Upon the conclusion of the 2022 season, New York Yankees fans were excited about the infusion of youth that helped the roster rebound from a moribund August. Oswaldo Cabrera and Oswald Peraza provided sparks that got the Yankees back on track en route to their ALCS appearance.
Cabrera had gotten more playing time in October, though, and had been impressive defensively at multiple positions. The switch-hitter offered a combination of power, speed and versatility that the Yankees badly needed, since they were right-handed heavy, devoid of contact hitters, and stuck with a bunch of guys playing out of position on defense.
In 154 at-bats, Cabrera hit .247/.312/.429 with a 109 OPS+, 21 runs scored, 6 homers, 19 RBI and three stolen bases down the stretch. In the postseason, he struggled, but fans vividly remember his clutch two-run homer on the road against the Guardians. Other than that, he was useless.
Still, the fact he was able to produce an indelible postseason moment after just 44 career games meant something. It felt like a springboard for 2023 success. He was ready to be the Yankees' next premier utility player, lengthening the lineup offensively in the 7-8-9 hole.
However, this year has been a disaster for the 24-year-old, who was sent down to Triple-A when the Yankees had enough. And he only came back up because the roster was decimated by injuries. In his next 252 at-bats, Cabrera hit just .218/.292/.317 with a 67 OPS+, 34 runs scored, 5 homers, 28 RBI and 8 stolen bases.
Surprisingly enough, those numbers have been inflated by his recent play, which has us wondering what the team's plans are for him heading into 2024.
How does Oswaldo Cabrera fit into the Yankees' long-term picture?
Could Cabrera be a more effective and inspiring version of Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who was finally used properly in 2023? Or will he be part of a trade package then nets the Yankees somebody else? Or Triple-A fodder, like Estevan Florial, for the rest of time?
Then again, how many more personnel gambles can the Yankees stomach taking? It seems they're constantly stuck projecting future performance/relying on bounce-backs, and most of the time find themselves on the losing end.
Cabrera's been noticeably better over his last 36 games dating back to July despite his lack of power, but his blast against the Pirates featured one of the best swings he's ever taken as a Yankee. Is that a tease or a sign of things to come? In the second half of 2023, he's hitting .254 with a .707 OPS. His OBP over that span has especially been impressive (.369), while his slugging on the year (.319) has left a lot to be desired.
Fans are under the assumption almost everybody is auditioning for a role in 2024, but for someone like Cabrera, we truly don't know what the final month of the season might mean for his future. His backslide was concerning and his mini rebound hasn't shown enough, despite positive signs. His defense has been good in left field, but average at best everywhere else he's been asked to play.
At best, he feels like one of the last guys off the bench. At worst, he's hanging out in Triple-A because the Yankees probably can't convince anybody to take him in a trade. It'd really be nice to see him seize the team's primary utility role, though, because he emanates good vibes and isn't deterred by the spotlight.
We wish there were definitive answers, but much like everybody other than Aaron Judge, Cabrera represents another question mark for the Yankees heading into 2024.