So with all this in mind, you'd have to assume there isn't a discerning fan alive who would, at this moment, not vote Cabrera to be the starting third baseman on the AL All-Star team. It's a no-doubt-about-it no-brainer. I mean, it's not like there's some kid in his age-20 season who is deemed by the advance metrics to actually be having a season comparable to that of Cabrera, right? Because that would just be crazy.
Wait, what's that?
Here we go again.
The fumes of the divisive Cabrera-Mike Trout AL MVP Award debate have only begun to fizzle, and here we are with yet another example of the metrics messing with our minds. Because as I write this, Cabrera has a 2.3 Wins Above Replacement mark, according to Baseball Reference. Also as I write this, Orioles hot-corner sensation Manny Machado has a 2.5 WAR. Like the 20-year-old Trout of a year ago, the 20-year-old Machado is having one heck of a first full season in the big leagues, enough to earn at least a casual comparison to the man who holds the current title of Greatest Hitter on the Planet.
And just to throw yet another wrench into things, the Rays' Evan Longoria has a 2.4 WAR and better offensive numbers than Machado.
Now, the differences in WAR are negligible, very much subject to change by the day and maybe even misleading, considering Cabrera has played two fewer games than Machado and Longoria. Besides, for the sake of this discussion, I'm not leaning on WAR as anything more than a quick-and-dirty check of how a player is performing, relative to his peers. By no means is it a be-all, end-all evaluation.
I bring this up for two reasons:
1. We should not waste any opportunity to reflect on just how potent Cabrera's bat really is. It continues to make whatever defensive deficiencies he brings to the equation (and for the record, his defensive WAR rating is even lower this year than last) totally tolerable for the Tigers (if only they could overcome the current deficiencies in their bullpen).
2. We should also not ignore -- even as Trout and Bryce Harper capture so much attention and imagination -- what a truly great player Machado is becoming. Probably the best compliment we can give him is that he has quite a bit in common with Longoria as the type of hot-corner cornerstone who can change a game -- and a team -- on both sides of the ball.
Understand that, no matter what the metrics say, I can't make a compelling argument for Machado, Longoria or anyone else over Cabrera for the All-Star Game. In a survey of MLB.com columnists a quarter through the season, all six of us took Cabrera, and for good reason. He is a future Hall of Famer at the peak of his prolific powers.
But when I merely mentioned in that piece that Machado and Longoria are better all-around players than Cabrera, a reader replied that my remark was "embarrassing to 130 years of baseball." That seems a little strong, but point taken. It's an All-Star Game, after all, and as much as I appreciate defensive wizardry or speed or the other fine points of the game in a normal environment, in that particular environment, I just want to watch a guy like Miggy mash.
That said, Machado's is a burgeoning career that certainly merits monitoring.
We already got a small taste of that notion at the tail end of 2012. Machado arrived just two games after his Double-A shift from shortstop to third (he had not and has not logged a single inning at Triple-A) and, instantly, the O's went from a suspect defensive team to a superior one. In mid-September, when Machado made a pump-fake after fielding a Longoria slow roller and caught the Rays' Rich Thompson off the bag for a crucial out in a tie game in the midst of a playoff race, it was easily one of the most heady highlights of the season. And while there are plenty of stats like defensive runs saved or zone rating to tell you how well he continues to play his position, just watch him with your own eyes and you have all the evidence you need. Meanwhile, Machado has an .866 OPS while batting second for a still-contending Orioles team.
It will be a while before we know if Machado can stand alongside Longoria, who, after all, is on the short list of greatest all-around players in the sport. And yes, Longoria is off to a terrific start, with a .975 OPS, nine homers and 29 RBIs. He can be tossed into the All-Star debate, to the extent that there is one.
But in reality, there isn't one. Cabrera's offensive numbers are overwhelming. So, too, will be his vote total. The AL offers quite a lot at third base, what with Machado's maturation, Longoria's presence, Adrian Beltre's continued excellence and a breakout from the A's Josh Donaldson.
It's just awfully easy -- and understandable -- to overlook that crop when Miggy is driving in 47 runs in 42 games.