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Miguel Cabrera’s injury leaves a job opening at first base

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You can’t replace Miggy, but Detroit has to try.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

As the dust settles from the shock and heartbreak following the events of Tuesday’s Tigers game, a few things are abundantly clear. Miguel Cabrera’s season is over, and the Detroit Tigers are in need of an everyday first baseman.

Cabrera, who was relatively fresh off a disabled list stint, ruptured the tendon in his left biceps, and will need a season-ending surgery to repair the damage. It’s about the worst news the team could imagine, especially considering that Cabrera was looking strong and healthy to start the season, showing flashes of his old brilliance. Before this injury, Cabrera was hitting .299/395/.448.

There are a lot of folks who want to focus on Miguel Cabrera’s contract, and talk about what a burden it is for the team. Indeed, Cabrera became all but untradeable thanks to his behemoth contract, but he was also the only remaining star on a rebuilding team, and has been one of the greatest hitters in the history of baseball. He’s a two-time MVP, an 11-time All-Star, a Triple Crown winner, and a World Series winner. Miguel Cabrera is worth every cent he has been paid and is still owed. We aren’t here to discuss his contract.

The more immediate and pressing concern for the Tigers is who will replace Cabrera at first base.

For the time being the obvious answer is John Hicks. The team’s back-up catcher has been a first base regular, appearing at first in 28 games this season already — an MLB career high. He has the chops to hold the position for the remainder of the season if need be, and the Tigers don’t lack any depth in the catcher role, having Grayson Greiner available to back-up James McCann. Greiner has already been called up from Toldeo, so the Tigers are clearly planning to use Hicks for the time being.

And so they should. He’s hitting well, with a .285/.327/.437 average for the season thus far. He also has more home runs than Cabrera (5 vs. 3) and the exact same number of RBIs (22). On the other hand, Hicks low walk rate and poor power numbers considering his high strikeout rate, means that his continued production level is still pretty up in the air.

Should the team decide to shuffle things at all, or want a different long-term solution, they have another option in Double-A with Dominic Ficociello. Ficociello is currently hitting .278/.347/.411 with the Erie SeaWolves and though he’s been used in a utility role this season, he’s had 31 games at first, proving it’s still his positional bread and butter.

Think testing out a Double-A infielder is too risky? The Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens have two available options as well. Chad Huffman — who hasn’t played first base in the majors since 2010 — has played 10 games in that position for Toledo this year and is currently hitting a very decent .293/.399/.493. The other candidate would be Edwin Espinal. He’s hitting .287/.374/.390 and is definitely the more frequently used first baseman, with 46 games under his belt this season. He’s also spent a lot more time in that position throughout his career, so from a purely defensive point of view, Espinal would be the best bet.

The Tigers could also potentially experiment with Niko Goodrum or Ronny Rodriguez, who was just recalled from Toledo, at first base. Both infielders should be able to handle the position adequately, and allow the Tigers to get a better look at their bats. Perhaps they’d even consider trying Nicholas Castellanos--shudders--to facilitate the promotion of outfielder Christin Stewart from Toledo.

The Tigers, however, are most likely going to keep John Hicks on first for the foreseeable future. Hicks is a below average defender at first, but not bad enough that he’d be a detriment to the team kept there long term. And his offensive offerings more than make up the difference compared to other in-house options.

Miguel Cabrera can’t be replaced, but someone will need to man his post for awhile.


Who should play first base for the Tigers?

This poll is closed

  • 52%
    John Hicks
    (316 votes)
  • 2%
    Edwin Espinal
    (18 votes)
  • 1%
    Chad Huffman
    (7 votes)
  • 17%
    Dominic Ficociello
    (103 votes)
  • 26%
    Just mix it up
    (157 votes)
601 votes total Vote Now