Patrick Reusse: Indians' gifted shortstop came as a gift

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 19, 2011 - 12:22 AM

Asdrubal Cabrera might be the next great shortstop acquired by Cleveland from Seattle.

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Asdrubal Cabrera was welcomed after his three-run home run in Game 1.

Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press - Ap

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The Seattle Mariners traded shortstop Omar Vizquel to Cleveland for shortstop Felix Fermin and first baseman Reggie Jefferson on Dec. 20, 1993.

Fermin played two seasons and 174 games for Seattle. Jefferson played in 63 games for the M's in 1994, with eight home runs and 32 RBI.

Vizquel enjoyed more longevity in Cleveland. He played 13 seasons and 1,478 games for the Indians. He won eight Gold Gloves, with 1,616 hits and a .283 average.

The Mariners traded Asdrubal Cabrera, a middle infielder batting .236 at Class AAA Tacoma, to Cleveland for veteran first baseman/DH Eduardo Perez on June 30, 2006.

Perez offered little assistance to the M's attempt to win the AL West, batting .195 with one home run and 11 RBI in a half-season.

Around 12:50 p.m. Monday, Cabrera waited back on an Anthony Swarzak changeup and whacked it into Target Field's right field bump-out for a three-run homer. This increased Cleveland's lead to 4-0 in what became a 5-2 victory for the first-place Indians.

This increased Cabrera's totals to 17 home runs and 58 RBI in 380 at-bats. That is quite an upgrade in power for a 25-year-old who had 18 home runs and 166 RBI in four prior seasons and 1,415 at-bats for Cleveland.

The moral of these tales is this: Seattle should never trade a shortstop to Cleveland -- particularly if he happens to wear No. 13 and come from Venezuela.

As Twins followers try to convince themselves the Indians are not a factor, there's no better place to like Cleveland in a matchup than at shortstop, the most important fielding position on a diamond.

The Twins have a shortstop who looks as if he learned the fundamentals at a baseball academy in Liechtenstein, not as a Gold Glove winner in the Japan League, and the Indians have the best shortstop in the American League.

"Flat out, Cabrera has been our MVP,'' Cleveland manager Manny Acta said after Game 1 of the split doubleheader. "He has saved a lot of runs with his defense. We knew he would do that. What surprises everybody is his power.''

Including his manager?

"I expected he would be in double digits,'' Acta said. "I didn't expect 20, but he is almost there.''

Cabrera first came to the Indians in early August 2007. On Aug. 15, the Indians put Cabrera in the lineup at second, kept him there, and missed the World Series by blowing a 3-1 lead in the ALCS.

"We were in a pennant race, and he took over at second, and I was really impressed with the way he handled the situation,'' said Travis Hafner, Cleveland's veteran DH. "Nothing he's done since then surprises me.

"The first couple of years, I think he was trying to hit for a high average. Now, if he gets his pitch, he's taking a rip and getting it in the seats.''

Another Cabrera, Orlando, is getting some of the credit for helping to transform Asdrubal from a solid presence to a star.

Two years ago, Orlando came in from Oakland in late July and filled shortstop for the Twins as they won the AL Central in Game 163 vs. Detroit. He moved to Cincinnati in 2010 and the Reds won the NL Central.

And now this -- a long-shot Cleveland team that has held first place for 93 of 109 days.

"More than us, the whole division has surprised me,'' Orlando said. "The Twins, Detroit, the White Sox -- nobody has taken charge, which means we have as much of a chance as anybody.''

Orlando is playing second base for the first time since brief duty there in 1997. There's no argument, not with Asdrubal making big-time plays regularly next to him.

"I saw his talent this spring and challenged him to be better,'' Orlando said. "You can't do that with everybody ... tell them that they haven't been the player they can be, that they have more. It has to be the type of guy who is going to fight you back and become a great player.

"I try to find a player like that with every team.''

Did Orlando issue such a challenge last year in Cincinnati?

He nodded and said: "Votto.''

That would be Joey Votto, the National League MVP of 2010.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. preusse@startribune.com

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