On Dec. 4, 2007, the Detroit Tigers made a little deal that changed the face of the franchise. General manager Dave Dombrowski sent top prospects Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin, along with catcher Mike Rabelo, to the (then-Florida) Marlins for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. The move didn’t immediately turn the Tigers into a perennial powerhouse, but it set the keystone in place for one of the great stretches of Tigers baseball in the team’s long and storied history.
Ten years later, and it’s clear that the Cabrera deal was one of the greatest trades of all time. Maybin and Miller went on to have decent careers, but Detroit landed one of the best hitters ever to play the game. Since that point, Tigers fans have been treated to eye-popping numbers, and the security of having one of the all-time greats to power their lineup every season.
Tigers fans saw Cabrera earn the first Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 2012, along with back-to-back MVP awards in 2012 and 2013. Cabrera has produced a .957 OPS and a wRC+ of 154 in his time in Detroit. 6458 plate appearances have yielded 1794 hits, 324 home runs, 1090 RBI, and an on base percentage of .398.
But for many who have watched him closely, numbers can only express a part of Cabrera’s genius for hitting. Anyone who saw him hit in person on a regular basis over the past decade will never forget the sound of the ferocious, pure contact that Cabrera produced in plate appearance after plate appearance. Think of the unparalleled opposite field power, or the many home runs hit off pitches that weren’t close to the strike zone.
During his best years of 2011-2013, it felt as though every plate appearance ended with Cabrera absolutely hammering the ball in play somewhere. What is difficult to communicate to those who didn’t see him regularly is just how often he got unlucky considering the insanely consistent quality of contact produced off his bat. Comerica Park obviously had something to do with that.
There are so many memorable moments, from walk-off home runs to oddities like Cabrera realizing the batter’s box had been marked incorrectly in Chicago. Everyone remembers the game-tying bomb against legendary Yankees closer Mariano Rivera after an epic confrontation detailed by an awed Rivera himself in his memoir. But fewer can recall all the great throws and the lightning hands he’s displayed at either corner.
Cabrera has been a joy to watch. Not many players appear to enjoy the game, the competition, the fans, and his fellow players more than Cabrera does. Highlights of Cabrera’s antics rival that of his buddy — and frequent target — Adrian Beltre of the Rangers. No one has more fun out there than Miggy. It’s one of the reasons watching him struggle in 2017 was so painful.
The Tigers haven’t won the big prize with Cabrera yet, but it has been an amazingly fun ride anyway. It’s a rare thing to have one of the best hitters currently in the game, and one of the best in history in your lineup. That’s a joy many Tigers fans wouldn’t trade for a World Series title.
We look to 2018 in hopes that Cabrera can get his back healthy and return to the Hank Aaron career path he was for so long associated with. But it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the big fella and what a blast it’s been watching him hit in a Detroit Tigers uniform.