To get one thing out of the way, Yankee fans are idiots. Anyone who thinks that trading this guy for a Cy Young candidate hurt their ballclub needs professional help.
Melky (shorter to type and a better search term than “Cabrera”, as well as a first name that sounds slightly derogatory) is a tools guy from the Dominican who signed with the Yankees in 2001. The Yankees gave him a callup in 2005 after he hit .269/.319/.402 between AA and AAA. That a 20 year old did that is good evidence that he’s a prospect, but an outfielder who hits that is not ready for the major leagues. Nonetheless, he was in the majors for the majority of the 2006 season, hitting .280 but with no power, and up for good in 2007.
Cabrera had a bad year in 2008, hitting only .249 and seeing a second straight dive in his walk rate, but rebounded in 2009. Like a lot of Yankees, he took advantage of the bandbox that replaced Yankee Stadium, hitting nine of his career-high thirteen homers at home. However, his home-road splits are fairly close and less than most players’, I’d guess. He also hit righthanders almost as well as lefthanders for the first time. These are signs that he might be turning the corner into being a useful player, but he was rushed, and the Yankees, with their nigh-unlimited resources, didn’t have to do that.
Reports of his defense differ, but the consensus is that he’s basically a tweener, good enough in a corner but without the bat for one, and not really a centerfielder. The Yankees tended to push him to a corner in 2009, with Brett Gardner playing center… Joins Diaz and McLouth on the Braves’ list of pick-a-spot basestealers; he’s not a big amasser of steals but is 44 of 58 for his career and was ten of twelve last year.
Interesting group of comps. The most similar hitter, through age 24, is Curt Flood, which is probably right… but those numbers were a lot more impressive in Flood’s time, and Flood was a transcendent centerfielder, which even Melky’s boosters won’t claim for him. Second is a New York binky of a previous decade, Lee Mazzilli, who never turned into the player he was supposed to. But third is Johnny Damon. It’s the chance of him turning into Damon that makes him interesting.