When the free-agent market opens, the rush is a little like the day after Thanksgiving. Those for whom price doesn't matter are sounding out Casey Close about Zack Greinke, others are feeling out the Josh Hamilton market, there is a line for Torii Hunter.
In time, the line will get to Melky Cabrera. Yes, he got caught for having unusually high levels of testosterone, was suspended for 50 games, was left off the Giants' World Series roster and was involved with a phony website designed to make it seem as if he had naively bought a cream online that resulted in the positive performance-enhancing drug test.
We know all that. We also know that after a two-month investigation, the Players Association cleared Cabrera's agents, Sam and Seth Levinson of ACES, of any knowledge or wrongdoing in the posting of the website by Juan Nunez in the Dominican Republic; Nunez was a part-time associate of the agency, was found to have acted on his own and has moved on. Not surprisingly, other agencies have moved in to try to poach some of ACES' clients, but while five have gone elsewhere since the Cabrera suspension Aug. 15, players like Scott Rolen, Dustin Pedroia and Jonathan Papelbon have steadfastly remained with the agency.
Did Cabrera make a serious mistake? Of course. He so acknowledged, asked to not be qualified for the batting title -- which he could have won -- and is moving on. Nunez has moved on. The Major League Baseball anti-doping program worked. An All-Star got caught, served a 50-game suspension without pay (although, per MLB rules, he does get a World Series share) and will certainly have a much-lessened free-agent market value.
But Cabrera will have a market, likely for a year as he re-establishes himself at the age of 28, likely laden with ifs, ands and buts as well as incentives, such as no internet access. He won't be the only one coming back from a suspension. Bartolo Colon was suspended this year, was not on the Oakland postseason roster, and has already re-signed with the Athletics in the early free-agent rush. Cabrera was not banned for life. Mike Cameron was once suspended, and later got a multiyear contract. One can be certain the Padres hope Yasmani Grandal learns from his recent suspension. Hey, in the NFL, a player can be traded while suspended for a positive PED test, which is how the New England Patriots ended up with Aqib Talib.
Now, the question is, how good is Melky Cabrera? Is he a lock to be the guy who put up a record 51 hits in May, hit .346 with a .390/.516/.906 line, 158 OPS+ and a 4.7 WAR that despite missing 45 regular-season games was better than that of Ryan Zimmerman, Carlos Beltran and Adam LaRoche -- while playing his home games at AT&T Park?
Signing Melky will be be an event that will raise some talk-show and columnist ire; the Levinsons appreciate that and have let some big-market teams such as the Red Sox know that it's probably best that Melky doesn't go there. There will be the simplistic deduction that 2012 was entirely the product of the PEDs, but colleagues like Joe Sheehan and Keith Law, who have broken down Cabrera's 2011 season in Kansas City and his 2012 season in San Francisco, have concluded that the two seasons were essentially consistent except for a noticeable spike in BABIP (batting average on balls in play) in 2012.
In 2011 for the Royals, Cabrera batted .305 with a .339/.470/.809 line and a 121 OPS+, decent without the BABIP study, and good enough to merit being traded to the Giants for Jonathan Sanchez, whose train went off the tracks in 2012. Melky apparently had learned a lesson from his poor 2010 season in Atlanta, as the Braves felt he got heavy and released him. He has always had an above-average corner outfielder's arm. Cabrera has always been a baseball rat who from the time he arrived in New York was a favorite of Don Mattingly, who anyone would want on his side. At 28, it would seem that Cabrera's eight-year average of .284 with a .338/.414/.752 line could and probably should move upward.
After Hamilton, Michael Bourn is probably the free-agent outfielder who will attract the most attention because he is an elite center fielder and a leadoff man. B.J. Upton will create a line. So will Hunter. Nick Swisher. Angel Pagan. Cody Ross and Delmon Young. Jason Bay, away from Citi Field. Grady Sizemore, rehabbing from a second microfracture operation, this time on his other knee.
There are trades to be made, although they are increasingly difficult -- even for a Justin Upton -- because of the way teams value young players.
And there is Melky, switch-hitter, 28. He made a mistake, he has been disciplined, he is going to take a market hit as he re-establishes who and what he is, which likely is somewhere in a smaller market where his production will fall somewhere between what it was in Atlanta and what it was on Aug. 15.