PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays have decided that Asdrubal Cabrera will be their everyday shortstop after all.
When the Rays signed Cabrera in January, they said they would determine during spring training whether to keep him at shortstop, where there had been talk of diminished range; move him to second base; or have him split time between the spots.
But based on how well Cabrera has played this month — and the fact that neither Tim Beckham nor Nick Franklin have shown they would play better — Rays officials have told Cabrera he will be the regular shortstop, the Tampa Bay Times has learned. An official announcement is expected as soon as today.
With Cabrera set at shortstop, the team still has to decide how best to staff second base. A platoon of Franklin and Logan Forsythe seems most likely, though the Rays are expected to wait on making that decision based on health, related roster moves and even potential trades. Beckham and nonroster invitees Jake Elmore and Alexi Casilla can also play second.
Cabrera, 29, was a two-time All-Star at shortstop for the Indians, but amid talk he was not covering as much ground, he was moved to second base when traded to the Nationals last July 31.
New Rays manager Kevin Cash, a coach with Cleveland the past two seasons, said Cabrera has been moving well, better than he remembered.
"He has not done anything this spring to look like he's lost range," Cash said last week. "If I had to say, from spring training, this spring, I've had the benefit of seeing him his last two years in Cleveland, he looks better. … His body looks better. He's moving really well.
"He's made a couple nice plays where he is moving, soft line drives, a couple plays up the middle, and then a backhand play (last week) where he kind of pulled (first baseman James) Loney off the bag, but still he showed his range."
Cabrera, playing on a one-year, $7.5 million contract and with something to prove, said reports of his demise — in terms of diminished range — were wrong.
"I don't think that's true, but there's nothing I can do about it," the Venezuela native said last week. "Just going out showing the people I can still play shortstop."
Some stats and advanced metrics do show a decline. Cabrera has made 57 errors over the past four seasons at shortstop, and his defensive runs saved average per baseball-reference.com, have gone from plus-3 in 2011 to minus-5, -16 and -7 the past three seasons. He still would be a considerable improvement over former shortstop Yunel Escobar, who posted a minus-24 last year.
Cabrera said publicly and told team officials when he reported to camp that he would play either position but didn't want to bounce back and forth. But in later interviews he made it clear he would prefer to stay at shortstop, which is where he was most comfortable. "That's the position I've played almost my whole career," he said last week.
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And Cash said that would be part of their decision-making.
"You always factor in the comfort level of the player," Cash said. "Cabby was great, talking to him, he's open to different ideas and thoughts. But he's been a shortstop for six years, and I think he played a half a year or one year at second base his first year (in the majors). So we understand that."
Besides, Cabrera does the one thing Rays officials said they value most from a shortstop — make the routine plays.
"Cabby, he catches the ball," Cash said. "We like all the guys we have, but we like the guy that is going to make the routine play. And not to say that anyone is not doing that. I think they're all doing that. Cabby just has the experience factor in there with making that play."
Neither Franklin, acquired last July from Seattle in the David Price deal, nor Beckham, the 2008 No. 1 pick, has much big-league experience at short. Neither has played particularly well at short this spring.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.