy owners to pry Cabrera away from fellow owners. Cabrera earned MVP honors for his performance, only the sixth time a center fielder produced two-plus hits and two-plus RBIs in an All-Star Game and, hey, it's not like it came from nowhere. Cabrera does, after all, lead the majors in hits with 119 (a pace for 224!) and he's second to Andrew McCutchen in batting average. Cabrera is on pace for a better fantasy season than in 2011!
So, one might wonder why I ranked Cabrera only 66th in the ESPN Fantasy mid-July rankings, which were posted Tuesday. Good question. His final rank ended up at 65, up quite a bit from mid-May, when it was No. 123, and even more from the ESPN average live drafts in the spring, in which he was a 14th-round selection. I thought about ranking Cabrera in my top 50, as three of my colleagues did, but that .388 BABIP scares me a bit.
Cabrera hit only .300 in April and .304 in June -- which is still plenty valuable -- but .429 with a .475 BABIP in May, and it's clear the middle month there is the outlier. In addition, Cabrera isn't likely to continue embarrassing left-handed pitching for a .436 batting average and .713 slugging percentage (.450 BABIP) for much longer, and to hit .338 at hitter-challenging AT&T Park is also quite a feat. Is Cabrera capable of reaching 200 hits again and batting .300 the rest of the season? Absolutely! He'll hit a few home runs per month and hopefully keep on running -- though he stole only one base in three attempts in June -- and I see him continuing his success, to a degree. Perhaps I sold him a bit short in the rankings, I admit.
Ultimately, Cabrera is obviously owned in every league, and by the definition I just described, he's more of a sell-high option than buy-low, due to the expected regression in batting average. That doesn't mean I'd be looking to move him, though. It's tough to hit .353 over six months. Cabrera is on pace for 224 hits; no Giants player has finished with as many as 212 hits since 1954, prior to the team being in San Francisco. But it seems unlikely he'll completely fall apart, either. I don't recommend owners trade Stephen Strasburg, even though we know he has an eventual innings cap. Enjoy the next two months, I say. Well, Cabrera's value should drop some, for a different reason, but again I'd enjoy what he will do well the rest of the way.
Good for Cabrera. He's 27, hardly past his prime, but his story is a reminder that not all fantasy stalwarts come running out of the gate as immediate superstars. No, I didn't think we'd be talking about Cabrera leading the majors in hits at the All-Star break, and I couldn't imagine he'd be an All-Star starter and eventual MVP, either. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Cabrera is tied for fifth in the NL in offensive WAR. It's not R.A. Dickey, but still, it's a great story.
As for other Tuesday night All-Star Game thoughts, I thought it was 50-50 that Sandoval would take home MVP honors. He did, after all, smack a three-run triple in the first inning, the first bases-loaded triple in All-Star Game history. Sandoval continues to amaze with his consistency year after year; I assume his 2010 is the aberration, as he admitted to being out of shape and last year he bounced back by hitting .315.
Sandoval missed a month with a broken hand, and any fears about loss of power have been assuaged by his three home runs in his past nine games. Sandoval might never hit 30 home runs, but the batting average is safe and hardly fluky, and he has enough power to matter. As with Cabrera, I probably could have ranked Sandoval a bit better than I did, as I generally value consistency and batting average quite a bit. I'd call Sandoval a buy-low option.
Anyway, I really enjoyed my first trip to Kansas City. While the All-Star Game was a bit anticlimactic -- thanks in large part to these Giants -- it was certainly an experience, from the Futures Game to the Home Run Derby and, of course, the barbecue I consumed. Here are my SweetSpot blog entries on the Futures Game and Derby as well! Thanks for reading and get ready for the second half of the season!