Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera trains at first base after spending 2020 as full-time DH

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
 
| Detroit Free Press

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Miguel Cabrera is back in the lab.

And he’s training at first base.

The Detroit Tigers veteran turns 38 years old in April, but he is seeking a return to his old position this season. He is working out at Team Sosa Baseball facility in Hialeah, Florida, and on Thursday, took reps at first base.

[ Miguel Cabrera speaks: Detroit Tigers ‘really close’ to contending again ]

But it’s not just Cabrera who wants to return to first base. His new manager, AJ Hinch, expressed interest in giving him an opportunity in the field — with limitations — during the 2021 season.

“I’d like him to play first base, certainly part of the games,” Hinch said in December. “Freeing up the DH is important. Keeping Miggy on the field and keeping him healthy is going to be the priority. We got to make sure he is healthy and can handle the first base position in a certain amount of games per week.”

The former two-time American League MVP hasn’t played first base since June 26, 2019. He spent 2020 as the Tigers’ full-time designated hitter and logged a .250 batting average; the lowest mark in his 18-year career. But he paced the team in home runs (10) and RBIs (35) across 57 games.

Cabrera played 136 games in 2019, hitting .282 with 12 homers and 59 RBIs. That year, he got 26 games at first base and 107 as the designated hitter. He’s dealt with injuries to his right knee, lower back and more from 2017-19 and is under contract through the 2023 season.

[ Tigers manager AJ Hinch wants Miguel Cabrera to play first base in 2021 ]

“I hope they can give me more time to play first,” Cabrera said in late September. “I need to be in the field. I’m learning how to be a DH right now, but it’s hard for me to go hit and then go sit and think about what I’m going to do in my next at-bat. In the past, I’d forget about hitting and play defense. … I want to spend a little more time at first base next year.”

If Cabrera can stay healthy, he should get his wish.

Al Avila’s son staying patient

As the Tigers could be searching for a free-agent catcher, general manager Al Avila’s son, Alex, meets the requirements. Right now, the team has three catchers — Jake Rogers, Grayson Greiner and Dustin Garneau — competing for two roster spots.

The top catcher to come off the market is ex-Tiger James McCann, who inked a four-year, $40.6 million deal with the New York Mets. Mike Zunino went to the Tampa Bay Rays for one-year, $3 million, and Curt Casali signed for one-year, $1.5 million with the San Francisco Giants.

Although the market is moving slow, Alex Avila — a 12-year MLB veteran — isn’t concerned about his future. The 33-year-old has played for the Tigers (2009-17), Chicago Cubs (2017), Arizona Diamondbacks (2018-19) and Minnesota Twins (2020).

“If you were a free agent going into this offseason, you would have to have some sort of understanding that it was going to be a different offseason with the year we just went through,” Avila told ESPN’s Buster Olney on the Baseball Tonight podcast. “For some guys going through this for the first or second time, it might be a little frustrating.

“For me, I’m just trying to stay patient. There have been teams calling, telling myself and my agent that they have an interest and think I would be a good fit.”

For subscribers: Here’s what else the Detroit Tigers could, and should, do in free agency this winter

Avila knows he won’t set the market; that job belongs to prized catcher J.T. Realmuto. But that doesn’t mean a team, such as the Tigers, won’t pursue him. Last year, Avila hit .184 with one home run, two RBIs, 11 walks and 22 strikeouts in 23 games for the Twins.

“Everybody is always going to be looking for catching,” Avila said. “There’s always going to be a need for a guy like myself. It’s just a matter of staying patient and waiting for one of those teams to decide to check that box off their list. That’s where I’m at with it.”

Avila is a career .235 hitter with a 14.4% walk rate and 29.2% strikeout rate, adding .160 isolated power, 104 home runs and 388 RBIs in 1,018 games. 

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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