Why Miguel Cabrera’s goals with 2021 Detroit Tigers stretch beyond reaching 500 home runs

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold | Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Two of the most revered milestones in baseball — 3,000 hits and 500 home runs — are of the utmost importance to future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera, entering his 19th season in the majors and 14th with the Detroit Tigers.

Currently, the 37-year-old is 134 hits and 13 homers shy of reaching a new tier in the game’s history books. He turns 38 in April.

“I hope we can do both,” Cabrera said Friday. “It’s one of my goals this year. Mentally, I feel good. Trying to go day by day, trying to play hard.”

Cabrera isn’t focused solely on those numbers, though.

“Being in this position is really awesome,” Cabrera said. “I feel proud of what I’ve done in my career. But don’t try to stop here. Try to keep going, try to keep posting more numbers and have fun, try to win games.”

MANAGING MIGGY: How Cabrera, chasing milestones, will be directed by AJ Hinch

THINKING AHEAD: Cabrera says Tigers are ‘really close’ to contending again

BACK TO THE INFIELD: Cabrera trains at first base after spending 2020 as full-time DH

That’s the thing about Cabrera.

He also wants to do whatever he can — even in his veteran age — to bring winning baseball back to the city of Detroit.

“There’s only a finite number of years these guys can play,” manager AJ Hinch said. “We’ve been spoiled to get close to a 20-year career out of Miggy, but each season is important. Each season is even more important as you get toward the end of contracts, getting close to age 40.

“To me, why show up to work if you’re not ready to win? … He’s been very enthusiastic about where we’re at and what his expectations are.”

[ Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera in spring training: ‘I feel like I did back in 2014’ ]

There’s a good chance Cabrera will, if he stays healthy, reach 500 homers and 3,000 hits this season.

Cabrera said: “You think in the back of your mind, ‘I hope someday I can do that.'”

But he put those milestones in context of the team’s results as well.

“If we are able to win a lot of games,” Cabrera said, “the numbers will be there at the end of the season.”

Hinch promises to use Cabrera at first base once or twice per week if his body manages the workload. Cabrera said he believes he is as physically strong as was in the 2014 season.

Still, Cabrera hasn’t played first base since June 26, 2019.

“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity in games,” Cabrera said. … “You know, in the last three years I’ve been hurt. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to be hurting. I want to do my best, do whatever I can to help the team win games.”

Hinch made it a priority to get on the same page with Cabrera about expectations, provide him a personal schedule and show respect for his greatness. After all, the Venezuelan has a lifetime .313 batting average, 2,866 hits and 487 home runs, amassing 11 All-Star appearances, seven Silver Sluggers and four batting titles.

“The back of the baseball card does not lie,” Hinch said.

Equipped with a psychology degree from Stanford and a wealth of baseball knowledge, Hinch understands constant communication with Cabrera is a way to tap into the remainder of the 26-man roster.

Cabrera’s teammates look to him for guidance in the clubhouse, and the young players watch him closely when they get the chance.

“His presence on a team cannot be overstated,” Hinch said. “The consistency in how he prepares, what he does on the field, his cage routine is a premium. That’s why he’s been able to be as good as he’s been for a long as he can.”

But, again, Cabrera isn’t solely focused on reaching 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. Getting more games at first base isn’t his end goal, either.

The current state of the organization — stuck in rebuilding mode since 2017 — isn’t likely to reach the playoffs this year.

Meanwhile, Cabrera’s contract is set to expire after the 2023 season.

“I’m really hungry to get back to winning a high percentage (of games),” Cabrera said. “It’s no fun at all to play and lose almost every day. Right now, we’ve got a good club to complete. I think we got very good talent, young talent. If we put everything together, I think we can win more games than last year and the year before.”

OBSERVATIONS: Miguel Cabrera shows ultimate respect to prospect in spring training

While it might not happen this year, he knows the key pieces of the youth movement — Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning, Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene — will soon be ready to carry the torch. If all goes as planned, the franchise and its fans should be reinvigorated by new faces in the next couple of years.

Cabrera believes those memories of winning division titles and seeing Comerica Park packed with towel-waving fans on chilly October evenings will return.

Hopefully, before he is gone.

“I see a lot of good years (coming) in Detroit,” Cabrera said. “These guys, they impress everybody in big-league camp. I think they got a chance to be great baseball players.”

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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