Oct 16, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) catches a foul ball against the Boston Red Sox during the first inning in game four of the American League Championship Series baseball game at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
With first baseman Prince Fielder now modeling a Texas Ranger uniform (number 84?!?), the Tigers will have to fill his slot with another player.
Uh, that would be Miguel Cabrera, right?
The answer should be an unequivocal yes.
With Fielder now gone, Cabrera is a perfect fit returning to first base, the position at which he began his Tiger career in 2008 and played capably for three years.
Though he has performed acceptably at third base for the past two years as Fielder inherited first base upon signing with Detroit, it’s clear Cabrera belongs at first base for a variety of legitimate reasons.
The foremost is his limited range at third base. At six feet, four inches tall and 240 pounds, Cabrera is a large man. Though he possesses soft hands and a rifle arm, he understandably does not cover the real estate demanded by the position.
Major league-caliber third basemen must be comfortable both chasing down bunts at full speed and sprinting Brandon Inge-like beyond the third base dugout to dive into the stands for foul balls.
Additionally, third basemen are expected to simultaneously blanket the “shortstop” hole to their left and the third baseline behind the bag.
Another increasingly important responsibility of the third sacker is to serve as the only left side infielder when the “infield switch” is invoked, when the other three infielders are deployed on the right side against left-handed pull hitters.
Aside from the fact that Cabrera’s limited range prevents him from getting to many balls, his potential for injury is significantly greater at third base than first.
It’s called the “hot corner” for good reason. On an everyday basis, an MLB third baseman can expect to see whistling line drives, sizzling grounders, perfectly placed bunts and spinning topped balls in his expansive zip code. Throw in a towering drive over his left shoulder as he runs toward the left field foul stands and you have a full complement of challenges for even the rangiest third basemen.
His “office” extends southward to near home plate and west to the third base and left field stands. He must be able to travel a significant distance north into left field to track down “tweeners”, as well as range in an easterly direction to cover the hole between shortstop and third base.
Unlike first basemen, third basemen are constantly contorting their bodies into awkward throwing motions. Though one of Cabrera’s strengths is his powerful throwing arm, the recurring bodily adjustments required to make plays at the hot corner places stress upon his body, subjecting him to a greater chance of injury. This concern became paramount late in the 2013 season, when Cabrera was physically compromised with groin and abdominal problems, effectively neutralizing his MVP bat.
For these reasons, it’s obvious that come spring training, Cabrera should navigate the 127 feet that separates third base from first base, grabbing a first baseman’s glove in the process.