Detroit Tigers: The Austin Meadows addition may affect Miguel Cabrera

Oct 2, 2021; Bronx, New York, USA; Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Austin Meadows (17) hits a three run home run in the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 2, 2021; Bronx, New York, USA; Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Austin Meadows (17) hits a three run home run in the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports /
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Might Miguel Cabrera’s role be further diminished after the Detroit Tigers acquired Austin Meadows?

Longtime Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera has been willing to take a first base backseat to top prospect Spencer Torkelson–and said from the start they needed Torkelson’s bat in the lineup. But after turning in his first base glove to Torkelson, it is possible Cabrera’s designated hitter stable could be in flux.

Monday night, the Detroit Tigers announced they had acquired former all-star outfielder Austin Meadows from the Tampa Rays in exchange for infielder Isaac Paredes and a Competitive Balance B pick in the 2022 MLB Draft. Meadows provides a power-hitting presence in the middle of the order while also providing a fill-in for the injured Riley Greene and Derek Hill.

It is assumed that the everyday outfield will have Austin Meadows in left field, Akil Baddoo in center field, and Robbie Grossman in right field; with Victor Reyes working his way in as-needed. But what happens when Derek Hill and Riley Greene are ready and return?

The outfield is loaded with left-handed sticks. Meadows, Baddoo, and Greene are true left-handed hitters while Grossman and Reyes switch-hit. Meadows and Baddoo both carry some platoon risk, which thickens the match-up plot. Here are their 2021 numbers against left-handed pitching:

Baddoo and Meadows’ bats are generally both valuable to the lineup, but both maintain the same weakness to same-sided pitching while also having the same preferred defensive home. The Detroit Tigers have already announced that Riley Greene will be the starting center fielder when he returns.

That means Meadows and Baddoo would both be reduced to split left-field responsibilities with Baddoo getting the occasional center field look on Greene’s days off. Meadows had exactly eight innings of experience in right field in 2021 and generally grades out as a below-average defender anyway. Baddoo, meanwhile, only had 32.2 innings of right field experience last season himself; and pushing Grossman out of the lineup wouldn’t be prudent, either.

Baddoo’s speed in spacious Comerica Park would likely be preferred over someone like Meadows, even in a corner spot. Perhaps, then, a DH platoon is more logical for the Detroit Tigers; with Meadows getting the right-handed pitchers while Cabrera takes on the lefties. Against left-handed starters, Cabrera was a .286/.353/.435 hitter in 46 games last season. Meadows meanwhile had a .286/.361/.586 line against right-handed starters.

In reality, this may not end up being an issue. These presumed problems tend to work themselves out due to injury or performance anyway, but this newfound depth could present an interesting logjam in the lineup. Who knows if Cabrera would be open to another reduced role, but on paper, it could be the right move for both Austin Meadows and the big man.