It is fair to question if an aging Miguel Cabrera could get in the way of the next competitive Detroit Tigers club
Living legend Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera has plenty of reverence for his future. A first-ballot Hall of Famer, jersey retirement, and a statue beyond left-center field all among the forthcoming honor. But Miguel Cabrera has not spoken about his desire for those career accolades. He has discussed his desire to play two more seasons.
In a recent interview with ESPN’s Sage Steele, Cabrera had the following to say:
"“Two years, that’s it. My right knee is really bad. I need to take care of this in the offseason and prepare myself for next season. I’m going to play two more years. I think that’s enough. I will be happy with 20 years in the big leagues if I can make it. I would say thank God for the opportunity and I say two more years and I’m done.”"
The question of Cabrera, then, becomes, “Can he make it?” Nobody is trying to argue that Miguel Cabrera has any batting titles left in the tank. Those days have long since passed. The real conundrum lies in the competitive window of the Detroit Tigers. When they enter it, the construction of their roster when they do, and whether Cabrera would fancy the Detroit Tigers by donning the Olde English D, or earning his dough from a couch somewhere south.
He’s trending in the right direction in terms of performance. His earlier -0.8 bWAR has improved near replacement level these days. I discussed his stance changes a few weeks ago and how his numbers had improved since making them. It remains to be seen if these adjustments are sustainable, but it has made this surprise 2021 season even a bit more palatable than usual.
Likewise, he has one of the milestone monkeys off his back now, with 500 home runs behind him. Although this doesn’t mean much in the context of the club’s competitiveness, it does when deciding if your franchise player is going to hit those homers in a different uniform. What a bittersweet emotion that would have given fans–akin to watching Justin Verlander celebrate his World Series in Houston.
Miguel Cabrera was diagnosed with a chronic right knee injury back in 2019; the same injury that has it barking now, according to him. While Cabrera is revered for his toughness and ability to stay on the field through some intense pain over the years, these things do not tend to ease with age. Two more seasons of dealing with his type of injury and being in his type of pain may push him to the point where playing proves as punishment.
Also difficult is Miguel Cabrera’s position, or lack thereof. He’s played around a third of his games at first base this year, but the majority of the time has been spent as a DH. While the spot does afford him to stay his freshest, the standards for hitting in such a position should be high, since contributions to the team elsewhere are not to be found. Given Hinch’s propensity to mix-and-match, I would not be surprised if he would favor leaving that spot open and using it as a half-day off for his regulars as necessary.
Do the Detroit Tigers allow it to play out?
Right now, they can afford to. Cabrera has been productive enough to avoid bogging down an otherwise athletic and aggressive brand of baseball as the Detroit Tigers have been playing. Until they find someone better or find their active roster busting at the seams, the opportunity cost of letting Cabrera walk isn’t one worth gambling. This conversation is reminiscent of the old prospects being ‘blocked’ by x MLB player arguments. It isn’t a problem–so let’s not worry about it until it is.
The money is the money. He gets that either way. So, then, it becomes a question of whether Cabrera can help the Detroit Tigers win. To which I say, the LA Dodgers are winning with Albert Pujols on their roster. Call me crazy, but I don’t see the Detroit Tigers rolling out any Dodger-like rosters in the next two seasons. Cabrera’s role likely needs to decrease over the next couple of seasons and that is okay. It may ultimately prove best for the team’s competitiveness and Cabrera’s health both to lessen his load over time.
Save the ‘he earned it’ or ‘he deserves to play’ arguments. This is a cutthroat business that is revolved around winning baseball games. If Cabrera, or any player, stands in the way of that, he’ll be out. I don’t see Cabrera as a major future contributor to their success, but I also don’t see him being the detriment he has been portrayed for being in the past.
For those reasons, let him play as long as he wants (or as long as he can).