The Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera problem just got worse
It wasn’t the expected outcome for Miguel Cabrera.
After a weekend of second opinions, it was expected that the Detroit Tigers' star would be placed on the 10-day injured list when the team returned to Comerica Park on Tuesday night. But it wasn’t exactly good news when Cabrera’s name re-appeared in the Tigers’ starting lineup.
After dealing with right knee pain for much of the early season, after placing ice packs on that knee after games for the better part of the past two weeks, after undergoing an MRI scan on Saturday morning in Atlanta and after sending those results to specialists around the country for not one, but four second opinions, Cabrera was cleared to play baseball again.
But he won’t play first base again — at least not this season, Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire insisted — and the knee soreness won’t be going away any time soon, if ever again.
[Want more Tigers news? Sign up for our weekly email newsletter here]
And so, the Tigers will continue to pay for their big mistake of the past, signing Cabrera to a contract extension in 2013 that will pay him at least $162 million through the 2023 season, at which time he will be 40 years old.
For now, Cabrera is 36 and still holding onto hope that one day he will reclaim some of the fearsome hitting ability that he will forever be remembered for — no matter how painful this season and the years that will follow could be.
Gardenhire said Cabrera was not recommended to undergo surgery on his right knee, but that does not mean that all is well: After years of playing through pain, through torn groins and broken feet and stress fractures in his legs, Cabrera will be forced to deal with the knee pain until it goes away.
Which, at his age, and weight — Cabrera weighs 249 pounds, according to the team’s 2019 media guide — will be a task akin to hitting for the Triple Crown.
He’s not getting any younger, and now will be forced to rehabilitate himself on the fly, with plenty of daily treatment, just to stay in the lineup. And when he is in the lineup — like he was on Tuesday night, at designated hitter, batting cleanup — he will try to return to form without getting much power from his back leg.
It was that lack of power — no drive from the lower half recently, swinging all arms — that prompted Cabrera to take himself off the field, perhaps forever.
“It hasn’t really changed a lot for me other than now I’m really not even going to think about putting him at first base,” Gardenhire said. “Day to day, he may fight me and want to go out there and play, but the recommendations are no — try to keep him in the DH slot. We’ll go with that for a while. I think the safe bet is to DH him.”
With that news, the Tigers are now without a first baseman of the present or future. They are paying Cabrera $30 million this season to serve as a designated hitter who — to this point in 2019 — does not hit for power consistently. And they will do so for the foreseeable future, hoping for the best, knowing that it’s as likely Cabrera reverses his late-30’s injury trends as it is he starts at first base again this season.
They will pay now, and in the future, for a move that was as equally emotional as it was understandable by former team owner Mike Ilitch, who guaranteed that Cabrera will head into the Hall of Fame with a Tigers cap one day with an extension that was never going to end well.
Cabrera won’t go away that easily of course. He will get his hits, though it’s unlikely they will come off the bat with as much velocity as in the past or sail far over the fences on a consistent basis anymore. With more rest — and giving him more days off, designated hitter or not, is certainly part of the Tigers’ plan — perhaps he can re-work his game the way Magglio Ordonez did late in his career, winning the American League batting title in 2007.
After a few days of rest, his knee feeling a bit better, Cabrera showed a couple of flashes of that on Tuesday night, lining an RBI double in his first at-bat against reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and then knocking him out of the game in the fifth inning with a grand slam. It was his third home run of the year.
But widen the focus in that first at-bat, to the on-deck circle, where Brandon Dixon stood, and to first base, which was open — situations in which a younger, healthier, scarier Cabrera would be easily intentionally walked in years past — and it can begin to show the scope of how Cabrera’s ailing knee will affect the organization, no matter how many cheers after the grand slam.
From declining ability, to his inability at first base, to the way his yearly salary will weigh down the Tigers in the future — again, they’re going to be paying $30 million for a designated hitter with declining power — and it’s becoming clearer by the year that those flashes should be held onto, for they may be all Cabrera has left.