Reaction & Analysis: Miguel Cabrera’s Extension

The Tigers extended Miguel Cabrera at a price of (at least) eight guaranteed years and $248MM yesterday, making Cabrera the highest-paid player, in terms of average annual value, in baseball history.  Such a massive contract was bound to generate a lot of commentary, and the early returns aren't positive over Detroit's move.  Here are some of the opinions…

  • Executives from all over baseball are panning the extension, ESPN's Buster Olney reports (ESPN Insider subscription required).  While Cabrera is obviously highly respected as a hitter and extending his contract for at least some length of time isn't a bad idea, several execs and scouts suggested three different ways that the Tigers could've approached the extension differently.
  • In an Insider-only piece, ESPN's Keith Law rips the extension, citing the history of how rare it is for star players to stay productive into their late 30's, especially ones of Cabrera's body type.  David Ortiz could be a best-case scenario for Cabrera, and while Ortiz is still a force, Law notes that the Red Sox have kept their star DH on short-term contracts through his late 30's to protect themselves if he suddenly declines.
  • The fact that a team in a troubled market like Detroit could afford such a huge contract is actually a good sign for Major League Baseball's health, FOX Sports' Jon Paul Morosi argues, and it could lessen the threat of a work stoppage when the collective bargaining agreement expires in 2016.  Tigers owner Mike Illitch's willingness to spend and his clear desire to retain Cabrera at any cost played a role, though Morosi notes that Joey Votto's extension with the Reds might've been an even riskier long-term deal for an even smaller-market club.
  • The Tigers could be expecting a major revenue bump in the form of a new TV deal, as their current local broadcast contract reportedly expires after the 2017 season, Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan writes.  While this could explain how the Tigers expect to account for Cabrera's contract, however, Passan doesn't believe it excuses the decision, calling the extension possibly "the greatest debacle in the desolate baseball wasteland filled with bad-contract carcasses."
  • The extension is both "terrible and understandable," according to Fangraphs' Dave Cameron.  Had the Tigers not extended Cabrera, he likely would've gone elsewhere as a free agent in two years, and Illitch clearly wants to win now.  On the other hand, Illitch could be leaving the franchise in tough financial shape once he passes on, the Tigers are already going cheap at a few positions due to payroll limitations and Cameron feels the deal is simply "a ridiculous overpay."
  • Mike Trout could be the biggest winner from Cabrera's extension, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal writes.  Trout and the Angels were reportedly negotiating an extension in the neighborhood of six years and $150MM, and Rosenthal figures Trout might as well take that deal now.  "He would become a free agent at 28, and heaven knows what he will be worth then," Rosenthal writes.
  • Cabrera's deal seems to guarantee that the Tigers won't re-sign Max Scherzer next offseason, ESPN's Jim Bowden opines (Insider-only piece).  The timing of the extension "reeks of desperation" after the Tigers' negotiations with Scherzer broke down, "and the Tigers are giving off the vibe of a jilted lover on the rebound."
  • My take: I have to agree with the consensus that this extension will end up being a major albatross for the Tigers.  It would be one thing if Detroit had a bunch of well-regarded prospects ready to give the team quality production for a few seasons' worth of minimum salaries, but the Tigers' farm system was recently ranked 28th in the 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook.  With little minor league help on the immediate horizon, it makes even less sense to tie up so much money in just a few players.  It also puts pressure on Nick Castellanos (the club's top prospect) to contribute right away as the everyday third baseman and puts even more pressure on GM Dave Dombrowski to restock the farm with some quality drafts.

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