Happy to remain, Cabrera works toward postseason
Shortstop worried over offseason trade rumors, altered routine to avoid late struggles
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Asdrubal Cabrera wanted to know where he stood. He had gotten wind of the trade rumors while home in Venezuela over the winter. His family had heard them, too. The shortstop needed to know if there was truth behind the reports.
During the Winter Meetings in December, reports swirled that Cleveland was in talks with the D-backs about a deal that would send Cabrera to Arizona. Rumors about three- or four-team trades began to surface. A variety of big league players and prospects were mentioned as moving pieces, but Cabrera's name was a constant throughout.
The shortstop decided that he needed to call general manager Chris Antonetti.
"I called Chris and asked him what was happening," Cabrera said Thursday, before he went 0-for-3 in a loss to Texas. "He told me, 'Hey, Cabby. That's all rumors.' He said if something happens, he said I'd be the first guy he called. He said, 'Don't worry about that. Don't think about that.'
"As soon as he told me that, I forgot about all those comments that people and the media were saying."
Cabrera carried on with peace of mind and was intent on reporting to camp in top condition.
As he trained in his home country -- including a brief stint with Leones del Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League -- the Indians made a wave of moves, including a three-team trade with the Reds and D-backs. Arizona received shortstop Didi Gregorius from Cincinnati in the blockbuster nine-player deal.
Cabrera stayed put and the shortstop was thrilled. As far as Cabrera is concerned, he wants to remain in Cleveland as long as possible. That is why he signed an extension with the Tribe last April to stay in Cleveland through at least the 2014 season.
"I signed a three-year contract with the organization because I want to stay here," Cabrera said. "This is the team that gave me the opportunity to play in the big leagues. I feel like I want to be an Indian all my career."
Cabrera's first taste of the big leagues came in 2007, when the Indians reached the American League Championship Series. That October, Cleveland took on the Red Sox, who were managed by Terry Francona at the time. Francona -- now manager of the Indians -- remembers being immediately impressed by the athletic shortstop.
"He got called up and really was a big part of what they did," Francona said. "I remember being on the other side thinking, 'This kid is a player.'"
This season, the 27-year-old Cabrera will be a key player for the Tribe again.
Roughly three weeks into Spring Training, much of the attention has been placed on high-profile additions such as Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Mark Reynolds and Brett Myers. There have been so many storylines involving new faces on the coaching staff and in the clubhouse that Cabrera has mostly gone ignored in daily question-and-answer sessions.
That has allowed Cabrera, who looks more fit than he has at the start of previous springs, to go about his daily business quietly.
The spotlight has been turned elsewhere, but Cabrera is an integral part of the 2013 blueprint.
"He's as important as anybody," Francona said. "Because he's a holdover and he's been here, and he's been so good, everybody naturally asks about the new guys. But the one thing I always heard about Asdrubal, and I guess I can see it even though we're in Spring Training, is it sounds like the bigger the game, or the bigger the inning, the more he seems to want to be a part of the action."
Asked how much he wants to reach the playoffs again, Cabrera smiled wide.
"Two-hundred percent," he said. "I want to be there again. That's one of the best moments I've had in Cleveland and in the big leagues. When you make the playoffs, it's like you've done your job for the team. I've got that moment in my mind all the time and I want to be there again."
Cabrera knows that remaining strong for a full 162-game schedule will be important.
The two-time All-Star shortstop faded offensively in the second half of the past two seasons. He hit .290 with 25 home runs and 93 RBIs in 662 at-bats combined in the first half of the past two seasons, but just .247 with 16 homers and 67 RBIs in 497 combined at-bats in the second half of the same time period.
Both his 2011 (.273 with 25 homers and 92 RBIs) and '12 (.273 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs) seasons were solid, but Cabrera wants to improve his late-season production. To hopefully solve the issue, Cabrera dropped weight over the offseason, played winter ball and is going to suit up for Venezuela in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
"That's the thing I've got in my mind right now," Cabrera said. "I know it's a long season. That's why I worked a lot this winter to start strong and finish as strong, too. I know the last two years, the second half was not really good for me. I'm working on that."
Cabrera did not have an explanation for his second-half slides.
Francona was asked if Cleveland's team-wide tailspins in the second half in each of the past two seasons might have played a role in Cabrera's slumps.
"That could be part of it, for sure," Francona said. "I think sometimes guys, it's probably going to sound like an excuse, but they just wear out. It's like the air comes out. It's not on purpose, and it's not because they don't want to try."
Francona is also hoping -- even with many offensive additions -- that Cabrera will take it upon himself to be a leader for the lineup.
"We brought some really good players in, but he's still really good," Francona said. "I think it maybe complements him. I don't know if I want to take the burden off of him. I want him to have some burden. He's good."
Cabrera's ability is good to the point that Cleveland chose not to trade him.
The shortstop is happy to still be here, too.
"I think this is the year for the Cleveland Indians," he said.