OAKLAND, Calif. -- The self-professed “clown” of the White Sox is having way too good of a time this season to worry about his uncertain future.
Melky Cabrera understands he could be traded before the season ends. He also knows that another round of free agency looms next winter if a trade doesn’t happen. And with the White Sox rebuilding, there’s no guarantee Cabrera could stick around working under a manager for whom he enjoys playing. But Cabrera said on Wednesday morning that he has done his best to not focus on anything aside from the present. Whether it’s the constant GIF-worthy highlights he produces or the big hits he provided, Cabrera appears to be anything but distracted.
“I've been enjoying every moment of this season,” Cabrera said through an interpreter. “This is an important season for me, but I don't like to think about free agency or what is in the future for me because if you do you miss the opportunity to enjoy what you are doing right now. So I am just trying to do my best, work hard every day, help the team win games and be the best player I can be. That's my mindset.”
The approach has worked very well of late. Cabrera has been red hot at the plate for nearly two months after a slow start. He’s hitting .332/.379/.505 with eight homers, nine doubles and 35 RBIs over his last 208 plate appearances since his OPS hit a season-low .591 on May 16.
He also continues to excel in the game’s biggest moments.
On Tuesday, Cabrera singled off Oakland A’s closer Santiago Casilla with two outs in the ninth inning to tie the score. Cabrera entered Wednesday with an .868 OPS with runners in scoring position. He has an .875 OPS in “late and close” situations, according to Baseball-Reference.com, and has a .929 OPS with two outs and runners in scoring position.
“He seems to be able to slow things down in big situations on both sides of the plate,” manager Rick Renteria said. “There’s a lot of experience, which probably leads to the confidence he has. He has been doing a great job. He has been on a phenomenal run, the things he’s doing in key situations for us.”
Cabrera also manages to have way too much fun on and off the field. He faked out several broadcasters last week when he pretended that he didn’t catch a fly ball from the New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge, feigning that it instead went over the fence for a homer. Cabrera also takes charge of the team’s victory celebrations, awarding the replica championship wrestling belt and mini belt to the top two players of the day. If that weren’t enough, the veteran wastes no opportunities to make dramatic even the smallest of moments, as if he were starring in his own personal telenovela. Manager Rick Renteria thinks Cabrera’s ability to have fun helps him keep his mind off the big picture.
“He doesn’t concern himself with a whole lot of noise that we talk about,” Renteria said. “He just focuses and tries to enjoy and trust the skill he brings to the table and tries to use it.
“He knows how to balance what he does. He enjoys the camaraderie of his teammates. When he’s out there working, he does his work.”
Teammate Yolmer Sanchez appreciates how Cabrera carries himself. Sanchez is of a similar mindset his elder, always trying to keep things loose in the clubhouse. What Sanchez likes the most is how Cabrera can toe the line --- his ability to have fun and still perform as well as he does. Sanchez also said it would difficult to miss Cabrera’s effort on the field and how he provides younger teammates with a solid example of how to be.
“When you see the veteran guys -- Melky, (Jose Abreu), (Todd) Frazier -- they hit a ground ball and they hustle,” Sanchez said. “That’s a good example for when you get into big leagues and want a long career. You see these guys as examples, that’s very good.
“(Cabrera) has fun because he likes to have fun every day. But he knows how to play. He plays hard every day so you learn.”
Cabrera has learned over the years how to stay focused on the daily routine rather than the big picture. He’s been a free agent before and excelled during the 2013 season, too.
Of course he knows his name is constantly mentioned as being available on the trade market. Were he still not owed nearly $7.5 million this season, perhaps Cabrera rumors would be more prominent with the trade deadline nearing. But Cabrera doesn’t want to worry about any of that stuff in order to stay focused on his job and current club.
“I just don't try to think about it because you miss opportunities if your mind is on it,” Cabrera said. “What happens in the future will happen. It’s God's will.”