The Miguel Cabrera Dilemma: It is Time for the Tigers to Make a Tough Call

Should the Detroit Tigers continue to play Miguel Cabrera despite his declining performance? Explore the impact of his contract extension and the team's dilemma. Find out why it may be time for the Tigers to have a difficult conversation about Cabrera's role in the lineup.

There is no doubt that Detroit Tigers legend, Miguel Cabrera, has earned the right to go out on his own terms. He is essentially doing this by finishing out his contract's final season. But is the charade of running him out there every few days for a couple of ground outs or singles really on Miggy's terms or what's best for the team? Through nearly 54 games, and the surprise that this team has been, that question is answered: “No.”

Miguel has earned every right to fulfill his contract

It must be said and made clear: this is not a Miguel Cabrera problem. He earned every bit of the contract Mr. Ilitch gave him back in 2014. Then it was an eight-year, $248 million contract that was essentially a reward for what he'd done previously and ensured he was a Tiger for the rest of his career. However, even then it was believed that this contract was not going to ever be “worth it” to the Tigers. The problem, however, was that then-GM Dave Dombrowski hamstrung the organization with an extension that began two years after it was signed. Not a Miggy problem, an organization problem.

So, we are not going to place the blame on Miguel, because there's no blame to pass around. Would you pass up on $32 million at age 40? No, you wouldn't, and don't even pretend you would. And, let's not pretend that we'd take some moral high ground and say, “If I knew it was best for the team…” or “If I couldn't play anymore, I would've walked away.” Again, no you wouldn't. Miguel gets paid regardless of his performance. Blame the MLB and the guaranteed contracts they hand out or blame the organization itself for signing a ludicrous extension, but in no way can you blame Miguel.

Miguel Cabrera

We've seen this before with the Tigers

You don't have to look very far back in annuls of Tigers' history to see this exact situation playing out again. Victor Martinez was on the last legs of his career and signed to a healthy extension, that did not age well for the Tigers. He signed a four-year extension around the same time Miggy did that paid him $68 million and didn't pan out too well. Eventually leading to a “Victor Martinez Day” on September 22, 2018, and he was then done for the season. Over that four-year extension, he hit .262/.320/.397, with a wOBA of .308 and was 9% below league average in run creation (91 wRC+) – from the four spot and as a designated hitter, which is not great.

We'll dive into the numbers for Miggy, but let's keep this whole “Victor Martinez Day” idea in the back of our minds.

Miguel Cabrera by the numbers (pre and post-extension)

Miguel is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and arguably the best right-handed hitter of a generation – he was for sure the best right-handed hitter in the American League over his earlier career. You simply cannot argue otherwise. Back-to-back MVPs, the first Triple Crown (2012) since Carl Yastrezemski in 1967. But since this extension of his took over (2016), he has not been the same hitter:

  • Pre-Extension (2008-2015)
    • .326/.406/.574 slash line
    • .414 wOBA, 161 wRC+ (61% above league average)
    • 11.7% walk rate, 15.4% K-rate
    • 5,250 PA, 270 HR, 309 doubles, 1,489 hits, 922 RBI
  • Post Extension (2016-2023)
    • .271/.341/.417 slash line
    • .325 wOBA, 105 wRC+ (5% above league average)
    • 9.4% walk rate, 20.4% K-rate
    • 3,203 PA, 99 HR, 118 doubles, 772 hits, 407 RBI

Those back-half numbers are not great for a $30+ million player, who is the lynchpin of your lineup. Not to mention that as his body has aged, it hasn't aged well and there have been multiple stints on the IL for Miguel over the recent years.

The Tigers are in a sticky situation with Miguel

Let's also call a spade a spade, not much was expected out of this Tigers team in 2023. The fact that they were over .500 in the month of May, and are 23-18 since their abysmal 2-9 start has made the Miggy situation that much more of a precarious bugger. For a team that is two games out of the division lead and chasing .500 baseball on the season, Miguel's presence in the lineup is entirely precarious.

A.J. Hinch has already done a great job of limiting the exposure of Miguel, but it's almost time to wonder if he should be entirely a pinch-hit option and nothing else. He's hitting .169/.253/.216 with a paltry woBA of .216 and is 68% below league average in run creation (32 wRC+). Is this really how we're honoring one of the best that have ever worn our uniform? And, while we're here, for those expecting a Pujolsian renaissance, it's not happening.

It's time for the Tigers brass to start having some very uncomfortable conversations. Miguel deserves better than this. We should be remembering what he's done, not wishing him gone. And yet, here we are almost wishing that he would've hung the cleats up prior to this season. It's a shame really.

The Bottom Line

While the Tigers may feel like they're honoring #24 by continuing to parade him out once or twice a series, they're doing no favors to Miguel or their team. It's time to look in the mirror as an organization and make a tough call. You cannot make one mistake – the extension – worse by keeping a spot on the team, or in the lineup, for a player who isn't helping the team. We want Miggy to go out the right way, we want his presence around this team, which unfortunately means it's without a bat in his hand moving forward.


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