(Co-Contributor’s note: This editorial is the first piece from Christopher Mangum, a student at the University of Michigan)
In late 2007, the Detroit Tigers acquired a 24-year-old Miguel Cabrera from the then Florida Marlins, a move which would end up introducing Cabrera to his home for what we can assume will be the rest of his career. In his time in a Detroit Tigers uniform, Cabrera has achieved greatness in many forms including his 2012 Triple Crown, back-to-back American League MVP awards in 2012 and 2013, and a World Series berth in 2012. These were the glory days for both the modern Detroit Tigers and Miguel Cabrera. However, since then much has changed.
Miguel Cabrera’s Best: 2008-2016
Over the course of nine seasons from 2008-2016, Miguel Cabrera shined in a Tigers uniform. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Miguel Cabrera racked up 308 home runs while batting over .310 every year except 2008, when his batting average hit .292. Over this time, Cabrera built his legacy in Detroit as a loveable superstar as he combined a light-hearted personality with a heavy-hitting play style.
In the field, Cabrera more often than not found himself at first base, a position he would excel at and further establish his legacy. As a batter, Cabrera would become the first player in 45 years to win a Triple Crown — leading the league in three main batting statistics: batting average, home runs, and runs-batted-in.
Cabrera would also earn back-to-back American League MVP honors in 2012 and 2013 and finish top-15 in MVP voting all nine seasons. This Miguel Cabrera, the healthy, hard-hitting Miguel Cabrera, is what Detroit fans fell in love with. This Miguel Cabrera, however, no longer exists.
A Costly Investment
Following the 2016 season, a year in which Cabrera would play in 158 games, a 34-year old Miguel Cabrera became injury prone and unreliable. In 2017, Cabrera would bat a career-low .249 average while only managing 16 bombs in 130 games. Cabrera followed his career-low 2017 season with an even less impressive 38-game season in 2018. Due to injuries, Cabrera missed the majority of the season and found himself falling into another batting slump, hitting 3 home runs off of a .299 batting average.
In 2019, Cabrera continued to underwhelm fans with 12 home runs and a .282 batting average in 136 games. This trend of poor hitting and injury-riddled seasons for his price tag has left many wondering if it is time for Cabrera to step away from baseball to preserve both his legacy and the Tigers’ money. Cabrera, who had signed his contract extension in 2014, has been making nearly $30 million a year, predominantly over the course of these down years.
In 2020 the Tigers played a shortened, 60-game schedule due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Cabrera saw action in 57 of 60 games over the season and led the Tigers with 10-home runs, but still only found himself batting a .250 average. In recent years, Cabrera has become almost predominantly a designated hitter because of his frequent injuries and age (Cabrera turned 38 on April 18, 2021). For the time being, Cabrera holds a batting average of .107 on the 2021 season with one home run and was on the IL until Sunday’s home game against the Kansas City Royals, a game in which he would go 0 for 4 at the plate. Cabrera continues to trend downward in his hitting statistics and remains an injury risk yet again with no real timelines being set for his return.
As Cabrera closes in on some Hall of Fame milestones (such being 12 home runs away from 500 on his career), Detroit has made it clear that they want Cabrera going into the Hall of Fame wearing the Old English D. Nonetheless, the fact remains that in 2012, Cabrera was the best player in baseball, but in 2021, Cabrera is just a name to sell tickets and an injury-prone, average hitter that costs his franchise $30 million for relatively no return on the field.