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Asdrubal Cabrera gets September to audition for 2018 job with Mets

Mets' Asdrubal Cabrera reacts to striking out against

Mets' Asdrubal Cabrera reacts to striking out against Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Michael Lorenzen in the eighth inning Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Cincinnati. Credit: AP / John Minchillo

CINCINNATI — As Asdrubal Cabrera prepared for a game recently, his new reality appeared on a television above his locker. An image flickered of Curtis Granderson, decked out in Dodger blue, the latest former teammate to be traded to a contender.

“Look, it could happen to me, too,” Cabrera said, aware of his status as one of the last veterans in a clubhouse suddenly made up mostly of millennials. “But I’m not thinking about it. If they trade me or not, I’m fine. This is my team.”

On Thursday, Cabrera gained some clarity. With no hint of a looming trade before midnight, he likely will remain with the Mets for the remainder of the season.

“This is my team, I’ll stay here now, so I’m pretty happy to be here,” Cabrera said after a 7-2 loss to the Reds.

Though Cabrera can be traded in September, he had to be moved by midnight to be eligible for another team’s postseason roster. The Mets will continue to weigh the merits of retaining the 31-year-old switch hitter, part of the reason he wasn’t marketed as aggressively as others before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

The club holds an $8.5-million option for 2018 that includes a $2-million buyout. So, keeping the infielder would cost $6.5 million, a relatively modest price for a player of his versatility.

Yet Cabrera’s lackluster season also complicates the decision, as does his preference to stick at one position, whether it be second or third base. “It’s not what I want, but I’ve got to play where the team needs me,” Cabrera said of bouncing around the infield.

A year ago, Cabrera delivered all that the Mets had hoped for after signing him to two-year, $18.5-million deal in the offseason. In 2016, Cabrera hit .280 with 23 homers, his second-highest season total. He compensated for his lack of range with a steady glove at shortstop. In the clubhouse, he emerged as a respected voice who stayed on the field despite a knee injury suffered early in the season.

One year later, Cabrera’s lack of range prompted the move away from shortstop in favor of more time at second and third. Initially, he resisted, making a trade demand he would rescind quickly. But the public dust-up dented the steady reputation he enjoyed in New York.

“I understood his frustration at the beginning,” manager Terry Collins said. “This guy was the shortstop here last year. Went to the playoffs and he played great. All of a sudden we’re asking him to move. As a possible free agent, I understand that, I get it. He just let the emotions get the best of him.”

At the plate, Cabrera has regressed, hitting .259 despite a recent hot streak.

“I’m not happy because I can do more,” he said. “I did it last year. I know the fans, the team and myself, we’re waiting for more. The only thing I can control is to work hard and try to get better.”

Perhaps of even greater concern has been a drop-off in speed, which became apparent last week when he was thrown out twice trying to score from second. According to FanGraphs, Cabrera is rated as baseball’s worst baserunner this season, which has cut into his overall value.

“I think at the end of the year, the numbers are going to be there,” he said.

But despite his tough season, Cabrera has shown the kind of versatility valued by general manager Sandy Alderson. Collins called Cabrera’s work at multiple positions “outstanding,” leaving him convinced he can be a versatile weapon. But while Cabrera said he “absolutely” hopes the Mets pick up his option, he’d prefer to find a regular home defensively.

Cabrera has started only 17 games at third this season, but some team officials regard it as his best position and where his diminished range is not an issue. After another season in which injuries sidelined David Wright, the Mets are expected to be more aggressive in pursuing help at third. Cabrera represents a potential cost-effective option, either on his own or in a platoon. Despite his overall dip in production, Cabrera has a .340 average against lefties.

Regardless of whether he’s playing out the string for the Mets or nudging another team toward the postseason, Cabrera should have plenty of motivation to craft a strong finish that may shape what comes next.

“Absolutely, I want to be here, I want to stay here,” Cabrera said. “But it’s nothing that I can control. It’s not my decision.”

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