DETROIT, MI – AUGUST 2: Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers singles against the Cincinnati … [+]
The Detroit Tigers are in the early stages of an exciting rebuilding process under new manager A.J. Hinch. After finishing in last place four out of the past six seasons in the American League Central, the Tigers have capitalized on their advantageous draft positions. Over the past three Major League Baseball Rule 4 Drafts, the Tigers have selected first overall twice (2018, 2020) and fifth (2019) in the first round. They also own the third pick in this year’s draft where a duo of right-handed pitching sensations from Vanderbilt University, Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker, could be possible options for the Tigers.
According to MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospect Rankings 2021, the Tigers have five prospects ranked in the top 25 led by third baseman/first baseman Spencer Torkelson (3rd). He is joined on this prestigious list by outfielder Riley Greene (21st), pitchers Casey Mize (11th), Tarik Skubal (24th), and Matt Manning (25th). The Tigers are in a transition period with a heavy emphasis on youth, but nostalgia will be a recurring theme all season thanks to Miguel Cabrera.
A two-time American League Most Valuable Player (2012, 2013) and Triple Crown Award winner (2012), Cabrera is in the twilight years of his exceptional career while approaching 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. As he embarks upon his age 38 season, Cabrera could be the first ball player to achieve both monumental accomplishments in the same season according to the MLB Network. He is 134 hits away from 3,000 and needs 13 home runs to achieve 500.
Cabrera would only be the seventh ball player in baseball history to achieve both milestones according to Stathead Baseball. Enthusiasm is building for what could be a magical and historic season for Cabrera. He also has additional opportunities to further solidify his case as one of the greatest right-handed hitters in baseball history. By season’s end, it is quite possible for Cabrera to have also surpassed 1,500 runs, 1,750 runs batted in, 5,000 total bases, 600 doubles, and 2,500 games played according to Baseball-Reference.com.
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA – SEPTEMBER 05: Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers takes an at bat … [+]
Cabrera is no longer the ball player who at the pinnacle of his career (age 28-32 seasons) struck fear into the hearts of pitchers because of his extraordinary abilities to hit for average and power. He has slowed down significantly with the 2016 season being the last time he had played in more than 140 ball games. Cabrera has also dealt with groin and hamstring injuries while rupturing his left biceps tendon during the 2018 season. He has become a full-time designated hitter and last played the field as a first baseman on June 18, 2019.
As the Tigers are deeply invested in developing young ball players for the future, Cabrera is in legacy mode with a contract that has become a financial albatross. It is as if the Tigers and Cabrera are moving at two different speeds but peacefully coexisting. His eight-year, $248 million contract runs through the 2023 season. The Tigers hold a $30 million club option ($8 million buyout) for the 2024 season and $30 million club option for the 2025 season according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
Cabrera is scheduled to earn $30 million in base salary for the 2021 season with a Competitive Balance Tax salary of $29.2 million. According to Spotrac, his base salary represents 41.43% of the Tigers’ 2021 payroll. If Cabrera finishes in the top 10 of voting for the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2023 and 2024, the options become guaranteed in the contract. The last time Cabrera had achieved this feat was in 2016 when he had tied for ninth in the voting with former Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor.
The Detroit Tigers are moving in the right direction, but it will likely take time and patience. They are assembling a treasure trove of highly regarded prospects but will not be ready to seriously compete for the American League Central title for at least a few seasons. It is likely the Tigers will develop into a competitive ball club once Miguel Cabrera’s contract comes to an end after the 2023 season. As he chases multiple historic milestones this season, let us savor every moment and begin to collect our thoughts on where Cabrera ranks among the greatest all around hitters in baseball history.
Wayne G. McDonnell, Jr., M.B.A. has been involved in education, media, coaching, and finance for two decades. He achieved the rank of Clinical Professor of Sport