This is bad. It could be the worst thing.
This is one of those things that you say in spring training could make the Detroit Tigers a really bad team, 100-plus losses, along with Michael Fulmer getting hurt again and well, there’s not really a No. 3.
Miguel Cabrera is injured and he will not play again this season.
It is as bad as it sounds. It’s mid-June. For however many losses the Tigers have had with Cabrera – the team is 16-22 in games he has played this season – at least they would have had the best hitter of this generation taking at least three at-bats a night. And for the optimistic crowd: They’ve played .500 baseball without him – what could they do with a healthy Cabrera?
But now, he is out for the year with an injury at age 35, at a point when his durability was most questioned and he’s still owed $154 million after this season and until 2023. Before you ask, no, there is not a trade market for such a player, not even Cabrera.
His spring training was similar: He started slowly and gradually and with opposite-field power, showed himself to be at full health to begin the season. And when Opening Day arrived, he looked like the hitter we’ve come to know, knocking the ball around the field at high velocities. But since he made a fateful slip in Chicago during the second week of the season – tumbling to the dirt off first base on a hard-hit single – it has been an uphill battle. He’d return, and then again, two weeks later after a biceps spasm, but in his first game back, he left with a right hamstring strain after jogging to first base.
Perhaps both times Cabrera’s exceptional instincts him led to injury: On the single in Chicago, to left-center field, he sensed there was a chance at second base, so he rounded first aggressively; on the hamstring strain in Kansas City – another hard-hit single – he tried to quicken his pace when the shortstop couldn’t handle the ball. Since he’s returned, his batting average has steadily dropped from .323 to .299, where he will finish the season after being ruled out after an MRI test on Tuesday night. In the 13 games after his return from the DL, Cabrera went 10-for-48 (.208) with two doubles, not exactly Cabrera-like numbers.
And now, after the latest diagnosis – one that will begin to erode the Tigers both offensively and especially defensively – there is more doubt than ever that Cabrera, as we knew him, will return. The question is not ability, but age. Small things have turned into big things which have turned into a season-ending thing.
There is not an answer in sight: His injuries have come at the plate, though playing the field full-time is certainly more physically taxing. The Tigers exercised caution with his last injury, but there is only so much they could do to hold a player like that back: He wanted to get back on the field days before they let him.
What was forecast years ago is a reality now, one which has frustrated Cabrera for the better part of four seasons. The frustration was most publicly evident last month, when he preached patience with his recovery. It is borne from a player whose pain tolerance is revered by those who have played with him.
But what could frustrate Cabrera the most is that he’s older now. The minor injuries he used to push through in the past are sidelining him now. The mental toughness – after an offseason of getting in shape to prove people that he was, in fact, still a superstar – will be tested again.
For as much as Cabrera’s injuries are the story, the mentality of rehabilitation, past his prime and knowing his body better than anybody, will determine the future. He’s all but certainly a Hall of Famer. He’s signed with the Tigers for likely the rest of his career. And believe me, he knows how much they’re paying him to play baseball.
It’s not getting any cheaper. Cabrera isn’t getting any younger. And the cold, hard reality of the situation is that his season-ending injury – given the games they have yet to play this season and the millions of dollars they have yet to pay in the seasons to come – is one of the worst things that could have happened to the Tigers.
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