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Miguel Cabrera: A magnificent career for the ages will soon belong to them

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MVP. Triple Crown winner. World Series Champion. The best right-handed hitter of the generation. Of course, we're talking about Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera recently said he'd be retiring from the game he loves after the 2023 season. It will be a season of complete uncertainty for the Detroit Tigers, who are coming off of their very disappointing 2022 season. But, for Miguel, it'll be a farewell tour and–regardless of one's thoughts on these things–one that's well deserved.

Miguel Cabrera
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The Early Career of Miguel Cabrera

Miguel did not don the Old English D until 2008 when a blockbuster deal was made between the Tigers and the Florida Marlins (at the time). That deal sent Cabrera (68.6 fWAR) and Dontrelle Willis (16.8 fWAR) to Motown and in turn, the Tigers relinquished Cameron Maybin (14.0 fWAR), Andrew Miller (12.8 fWAR), Dallas Trahern, Mike Rabelo (-1.6 fWAR), Eulogio “Frankie” De La Cruz (-0.3 fWAR), and Burke Badenhop (3.5 fWAR). Safe to say the Tigers won the deal. But what about Miguel's time before the Tigers?

Miguel Cabrera burst onto the scene with the Florida Marlins

When you are talking about a meteoric career, one that is only seen once or twice a generation, there will be times when you just sit back and think, did that really just happen? So it is with the career of Miguel Cabrera, starting right from jump street. Signed by the Marlins in 1999, Miggy spent a couple of years in the Minors and by 2003, was destroying Double-A, earning himself a promotion to The Show.

On Friday, July 20, 2003, Cabrera made his MLB debut, the 18,299th player in MLB history to do so. He hit eighth and played left field for the Marlins that day. While his first four at-bats didn't go so well, he stepped to the plate in the 11th inning in a 1-1 tie. All he proceeded to do was go big fly to dead centerfield for his first MLB hit, home run, and RBI of his career, delivering a walk-off win for the Fins. He finished the season with 12 home runs, 62 RBI, and a .268/.325/.468 slash line. Most notably, his team was 56-31 in games he played that season and he helped the Marlins reach the World Series.

In that postseason, Cabrera hit .265/.315/.471 with 4 home runs and 11 RBI. His most notable moment came in Game 4 of the World Series off of Roger Clemens in a 4-3 win for the Marlins, which propelled them to a Game 6 World Series victory.

Roger Clemens vs. Miguel Cabrera via Youtube.

A casualty of payroll became the Detroit Tigers' windfall

Baseball in Florida has never been a major market–for whatever reason. Even when their teams have been good, the attendance numbers and payrolls just aren't there. The Marlins have had a firesale or two, and the Rays are constantly shipping off young, good talent in lieu of paying them. When Miguel hit arbitration in 2007, he received a nice pay raise that ultimately would put him on the outs in Florida. According to Baseball-Reference's Bullpen,

Unfortunately for him, he had earned a significant salary increase in arbitration, beating the Marlins and earning a $7.3 million deal through the process prior to the season. With the franchise nowhere near contention (as of 2020, they had not returned to the postseason since the 2003 Series triumph) and always ready to deal someone the second they began to make real dollars, Cabrera's days in Miami were numbered.

So, of course, it was no surprise in December 2007 when the Fish killed two birds with one stone, dealing stars with rising cash flow coming, Cabrera and pitcher Dontrelle Willis, to the Detroit Tigers for a bushel of young players making peanuts, including Cameron MaybinAndrew MillerDallas TrahernMike RabeloEulogio De La Cruz and Burke Badenhop.

BR Bullpen, “Miguel Cabrera”

The Marlins' loss was the Tigers' gain, but it wasn't always smooth sailing in Motown.

Miguel Cabrera in the Old English D

The Tigers in 2007 were an aging team, who just a year previously had been in the World Series. After 2007, Sean Casey was no longer on the team, and Carlos Guillen was expected to take over at first but struggled. With the departure of “The Mayor,” the Tigers had a hole to fill and did so with the trade of prospects for Cabrera. In his time in Detroit, Miguel Cabrera has become a staple, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and one of the greatest Tigers to ever don the uniform. Though, it wasn't always a smooth ride.

Miguel Cabrera
Sep 18, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. The Tigers won 9-5. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The low points for Miguel Cabrera came off the field

For the first season, it was smooth sailing for Miggy. In his first season with the new club, Cabrera continued his hitting ways, leading the American League in home runs (37), and slashing .292/.349/.537. In 2009, the Tigers were in a fight for their postseason life against the resurging Minnesota Twins; a fight that would ultimately lead to a one-game playoff–infamous for the Brandon Inge non-hit by pitch. Two days prior to this game, Cabrera was arrested for threatening his wife while under the influence of alcohol.

According to a report from MLive,

This much is known about the physical altercation between Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera and his wife, Roseangel:

According to Birmingham Police Chief Richard Patterson, Roseangel called 911 at 6 a.m. Saturday morning after the couple fought because he came home intoxicated and loud after drinking at Birmingham's Townsend Hotel with an unspecified fellow Venezuelan who plays for the Chicago White Sox.

What is not known is what Cabrera, the cleanup hitter Detroit has depended upon to carry its offense, was thinking.

Steve Kornacki, MLive

Cabrera would homer in the game against the Twins, but ultimately the Tigers fell short and missed the playoffs. He did apologize to his teammates and fans prior to the 2010 season but did relapse during Spring Training of the 2011 season, with MLB releasing a statement of more serious consequences potentially should another alcohol-related incident occur.

Miguel Cabrera: an all-time Detroit Tiger on the field

When mentioning all-time Tigers the conversation cannot exist without the name Miguel Cabrera. After the 2008 season, Cabera had eight-straight seasons hitting over .300, including a Triple Crown (2012), and two MVPs (2012, 2013). His 2013 season, though it ended in the ALCS to the Boston Red Sox, was a season even better than his Triple Crown season. That season he gave us one of the greatest at-bats one may ever see. Down two runs, with two outs in the top of the ninth, in Yankee Stadium, against Mariano Rivera, on one leg, Miguel delivered.

Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees, August 9, 2013; via Youtube.

Miguel was a key component of one of the more dominant stretches for the Detroit Tigers during the early 2010s. When the Tigers made a deal for Prince Fielder in the offseason of 2012, Miggy stepped over to third base, a position he'd not played since 2008. While, a bit of a liability defensively at third (-21 DRS over those two years) he was still an able contributor, and lynchpin of the stellar deep postseason runs for the Tigers those two years.

In that four-year stretch, 2011-2014, Miguel was a menace to opposing teams, helping lead the Tigers to four straight playoff appearances, three straight ALCS appearances, and one World Series appearance. It was a time for the organization and fans alike to relish in the incredible product that was on the field–a team that was exciting, dominant, and winning. Miguel Cabrera's legacy in the Old English D will always be embedded in these memories. But his legacy as a baseball player will live on beyond them.

Miguel Cabrera's Baseball Legacy

What more is there to say about a World Series Champion, league MVP, and Triple Crown winner? It's not an embellishment to define Cabrera's skill as generational. While he did play at the same time as Albert Pujols, and their careers will always be interconnected, Miguel's reputation as a pure hitter outshines that of Pujols. Pujols was more of a pure power hitter, but Miggy's ability to drive the ball to all fields set him apart.

Miguel Cabrera Baseball-Reference
Miguel Cabrera via Baseball-Reference

In 2016, the Detroit Tigers signed Miguel Cabrera to a contract extension. The eight-year deal was worth $240 million, with two vesting years for 2024 and 2025, should his production continue. While it was a risky bet to sign a 33-year-old to the length of a deal, it secured Miggy in a Tigers' uniform for the remainder of his career. The contract hasn't aged well, seeing that Cabrera has not played more than 136 games since the 2016 season and his production has fallen.

However bad the contract may seem, it did offer fans some reprieve as they watched Miggy chase career milestones while the team continued to chase losses and prospects. In 2021, Miggy nailed his 500th career home run in Toronto, and early in the 2022 season, fans were treated to the rare gem of seeing a superstar get his 3,000th hit, becoming the first Venezuelan to accomplish this feat.

Heading into the 2023 season, the Tigers' all-time leaderboard has Miggy all over it:

  • 10th in WAR (49.5)
  • 8th in Offensive WAR (55.8)
  • 18th in Batting Average (.306)
  • 17th in On-base percentage (.383)
  • 4th in slugging percentage (.517)
  • 9th in games played (1,979)
  • 8th in hits (2,246)
  • 3rd in home runs (369)
  • 5th in RBI (1,324)

As the sun will eventually set on the 2023 season, Miguel Cabrera will be riding off into it. He's earned the send-off he's going to get throughout the year. As fans, it is something that should be relished and appreciated. It may be a rough year for the boys in Motown this 2023 season, but that should not detract from watching one of the all-time greats ending his career in a Tigers' uniform.

A career that can only be compared with the greats from yesteryear will soon be coming to a close. As the lights eventually go out at Comerica Park in 2023, the only appropriate thing to do is tip the cap to Miggy, one of the best we've ever seen and someone who is so central to many of the recent memories created for our team. Farewell Miggy, it's been one heck of a ride.

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