Dayton Moore went bargain shopping to fill a couple of holes in the outfield this off-season and he's struck gold with both of them. For a combined $4 million -- in other words, roughly what the Rockies paid Todd Helton over the first month of the season -- Moore inked his center fielder in Melky Cabrera and his right fielder in Jeff Francoeur to little applause this off-season. Yet it's the Kansas City Royals who are laughing now as the free agent tandem are helping keep the Royals above .500 in a surprising AL Central.
It's Cabrera who attracted the least attention yet is giving the Royals the best bang for their dollar. Signed at a paltry $1.25 million for 2011, Cabrera is slugging the ball at a much higher clip than ever before, perhaps the sign of a playing coming into his prime at age 26. That might sound funny when speaking of Cabrera, since the former Yankee has been at the big-league level since 2005. Yet fans often forget that he came into the league as a 20-year-old, had an initial burst in the Big Apple and slowly slinked away to Atlanta. His performance was fine yet forgettable.
In Atlanta, it was more of the same, where Cabrera failed to impress in his one-year stint with a poor .671 OPS that came as a lack of any real power at the place (4 homers in 458 AB). The ascension and spotlight of Jason Heyward and the trade for Nate McLouth overshadowed Cabrera who was let go after the off-season. Then came Moore calling with a starting spot and a one year contract to prove himself with. It was the ultimate low-risk, high-reward rebound signing. If nothing else, Cabrera could keep the spot warm for one of the many heralded Royals prospects. But maybe there was growth for Cabrera yet?
It's still a long season to go and streaks are a natural part of the game. Yet Cabrera has never slugged at this clip in his previous 2600-plus plate appearances. Before this season, Cabrera hit 117 doubles and 40 home runs in 716 games for a slugging percentage of .379. This year, through 36 games, Cabrera has 11 doubles and 5 home runs for a .478 percentage -- on pace for career-highs in both categories by far. He's hitting .280 yet he's swinging at a lot more pitches, as he's also on pace for a career high in strikeouts.
The increased production from both Cabrera and Francoeur have certainly panned out thus far, and even if the season heads south, the Royals will have trade chips at the deadline. Yet at this rate, it looks like Moore's bargain bin shopping has panned out for a change, and it's not just the players whose reputations are changing this time of year.