Outfielder Melky Cabrera ready to do ‘whatever it takes’ for Pirates
BRADENTON, Fla. – Melky Cabrera might be the elder statesman on the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the 14-year veteran outfielder feels like he can still contribute to a winning baseball team.
The Pirates signed the 34-year-old Cabrera to a minor-league contract with a non-roster invitation to spring training, hoping that he can be a productive fourth outfielder while starting right fielder Gregory Polanco misses the start of the season to recover from shoulder surgery.
“In reality, I’m at the disposition of just whatever the team wants, whatever is best to help this team win,” Cabrera said in Spanish, translated by interpreter Mike Gonzalez, after arriving Sunday at Pirate City . “That’s my goal. I just want to play baseball and I want to be on a winning team.”
Cabrera has slashed .286/.335/.418 in a career spent with seven teams, batting .280 with six home runs and 39 RBI in 78 games with the Cleveland Indians last season. He was an All-Star with the San Francisco Giants in 2012, when he slashed .346/.390/.516 before drawing a 50-game MLB suspension for PED use.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington liked that Cabrera is a switch-hitter who is effective against both left- and right-handers, citing the Pirates’ need for “some veteran presence in the position player group … and a guy that can still hit at the major-league level.”
Given his long major-league career, the Pirates are counting on Cabrera to serve as a leader for their Latin players. He has a long-time friendship with catcher Francisco Cervelli – they came up together in the New York Yankees’ farm system – and fellow Dominicans in Polanco, Francisco Liriano, Starling Marte and Pablo Reyes.
Cabrera is expected to compete with Lonnie Chisenhall, a former Indians outfielder who signed a free-agent contract, for playing time in right field but is not considered a candidate to win the starting job. Nor does Cabrera come in with such expectations.
“No, my goal is to do whatever the team needs to help the team win,” Cabrera said. “That’s my goal. Whatever they need from me, wherever they want me to play, that’s what I’ll do. I just want to help the team win.”
But the Pirates would be pleased if Cabrera can contribute and make things interesting, as outfield depth became an issue when they traded Austin Meadows to Tampa Bay last July and sent Jordan Luplow to the Indians as part of the five-player deal for shortstop Erik Gonzalez.
“If Melky plays to the best of his ability and Lonnie plays to the best of his ability, it will be interesting to see where they can take it,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “Melky provides us with a bat on both sides of the plate. The fight in the box has been real throughout his career. … And his ability to go play both corners can provide valuable experience, as well, and more depth.”
Cabrera is interested in showing that he can still hit and be a contributor to a club that hopes to be a contender in the NL Central this season.
“Honestly, I just feel great. Physically, I feel great. I know I’m 34, but I feel young and I still think I’m young,” Cabrera said. “As long as I feel great and continue to be physically in shape, mentally in shape, I’m going to continue to play. The moment I feel that that’s gone, that’s the day that I’ll hang it up.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .