Mets infielder Asdrubal Cabrera

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Palladino: Asdrubal Cabrera Proves Mets Smart For Sticking With Him

Last Year's Frustrations Long Behind Hot-Hitting Vet

Ernie Palladino
April 13, 2018 - 2:54 pm
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There came a point halfway through the Mets’ dreary 2017 season that Asdrubal Cabrera shared a mutual feeling with the organization.

It wasn’t that lovey-dovey warmth of togetherness, either.

Cabrera wanted out -- a one-way ticket to San Franciso, preferably. The up-the-middle defense had weakened thanks to an injury to second baseman Neil Walker, and Jose Reyes was considered a better glove at shortstop than the incumbent starter, Cabrera.

Besides that, they had a hot, kid shortstop in Triple-A named Amed Rosario rapidly approaching his big league debut in August.

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So then-manager Terry Collins moved Cabrera out of his comfortable confines to second and then bounced him around to third as rumors swirled that the irate, 31-year-old infielder might be headed out of town.

How smart they were to resist Cabrera’s emotional demands back then, and to pick up his $8.5 million option for 2018. With his shortstop days in the rearview mirror and with no danger of a shift to third thanks to the acquisition of Todd Frazier, Cabrera has settled into a new home at second.

From there, happy and secure, he has become an instrumental factor in the Mets' franchise-best 10-1 start heading into Friday’s Citi Field matchup against the Brewers.

Not only have he and Rosario combined for a nifty double-play combination, but Cabrera has done a splendid job with the stick. He’s actually the Mets’ leading regular, slashing .333/.388/.600 with three homers and five RBIs in 11 games. Only Yoenis Cespedes has as many homers at this point.

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Obviously, that’s going to change assuming Cabrera hadn’t sipped some mystical water from a Port St. Lucie wonder pool during spring training. But what he’s doing at this exciting moment in Mets history should come as no surprise.

He’s always been a steady presence since the veteran came to the Mets as a free agent in December of 2015. Always a passable fielder, he’s been a steady hitter, too. Not particularly spectacular, but good enough to hit 23 homers and drive in 62 runs his first year here, and then produce 14 homers with 59 RBIs despite the disruptions of last year.

Counting his current stats, he’s hit .282 in his time here, which is 12 points higher than the eight-year totals he compiled in Cleveland, where, coincidentally, his new manager, Mickey Callaway, also happened to work.

Cabrera has fallen right in with the new feeling of unity Callaway has fostered in the clubhouse. And there’s a touch of veteran in-game wisdom that even team-first guy Frazier and power hitters Jay Bruce and Cespedes haven’t provided.

It happened in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s victory over the Marlins. As adeptly recounted in the Daily News, Cabrera sat on Kyle Barraclough’s 3-0 fastball and banged it into the upper deck of Marlins Park to tie what would become the Mets’ seventh straight win.

It’s not particularly rare to see a power hitter get the green light on a 3-0 count. Barry Bonds rarely, if ever, had to look for a sign during his power-hitting heyday. It happens. Occasionally, the muscle man will reward his manager’s faith with a shot over the fence.

For a player of Cabrera’s status, though, 3-0 usually means looking at a fastball right down Main Street.

That’s what made his moment extra special. Callaway gave him the hit sign. And Cabrera knew enough that swing away doesn’t really mean swing away unless the pitch is where he wants it.

Sure enough, Barraclough’s 95-mph offering was right there. He knew Barraclough wouldn't give him anything jucier that at-bat. So Cabrera took his cut and turned Callaway’s gamble into a huge payoff. According to Elias Sports Bureau, that was only the second time in his 12-year career that he put a 3-0 pitch in play.

It was clearly the highlight of a two-home run night that saw the switch-hitting infielder become the 22nd Met to homer from both sides of the plate in the same game. He was also the last to do it, in 2016.

Other factors have worked into this opening surge, of course. Callaway’s button-pushing has been spot-on so far. The injuries -- the latest to catcher Kevin Plawecki's left hand -- haven’t gotten in the way too much to this point. The starting five are doing their job. And the bullpen has earned saves in seven of eight opportunities and pitched to a 1.81 ERA, fourth best in the majors.

But Cabrera has also become a big part of the success, not only because of his final acceptance of his role at second but because of his smarts at the plate.

By the time October rolls around, Cabrera could become as integral a part of a Flushing rebirth as Bruce, Frazier, Adrian Gonzalez or anyone else on Callaway’s roster.

It’s a good thing he’s still here.

Good for Sandy Alderson for picking up that option.

Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino