For much of 2019, the Nationals lacked consistent production at second base — and they definitely didn’t have sufficient depth at the position.
As mentioned in my Matt Adams profile, they also didn’t have many respectable left-handed hitters.
On August 3, the Texas Rangers released the switch-hitting Asdrubal Cabrera, who hit .235 with honorable (but unspectacular) power and 51 RBIs in 93 games.
Of course, the Nationals pounced, and Cabrera quickly became a fixture in the middle third of their lineup. The second-stint National hit .323 with six home runs, 10 doubles, and 40 RBIs in only 124 at bats for Washington in the regular season, fueled largely by his prowess with runners on base — he hit .328 with runners in scoring position across the entire season, and even higher than that after arriving in D.C.
Dave Martinez had a quick trigger with Cabrera in the playoffs — although it truthfully had more to do with there only being two positions (first and second base) for three players (Cabrera, Howie Kendrick, and Ryan Zimmerman). He started the Wild Card game and Game One of the NLDS, but virtually disappeared until the World Series — during which he could play second base while Kendrick shifted to designated hitter (although he also started Game Three at home, since he had strong career statistics against Zack Greinke).
All told, the postseason was a struggle for Cabrera. However, he saved himself from what could’ve been a quiet end to his season by going six-for-21 (.286) in the World Series, including a three-RBI outburst in Game Two against Justin Verlander.
Cabrera is reasonably versatile. He’s spent most of his career as a shortstop, but spent the bulk of his time with the Nationals at second base after logging 793 innings (roughly 88 full games) at third base in Texas. Most impressively, he played 291 regular-season innings (approximately 32 games) on defense in Washington without committing an error — albeit with fairly limited range.
Entering 2019, the Rangers had signed Cabrera to a one-year, $3.5 million contract. In totality, he had a very similar production this season as he did in 2018, and his elevated age (he’ll be 34 years old for the entirety of 2020) should keep his value relatively low. Translation: $3.5 million should be close to what he makes this upcoming season.
The Nationals don’t have much in place at second base. Brian Dozier and Kendrick are also both free agents, Wilmer Difo and Adrian Sanchez can’t be anything more than backups, and Carter Kieboom may not be ready to take the reigns — and he might also be needed at third base.
There seems to be a pretty decent likelihood that Cabrera returns to Washington next season. His combination of versatility on both ends, just-enough ability defensively, and overall savviness as a hitter makes him a valuable one-year bridge to Kieboom and/or fellow prospect Luis Garcia, at a minimum. Given his age, I doubt many teams (if any) will view him as more than a one-year signee anyway, but he should still be able to start for a playoff contender. The best option for both parties might be to #RunItBack.