How are we supposed to think about the reported two-year, $16 million contract the Toronto Blue Jays just gave 28-year-old Melky Cabrera, the Yankee-turned-Brave-turned-Royal-turned-Giant, the prospect-turned-fatass-turned-presumptive-batting-champion-turned-disgrace-turned-webmaster-turned-martyr-turned-champion? Cabrera had an exceptional two-thirds of a season last year: He hit .346/.390/.516 in 113 games, considerably better than his .284/.338/.414 career line. But the boost in his stats came from more singles (and more luck), and maybe chemicals.
Just how little we know about Melky and steroids bears repeating—we don't know when he started using testosterone, how much testosterone he used, and the extent of testosterone's benefits to an MLB player. It's possible, though unlikely, that drugs turned Cabrera from a replacement-level hack into an MVP candidate—perhaps he had some really good stuff. It's also possible, though unlikely too, that drugs did nothing to improve Cabrera's performance—maybe he didn't take a lot of testosterone, and maybe his stellar 2012 resulted from good luck and skills improvement, rather than added muscle mass. Who knows? Surely the Toronto Blue Jays don't. But this is their best guess. $8 million per year is a lot of money for most everyone, but it isn't in baseball. Torii Hunter, who is 37 and, unlike Cabrera, no longer a center fielder—got two years and $26 million from the Tigers. Before this season, Coco Crisp, who was then 32, signed with Oakland for two years and $14 million. Crisp's a better defender than Cabrera, but he's nowhere near the hitter Melky has been in recent years.
The deal Cabrera got is a decent price for an average, proven, veteran center fielder. But we imagine that's not what the Jays expect. They want the boom guy from last year, but they know they got a bargain because they considered the possibility of the bust guy from years before. Which'll they get? We'll begin finding out a few long months from now.