The healthy version of Detroit Tigers designated hitter Miguel Cabrera — or as healthy as he can be at this point in his career — graded out as an above-average hitter through the first three months of last season.
His power has vanished over the past six seasons, but in his age-39 season, he collected his 3,000th hit (in April) and logged a .308 batting average in 70 games through early July. Cabrera, who turns 40 in mid-April, struggled the rest of the way; he suffered an injury and hit .163 in his final 43 games.
What happened last year presents a challenge for the Tigers.
“We talked about what his offseason looks like to bring out the healthiest version of him,” Scott Harris, president of baseball operations, said Tuesday at MLB’s general manager meetings. “We all know what he can do when he’s healthy. It’s important that we provide all of our organizational support to him, both in the offseason and spring training.”
Cabrera has previously said the 2023 season will be the final campaign of his career. His lengthy and lucrative contract — paying him $32 million next year — will expire unless he finishes in the top 10 of MVP voting. (He has $30 million vesting options for 2024 and 2025 based on MVP voting.) He is entering his 21st season in the big leagues, and his 16th with the Tigers.
In 2022, Cabrera hit .254 with five home runs, 28 walks and 101 strikeouts over 112 games. The Tigers reduced his playing time significantly in August. He started just 12 games in August and 11 games in September and October.
After the season, Cabrera sat down in Harris’ office for an important meeting.
“We talked about what he wants and his goals for next year,” Harris said.
Cabrera finished below league average in several modern metrics for hitters, including hard hit rate, barrel rate, strikeout rate, walk rate, swing-and-miss rate and chase rate. His average exit velocity, at 89.9 mph, ranked above average, though. He hasn’t surpassed 15 home runs in a single season since 2016, the same year he last notched 100 RBIs and a .300 batting average.
Last season, Cabrera flamed out by the All-Star break. His ailing right knee, a chronic issue since 2019 that didn’t require surgery, hindered his performance; he landed on the injured list in September with a left biceps strain.
The challenge — for Harris and manager A.J. Hinch — is keeping Cabrera as healthy as possible for as long as possible in 2023. They will evaluate his health in spring training and formulate a plan for workload management.
“We have to be really disciplined about that,” Harris said. “The specifics have yet to be determined.”
If the Tigers can keep Cabrera healthy beyond the All-Star break, he could positively contribute with his contact-oriented profile. A .300 hitter near the bottom of the batting order is the type of player the Tigers would welcome next season, despite the roster construction headache he creates without the ability to play in the field.
But if Cabrera can’t stay healthy, he won’t maintain an elite batting average.
The Tigers received an up-close view of that reality last season.
“It’s probably not going to be in an everyday role,” Harris said. “I think everybody knows that. But I was really energized by how committed he is to putting the work in this offseason and showing up to Lakeland in excellent shape. I’m looking forward to seeing him there.”