KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Our man Melky Cabrera didn’t go all Danny Duffy and demand to be buried a Royal — some limbs on the tree should be left well enough alone — but hidden beneath all the beer-quaffing and Robinson-Cano-jeering (BOOOO!) from Monday, we had this little exchange:
Reporter: “Would you have liked to stay in Kansas City in the long-term?”
Cabrera: “Of course I would have. They gave me an opportunity to develop my talent. And like I said, it was an executive decision, a business decision. And I didn’t have a say-so.”
Hang on a minute, there, cowboy. You didn’t?
The semi-official version of the tale we heard went something like this: A summer ago, the Royals had one of the best outfields in baseball with Melky — back in town Tuesday as an all All-Star with the San Francisco Giants — and his 201 hits and 44 doubles in center, sandwiched between breakout seasons from Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur. The club reportedly offered Cabrera and Francoeur two-year, $13-million extensions.
So how is Dayton Moore the bad guy again?
With Lorenzo Cain allegedly ready to play every day in the big leagues and Wil Myers coming along behind him, it stands to reason that whichever veteran had declined that new contract offer was probably going to be dealt. Moore, the Royals’ general manager, in November shipped Cabrera, whom he’d rescued from the scrap heap, to the Bay for two left-handed pitchers, Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Verdugo.
The Royals executive dealt from a position of strength, a position of excess, to shore up a weakness. Most folks applauded. At the time.
By now you know what happened next, and it’s grisly. On the Royals’ end, with the exception of Verdugo — 6-2 with a 3.62 ERA at Class AAA Omaha — everything that could go wrong with the deal basically has. Sanchez has gotten lit up like a menorah (6.75 ERA, 1-5 in 11 starts) while looking disinterested, at best; Cain got hurt during the first road trip of the season and spent the bulk of the first half of the year on the disabled list.
And Melky? He’s batting .353, leading the National League in hits, and is becoming a cult hero in Northern California. Heck, he led the entire National League in All-Star outfield balloting, with 7.52 million votes — 1.1 million more than another former Royal outfielder, Carlos Beltran of St. Louis.
“I think when you have the first half that he had, that’s going to happen,” offered San Francisco catcher Buster Posey. “Fans have definitely taken to him. And he’s embraced it, and he’s been a lot of fun to watch.”
Oh, we know. He was fun here, too. The Melk Man may or may not have wanted to stay in the Midwest long-term — he’s eligible for free agency after this season — but there’s no denying that Kansas City kick-started the big cat’s career again.
“You know what? We gave him the freedom to be himself,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of Cabrera, who’d been cut by the Braves after hitting .255 in 2010. “He worked hard. We told him exactly what we expected out of him.
“And we worked him. I mean, we worked him. He’d take his fly balls. He would throw with outfielders throwing. He’d do his extra hitting. And it paid off for him. And we let him play. We let him play his game. He felt a freedom here, I think, that he was accepted.”
Accepted, and, by all accounts, liked. The Royals’ lone All-Star, designated hitter Billy Butler, always flashes a wicked grin whenever the subject of conversation turns to Melky or his latest exploits.
“Yeah,” the slugger said, “I definitely miss The Melk Man.”
Based on the reception Cabrera got as he rumbled around The K this week, Butler’s hardly alone there. Not by a long shot. Revisionist history can be a strange beast, sometimes. Melky might’ve left his heart in San Francisco, but he also left money on the table here.