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2020 Player Review: Miguel Cabrera is the healthiest Tiger

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Tigers’ “face of the franchise” has issues, but staying healthy isn’t one of them.

Cleveland Indians v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

If Detroit Tigers’ fans could ask for one wish, many would wish for Miguel Cabrera to be healthy and to regain his old form, when he was the Most Valuable Player in the American League. Well, Cabrera led the team in plate appearances during the pandemic- shortened season in 2020 and was the only Tiger to log enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title in 2019, but his performance at the plate is a far cry from the vintage Miggy that has long since faded into baseball history.

After missing most of the 2018 season on the injured list, a season in which he played just 38 games and made 157 plate appearances, Cabrera has led the Tigers in plate appearances in each of the past two seasons, with 549 PA’s in 2019, and playing 57 of the team’s 58 games in 2020. He also led the team in home runs and RBI this past season, although that’s not saying much on this squad.

Among other designated hitters, Cabrera ranked in a virtual tie for 6th thru 9th among those with at least 160 plate appearances. His 0.3 fWAR was tied with Renato Nunez, Vlad Guererro Jr, and Yoshimoto Tsutsugo. He was better than Shohei Ohtani, Albert Pujols, and J.D. Martinez, if that’s any consolation. He led all DH’s with 35 RBI, while only Nunez and Nelson Cruz hit more home runs.

The fact that a slash line of .250/.323/.417 for a wOBA of .323 is an improvement over the previous season is an indication of just how far the once-great slugger has fallen from grace. Cabrera did improve his overall batting performance over 2019, thanks to an increase in power, despite a plunging batting average.

After two seasons of negative fWAR in 2017 and 2019, he at least moved into plus territory with a 0.3 fWAR in 2020. Steamer projects a slash line of .273/.350/.449 for an OPS of .799, 110 wRC+ and 0.9 fWAR. That’s not exactly $30 million worth of production, but it’s a solid contribution worthy of a spot in the middle of a decent batting order.

Cabrera’s WAR is dinged because he has been strictly a designated hitter, but the fact remains that he makes no defensive contribution. He has stated that he’d like to play at least some first base, which could happen, depending on what moves the team makes before opening day when Cabrera will be five seasons removed from the last time that he posted over 1.0 WAR for the year.

Milestones

Cabrera should hit his 500th career home run sometime during the 2021 season, ensuring his place in the hall of fame if he can remain healthy. At 487 career blasts, he is just 13 shy of the landmark accomplishment. for the once-great slugger.

Cabrera should also reach 1,500 runs batted in at some point during the 2021 season. He currently has 1,457 RBI — just 43 shy of the landmark.

He is 71 runs shy of 1,800, which is attainable in 2021. Even another few seasons batting .250 should leave him with a career .300 batting average. He currently stands at .313 over 17 plus major league seasons.

Cabrera is 50 home runs short of Al Kaline’s all-time record of 399 homers as a Tiger. That is within reach by 2023, but he is over 600 RBI short of Ty Cobb’s all-time club record of 1,811.

The Money

Oh, yes, the money! Well, that’s spent and will continue to be spent until the contract expires after the 2023 season when the Tigers will pay an $8 million buyout. That one is not Al Avila’s fault, nor Chris Ilitch’s fault, nor Cabrera’s fault for taking the deal. Just call it spilled milk and move on, hoping for the best these next few seasons.

Miguel Cabrera figures to be the primary designated hitter for the Detroit Tigers until his contract expires, barring a major injury. If he can continue on the pace that he was on for the 2020 season, at this point Tigers’ fans should take that and look to replace his lost production elsewhere.