The Curious Case of Cardenas
The Cubs claimed infielder Adrian Cardenas off waivers today from the Oakland A's, where he was outrighted to make room for Johnny Gomes. To make room on the 40-man, the Cubs DFA'd Blake DeWitt. Before we get to Cardenas, if I'm reading this correctly, the Cubs most likely cost themselves up to $1.1M? I believe they're on the hook for DeWitt's salary, when they could have just non-tendered him back in December, but of course they didn't know Cardenas was available back then. If DeWitt signs with another team, I believe the Cubs are just on the hook for the dfference in salary, which will likely be the mininum, so a little over $600K. Now a team may also put a claim in or work out a trade and the Cubs will be completely off the hook, but those scenarios seem less likely. Not a big deal overall, as the Cubs have plenty of wiggle room to their payroll, but an odd move nonetheless. Now was it worth it for Cardenas?
The infielder was a supplemental first round pick of the Philies in 2006 (37th overall) out of high school in Florida. He was on the Philles top 10 list in 2008, ranked 2nd behind Carlos Carrasco and ahead of guys like Kyle Drabek and Domonic Brown and #76 among the top 100 overall prospects. In July of that year he was traded along with now-a-Cub Matt Spencer and Josh Outman for Joe Blanton. He was ranked #5 in the A's top 10 list for 2009 and #74 overall. He dropped to #9 in 2010 and out of the top 10 by 2011. I don't have the BA 2012 handbook, but apparently he was ranked #12 although that was before the Gio Gonzalez trade.
As for the player, he seems to be a second basemen for the most part with stints at 3B, SS and even LF. Generally when you're moving around that many positions, you're not particularly good at one of them and from the few scouting reports I've found that seems to be the case.
Baseball America said his “speed, quickness, and range are all fringy,”
It'll be his age 24 season in 2012 and although he hasn't spent a day in the majors yet, he apparently has just 2 minor league options left, but that still leaves some flexibility that the Cubs did not have with DeWitt. Offensively, he does seem to fit more with the Cubs new strategy of making pitchers work, maintaining a walk rate of 9.28% in the minors despite showing almost no power whatsoever. His K rate is just 12.6% so maintaining that .300 batting average is certainly possible. Overall his minor league numbers look decent(303/368/423) considering he reached AAA by the age of 21 and while that level hasn't gone smoothly for him, he's been slowly improving, putting up a .791 OPS last year for Sacramento.
I don't see him overtaking Barney for the full time spot, mostly because of the defense. Offensively, they both seem like guys that can hit around .300, with Cardenas getting on-base a little more. Cardenas doesn't bring much speed though, so it's probably close to a wash offensively, unless there's some untapped power in Cardenas that the Cubs still think may develop, but that seems unlikely. Cardenas does seem like a better utility option than DeWitt, if by just being able to handle shortstop at a level of barely satisfactory which is above DeWitt's level of not-at-all. Regardless of the absurdity of being able to throw $1M out the window like it's nothing, it does seem like the Cubs did make themselves better with the move, if only by the smallest of margins.