By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) The free agent period for negotiations has begun in Major League Baseball. The White Sox and Cubs have similar needs going into 2015, including in the outfield, where both clubs may have their eye on left fielder Melky Cabrera.
A former Blue Jay, Cabrera may be the most sought-after outfielder in this year's free agent class. After talks between Toronto and Cabrera's agent broke down recently, the Blue Jays made a qualifying offer of $15.3 million to Cabrera on Saturday (a qualifying offer allows the player to accept a one-year deal at that amount, forgoing his free-agent status). But turning that down and getting a bigger deal on the open market is a formality for Cabrera.
Both Chicago teams need more production from the left-field position. Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro DeAza failed to get the job done for the White Sox last season, as offensively both failed to be consistent and on defense both were sub-par defenders. From the Cubs' prospective, only Jorge Soler will be projected as a full-time outfielder next season with the current construction of the 40-man roster. There's always the possibility elite prospect Kris Bryant could move to a corner outfield spot in the future, but he's currently a third baseman, and the Cubs want to use him there if he proves to hold his own defensively.
The on-base percentage for the 2014 Cubs was a lowly .300 in 2014, the third-worst in all of baseball, and the top of the order struggled mightily. Adding power and on-base percentage from the left side of the plate (Cabrera is a switch-hitter) is one of the Cubs' goals this offseason.
The White Sox also must add some left-handed juice to their batting order. With the trade of Adam Dunn, the team is far too right-hand hitting dominant entering 2015. The leading left-handed hitter remaining from a run production standpoint is Conor Gillaspie, who drove in 57 runs in 506 at-bats last season. Those certainly aren't the run-producing numbers needed to break up the right-handed lineup the White Sox feature after lead-off hitter Adam Eaton.
The 30-year-old Cabrera does have a performance-enhancing drug rap against him, having tested positive and missing 50 games for the Giants in 2012. The rest of the Cabrera resume is solid.
He's a good defender on the outfield corner with average speed. He's a lifetime .286 hitter with a career .339 on-base percentage. In 2014, Cabrera hit .301 with 16 home runs, 73 RBIs and an impressive .351 on-base percentage.
Cabrera has never been prone to strikeouts, averaging fewer than one per 10 at-bats in his career.
The contract Cabrera will be asking for may be a steep investment for either the Cubs or White Sox. Cabrera will be seeking a four- or five-year deal for $13 million to $15 million a year, according to industry sources. Cabrera had a lost season in 2013 recovering from back surgery (88 games played), but he had no hiccups from the surgery, going to the plate 621 times in 2014. He's one who's worth keeping an eye on around these parts.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.
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