Miguel Cabrera Opens ‘23 As Detroit Tigers’ Biggest Sleeper 

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Miguel Cabrera stepped into the batter’s box April 23, shouldering international pressure to deliver a milestone moment. As the baseball world’s attention focused on home plate, Cabrera scanned the Comerica Park field. He noticed a breech in the Rockies’ defensive alignment. 

“Thank God they do it,” Cabrera said after collecting his 3,000th hit, as reported by MLB.com. “When I see the second baseman play almost behind second base, I’m like, ‘OK, you have to shoot the ball there.’ ” 

He did.  

With Rockies starter Antonio Senzatela releasing a 1-1 fastball, Cabrera, considered one the best hitters of this generation, utilized his elite bat control to stay inside the baseball and single to right field. It set off a series of celebrations from Detroit to Venezuela.  

In the months after becoming the 33rd member of the 3,000-hit club, however, the injury-plagued Cabrera slumped, eventually finishing with a .254 batting average with five home runs and 43 RBI in 112 games. 

Entering 2023, he remains the club’s biggest sleeper during his final campaign. 

Age, Injuries Take Toll 

The rebuilding Tigers are no longer counting on Cabrera, a career .308 hitter, to carry the desperate offense. His first-base glove is all but retired and if he reaches base in the late innings, a pinch runner is certain to get the call. 

Speculation exists that Kerry Carpenter, who made a cameo appearance last season, should acquire some of Cabrera’s at-bats, perhaps forming a righty-lefty platoon situation. That scenario certainly will play out this spring.  

Considering Cabrera is the seventh major leaguer to join the 3,000-hit, 500-home run fraternity, Tigers manager AJ Hinch can only expect pedestrian contributions from Cabrera, who has not topped 16 homers since 2016. The slugger who launched 227 homers during his first six seasons with the Tigers (2008-13) is long gone. What’s left is a situational hitter commanding a hefty percentage of the payroll. 

Cabrera, who announced last November that he plans to retire after the upcoming season, will be the Tigers’ wild card in 2023. 

Cabrera? How can the first-ballot Hall of Famer not be considered a middle-of-the-lineup foundation piece to one of baseball’s least-threatening squads? The answer is obvious: Age and injuries.  

At 39 years old, Cabrera has suffered a series of maladies over the past several seasons. Here’s a partial list, according to Fox Sports 

  • 2022: back and biceps  
  • 2021: back, calf and biceps 
  • 2020: illness 
  • 2019: knee and biceps 
  • 2018: ruptured tendon (left biceps) 
  • 2018: right hamstring strain 
  • 2017: back, oblique and groin strains 
  • 2013: hip, legs and torso 

As a result of the array of injuries, the 2012 Triple Crown champion has relied more on opposite-field bloopers than his once-celebrated extra-base power. Cabrera’s leg drive has virtually disappeared, but his quick wrists and bat control will keep Cabrera in the lineup, at least on a part-time basis, during his farewell tour.

Punchless Bengals  

The Tigers struggled offensively last season, placing 25th in team batting average (.231) and last in runs scored (557) and home runs (110). With Spring Training looming, Scott Harris, the new president of baseball operations, has started reshaping the franchise’s 40-man roster, prioritizing players with prime plate discipline. 

Cabrera has drawn 1,847 walks during his 2,699-game career and should provide veteran leadership to the Tigers’ new-look lineup. 

Cabrera’s swan song projections remain low. After connecting on just 15 extra-base hits in 397 at-bats last season, Cabrera has devolved into a one-dimensional batter with no speed, although he stole one base last season. If Cabrera can remain healthy and contribute a batting average near .250 with 10-15 homers and 45-55 RBI, Hinch would be happy. 

Check that. The Tigers’ skipper would be ecstatic.  

Hinch cannot rely on Cabrera miraculously locating the fountain of youth and transforming the Tigers into the ‘27 Yankees. But if the 267-pound designated hitter dropped weight and worked on his agility this offseason, as he indicated he would, Cabrera could give the Tigers a boost from the bottom of the batting order. 

The Tigers last season started listing Cabrera and his $32 million salary lower in the lineup, not consistently running him out in his customary third or fourth spot. Look for that to continue in ‘23. 

But if he remains healthy, any increase in production from Cabrera could help revive a dormmate franchise. 

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