Detroit Tigers Rumors
We touched on some American League notes late last night, but here are a few more for the morning:
- After a solid start to his tenure with the Twins' Triple-A affiliate, recently-acquired infielder Eduardo Nunez has earned a (brief) call-up to the bigs, writes Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (passing on a report from the Rochester Chronicle and Democrat). Nunez will get the chance to be the team's 26th player for the second game of today's doubleheader before going back to the minors on Friday, though it seems quite possible he'll get a real shot with the MLB club at some point given Pedro Florimon's struggles.
- The Tigers' search for a replacement at shortstop led them to ask 46-year-old Omar Vizquel if he was interested in making a comeback, reports Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer. "They asked me if I'd like to come and take some grounders," said Vizquel. "I said, 'No, I've been retired for two years.'"
- Scott Cousins will not exactly be continuing his career as a baseball outfielder when he joins the Rangers, reports Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News. The 29-year-old will head to extended spring training, where he will try to convert into a left-handed pitcher.
- The latest in the Athletics' ballpark situation has focused on the possibility of a ten-year lease extension at the O.co Coliseum. As Joe Stiglich of CSNBayArea.com reports, A's co-owner Lew Wolff says the club would be willing to make over $10MM in stadium improvements if such a deal were struck. (Of course, for those who follow ballpark funding issues, that outlay will seem a relative drop in the bucket.)
For some players, just getting the chance to play is the biggest hurdle. That certainly holds true for Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, whose journey out of Cuba and into Major League Baseball is perhaps more astounding than anyone realized. Jesse Katz of Los Angeles Magazine provides a narrative of Puig's unbelievable tale.
Here are a few notes from around the game:
- The Yankees come in at a surprising second in the early-season defensive shift count, writes ESPN.com's Buster Olney (Insider subscription required). As Olney notes, that kind of decision requires organizational commitment on every level, and two offseason infield acquisitions -- Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts -- played an important part in the first discussions involving players.
- Red Sox players view hurler Jon Lester as worthy of the kind of huge payday that the club's front office seems somewhat unwilling to give him, Olney adds. The view from the clubhouse is obviously not likely to drive a decision, but Olney notes that players are keeping a keen eye on how the team's ace is treated.
- For Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, the big issue facing the club is health, George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press reports. He said that the team's bullpen depth at the minor league level is a strength, that the righty-heavy lineup was driven by having good options that happen to hit from that side of the plate, and that he was comfortable with the team's shortstop options -- especially with Eugenio Suarez and Hernan Perez available in the minors.
- The MLB blackout policy is harmful to the game's long-term development, opines Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. Passan traces the league's determined fight to maintain territorial blackouts and its connection to the local TV money that has had such a substantial impact on the MLB player market.
FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal has a new, lengthy notes column in which he begins by examining the early scrutiny of MLB's new instant replay system. He points to a pair of blatantly missed calls on Saturday in which conclusive evidence was seen on TV broadcasts of the games but apparently not by the umpires at MLB's Replay Operations Center in New York. An MLB spokesperson confirmed to Rosenthal that one of those calls was blown and added that the system would continue to work on improvement. Rosenthal reminds that John Schuerholz, one of the architects of the system, said it would be a three-year roll out. However, he adds that MLB can't expect any patience from fans, players or managers when home viewers are able to make better judgments than the umpires at the Relay Operations Center.
Here are some more highlights from his article, which also contains notes on Jose Abreu, struggling offenses around the league and the Dodgers' interleague schedule...
- Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson is the early front-runner for "first manager to get fired" due to the team's 4-11 start, but Rosenthal wonders what more Gibson can do with the pitching talent (or lack thereof) he has been given. GM Kevin Towers thinned out the rotation depth by trading Tyler Skaggs and David Holmberg this offseason, and the loss of Patrick Corbin compounded those moves. Rosenthal wonders how long the Snakes can wait before recalling Archie Bradley.
- One executive said to Rosenthal that any American League team with a need in the infield will have added incentive to work out a deal with Stephen Drew in order to prevent the Tigers from signing him. The AL Central powerhouse is currently going with Alex Gonzalez at short, and the results have been less than stellar.
- Yankees right-hander Hiroki Kuroda told Rosenthal (through his interpreter) that he's never considered retirement as heavily as he did this offseason. The most difficult factor for Kuroda wasn't the separation from his L.A.-based family -- they come live with him in the summer when his daughters are out of school -- but rather that he simply loves and misses Japan. Kuroda again left open the possibility of finishing his career back in Japan.
- Both the Angels and Twins have a need in the outfield with the likes of Josh Hamilton, Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham on the disabled list, and both teams were interested in the recently DFA'ed Sam Fuld this offseason before he signed with the Athletics. Rosenthal reports that the A's will gauge trade possibilities for Fuld and wonders if the Halos and Twins could have interest.
- After signing a minor league deal in the 2012-13 offseason, Blue Jays right-hander Neil Wagner earned the pro-rated portion that deal's $525K salary while in the Majors last season. However, Toronto's pre-arbitration pay scale called for just a $506,250 salary in 2014, as it is based on service time rather than performance. Agent Jim Munsey and Wagner refused the deal, giving Toronto the freedom to renew Wagner's contract at $500K if they wished, which the team did. Said Munsey of the ordeal: "It's, obviously, disappointing that they cut Neil's pay after such a good season last year. And when we didn't agree to the pay cut, they cut it further in renewing him. Hard to cheer for that. ... The rules allow the Jays to reduce his pay. They also allow us to talk about that at arbitration." MLBTR's Zach Links recently looked at teams' calculation of pre-arbitration salaries.
- Though the Rays' rotation has been ravaged by injuries to Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb, the team is planning on using internal options rather than pursuing outside help.
It was on this day in 2009 that Mark Fidrych died at age 54 as the result of a freak truck repair accident. Fidrych burst onto the scene as a Tigers rookie in 1976, posting a 2.34 ERA over 250 1/3 innings, starting the All-Star Game for the American League and capturing the AL Rookie Of The Year Award in the process. His pitching aside, "The Bird" was even better known for his unique personality and quirky mound habits (such as talking to the ball or personally smoothing out cleat marks on the mound), as well as appearing on perhaps the greatest cover in Sports Illustrated history. Though Fidrych's career was short, baseball fans will never forget one of the game's great characters. The MLBTR staff extends our condolences to Fidrych's family and friends on this anniversary of his passing.
Here's the latest from around the AL Central...
- Joaquin Benoit and Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski both had nothing but good things to say about the veteran reliever's tenure in Motown, but the Tigers didn't make Benoit a contract offer last winter. Dombrowski tells John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press that “When it came down to it, we had Joe Nathan over Joaquin as a closer, and that’s the direction we decided to pursue. We kept a pulse of his free-agent situation all winter long. But it just looked like he was going to (cost) a little more than we wanted to pay for a set-up guy." Benoit ended up signing a two-year, $15.5MM deal with the Padres.
- Lonnie Chisenhall is hitting well but could be the victim of a roster crunch, so a reader asked Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer (as part of a mailbag piece) if the Indians could possibly deal the third baseman. Hoynes believes it's generally too early for teams to be exploring the trade market, barring an injury, and Chisenhall is still an unproven commodity at the Major League level. Since Chisenhall is 25 years old and only a couple of years removed from being regarded as the Tribe's top prospect, I'd think Cleveland would need a big return to consider moving Chisenhall, even though Carlos Santana has seemingly taken over at third base.
- Sam Fuld could be an interesting pickup for the Twins, 1500ESPN.com's Derek Wetmore opines, as he would add depth to a Minnesota team that is thin on outfield options. The Athletics designated Fuld for assignment yesterday.
Left-hander Brady Aiken and righty Tyler Kolek sit atop Baseball America's list of the top 2014 draft prospects, BA's John Manuel writes. The two high schoolers have supplanted NC State southpaw Carlos Rodon, who was long considered to be the favorite as the first overall pick but hasn't looked great this spring. Six of the top seven prospects on BA's list (and 11 of the top 15) are pitchers, as several young arms have improved their draft stock this spring while several of the most-regarded hitters haven't fared as well.
Here's some more from around baseball as we head into the weekend...
- High-ranking executives from the Astros, Marlins, White Sox, Cubs and Phillies have all recently scouted Kolek's starts, Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle reports. These clubs hold the top four overall picks in June's draft, while the Phillies pick seventh overall. According to Manuel, "Kolek has hit 100 mph repeatedly and has the best pure arm in the draft."
- Joe Smith tells ESPN New York's Adam Rubin (Twitter link) that the Mets were interested in signing him last winter, and "floated" a contract offer similar to the three-year, $15.75MM deal that Smith received from the Angels. Rubin was surprised that the Mets were willing to commit that much to a setup man, though Smith would've added some quality depth to a Mets bullpen that is already hurting thanks to the absence of Bobby Parnell.
- Both Chase Headley and the Padres are off to slow starts, which only further complicates the difficult contract-year situation for the third baseman, MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince writes. With an extension unlikely, Headley could be a midseason trade candidate if the Friars fall out of the race, though if Headley continues to struggle, the Padres could conceivably see him leave for free agency and get nothing in return.
- The Padres parting ways with Headley is "looking [like] the most realistic option," Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune said during an online chat with readers. "Players don't get better with age so much anymore, so regardless of what Headley does this year, it doesn't make financial sense to pay for past production," Sanders writes.
- The Astros made a strong bid for Jose Abreu before the slugger signed with the White Sox, and Houston GM Jeff Luhnow discussed his club's pursuit with MLB.com's Brian McTaggart. "We stretched ourselves further than we intended to and we came pretty close. When you factor in the tax advantages of Texas vs. other markets, the gap was really only a couple of million dollars at the end of the day," Luhnow said. "It's one of those things, should we have pushed a little harder? Possibly. When you're in negotiations like that and you're in a bidding war like that, you have to have limits or you'll be the one that overpays. That's one I do think we came close. He's going to be a good player, and that's why we put all that effort into it."
- The Tigers have been extraordinarily successful in trades since Dave Dombrowski joined the organization in 2001, Grantland's Rany Jazayerli writes. Given Dombrowski's impressive with not only the Tigers, but also the Marlins and Expos over his long career, Jazayerli thinks it's too early to write off the much-maligned Doug Fister trade as a mistake for Detroit.
Free agent closer Joel Hanrahan will host a showcase for teams next week, reports ESPN's Jerry Crasnick (via Twitter). In a second tweet, Crasnick lists the Mets, Yankees, Angels, Rangers, Rockies, Royals, Athletics, Red Sox and Rays as teams that are believed to have interest in Hanrahan. He adds that somewhat curiously, he hasn't heard much buzz on the Tigers or Phillies being interested, though that could always change.
The 32-year-old Hanrahan underwent Tommy John surgery and also had his flexor tendon repaired and bone chips in his elbow removed on May 16 of last season. He opened the year as Boston's closer after being acquired in an offseason trade that sent Mark Melancon to the Pirates, but he allowed eight runs on 10 hits (four homers) and six walks with just five strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings for the Red Sox before landing on the disabled list.
Prior to that season, Hanrahan had averaged 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings over a five-year stretch between the Nationals and Pirates. The Bucs acquired Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge from the Nats in a deal that sent Sean Burnett and Nyjer Morgan to Washington, and Hanrahan blossomed into a two-time All-Star closer with Pittsburgh. Always one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in the game, Hanrahan's 96.5 mph average fastball from his 2011-13 peak ranked seventh in the game among qualified relievers.
The Tigers made a couple of blockbuster trades and re-worked their bullpen but steered clear of the big free agent signings we've come to expect from GM Dave Dombrowski and owner Mike Ilitch.
Major League Signings
- Joe Nathan, RHP: Two years, $20MM plus $10MM club option for 2016.
- Rajai Davis, OF: Two years, $10MM.
- Joba Chamberlain, RHP: One year, $2.5MM.
- Total Spend: $32.5MM
Notable Minor League Signings
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B: Eight years, $248MM.
Trades and Claims
- Acquired 2B Ian Kinsler from the Rangers in exchange for 1B Prince Fielder and $30MM.
- Acquired LHP Robbie Ray, LHP Ian Krol and INF Steve Lombardozzi from the Nationals in exchange for RHP Doug Fister.
- Acquired INF Alex Gonzalez from the Orioles in exchange for INF Steve Lombardozzi.
- Acquired INF Andrew Romine from the Angels in exchange for LHP Jose Alvarez.
- Prince Fielder, Doug Fister, Jhonny Peralta, Jose Veras, Joaquin Benoit, Omar Infante, Brayan Pena, Darin Downs
The Tigers wrapped up their 2013 season with an ALCS loss to the Red Sox that served as a bittersweet farewell to longtime manager Jim Leyland. Their first order of business was to find a new skipper, and they did so in the form of former big league catcher Brad Ausmus.
However, Detroit's biggest need this offseason could arguably have been to gain some long-term financial flexibility, and the club was able to accomplish that while finding a replacement for Infante all in the same move. In trading Fielder to the Rangers for Kinsler and $30MM, Dombrowski successfully shaved $76MM off the payroll over the next several years.
That savings, perhaps along with some of the money saved in the Fister trade, paved the way for the Tigers to sign Miguel Cabrera to a whopping eight-year, $248MM extension that serves as the second largest deal in history in terms of new money. When combined with the existing two years and $44MM he was already owed, Cabrera's 10-year, $292MM commitment is the largest ever made to a player in Major League history.
Last season, the Tigers experienced an early-season carousel in the ninth inning that led to a short-lived and unsightly reunion with Jose Valverde before Benoit finally solidified the closer's spot. However, Benoit departed via free agency, and the Tigers sought the biggest upgrade the market had to offer, inking active saves leader Nathan to a two-year deal. It's not without risk, given Nathan's age (39), but then again, what multi-year deal for a reliever is? Seeking a more affordable option than Veras for a setup role, Dombrowski brought in Chamberlain on a one-year deal. Chamberlain's struggles in New York were pronounced, but he fits the mold of the typical hard-throwing power arm that Detroit tends to target.
Those additions, along with the Fister trade, allowed the Tigers to move Drew Smyly into the rotation alongside Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello, with Krol sliding into the 'pen in Smyly's stead. That quintet looks to be one of the most talented groups in the Majors and should give the Tigers a good chance to once again post one of the five best collective rotation ERAs in the game.
In the outfield, Dombrowski sought to add more speed by adding Davis on a two-year deal, and he would have formed a solid platoon with Andy Dirks, had Dirks not suffered a back injury. Dirks is on the shelf for the first three months or so of the season, thrusting Davis, rookie Tyler Collins and utility man Don Kelly into more action than originally expected.
While the Cabrera extension clearly filled a need for the near future, it will almost certainly be perceived in a negative light by its completion. Cabrera could very well be the best power hitter on the face of the planet right now, so it makes sense that that Tigers would want to retain him and even lock him up for life, but history has shown that 10-year commitments such as this one (e.g. Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols) aren't likely to pan out. While he has astoundingly never been on the disabled list, Cabrera did battle a groin injury that required offseason surgery in 2013, and the odds of him maintaining his impressive durability through his age-40 season are slim to none.
The bigger question, for the Tigers, will be how many more years of elite slugging they receive from Cabrera before his inevitable decline. For all of Cabrera's accolades at the plate, the same "best hitter on the planet" tag could have been applied to Pujols or Rodriguez at the time of their signings, and they wilted quickly (though Pujols could still experience a turnaround, of course). And, it must be asked if the best way to utilize their newfound financial freedom after escaping Fielder's decline years was to immediately dedicate that money to the decline years of another slugger.
Injuries have ravaged the Tigers' roster, creating a good deal of uncertainty for the 2014 season. For the time being, they've elected to bridge the gap to Dirks' return with internal options, but a waiver claim or some type of minor move to improve that depth early in the season wouldn't be a surprise.
Of longer-term consequence is the fact that Jose Iglesias is likely to miss the season with stress fractures in each of his shins/ The Tigers have, to this point, deployed an unexciting combination of Gonzalez and Romine to fill the void. One has to wonder just how long they can go with that combination before looking for a real upgrade.
The logical connection to make there is that Stephen Drew remains unsigned, and at this point, there may not be a team with a greater need that represents a better fit. Drew is already in the clear in terms of dodging another qualifying offer -- any team that signs him would be unable to make an offer, as he didn't spent the entire year on its roster -- but the Tigers may prefer to wait until after the June draft to make a move. That strategy would preserve their 2015 first-round pick, but it would also mean about two months of replacement-level production at shortstop as well as the risk that another club swoops in and signs him at an earlier date.
In addition to Dirks and Iglesias, the Tigers also lost flamethrowing setup ace Bruce Rondon to Tommy John surgery. Rondon's departure for the season means that the Tigers will be relying on a patchwork bullpen to get to Nathan in the ninth inning, with Krol, Chamberlain and Al Alburquerque representing the best options for Ausmus.
A final, albeit lesser question mark is whether or not Nick Castellanos can hold down the fort as Ausmus' primary third base option. Castellanos is universally regarded as one of the game's top hitting prospects, but he's still just 22 years old and rocketed through the minor leagues without clearly dominating at any one level. That's not to say he isn't capable of being a plus third baseman in the Majors, but merely to ask if it's a reasonable expectation for the 2014 campaign.
Deal of Note
The Fister trade is still one of the most controversial moves of the offseason, simply due to the fact that most feel Dombrowski -- who is generally perceived as an excellent GM in trades -- didn't receive a large enough return for his right-hander.
From 2011-13, Fister ranked ninth among all Major League pitchers in fWAR (13.3) and rWAR (12.6). In 586 2/3 innings in that time, Fister posted a 3.30 ERA with 6.8 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 3.75 K/BB and a 50.9 percent ground-ball rate that ranked 18th among 139 qualified starting pitchers. The Nationals will control him for two more seasons, with a $7.2MM salary on tap in 2014 before one more arbitration raise next offseason.
Essentially, Fister has pitched at a level that is comparable, if not superior to that of James Shields over the three-year term that preceded his to his trade to the Royals (albeit in a weaker division). Shields, who was also more expensive than Fister, posted a 3.76 ERA with 8.4 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and a 46.6 percent ground-ball rate in that time. He did total an additional 100 innings, and the Rays included Wade Davis in the deal as well, but it seems disproportionate that Shields would net a package headlined by Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi while Fister yielded Ray, Krol and Lombardozzi.
Ray is the jewel of the deal, but he didn't rank among the game's Top 100 prospects per Baseball America or Baseball Prospectus, and he came in at No. 97 on MLB.com's list. Dombrowski has said the trade was made due to the difficulty of acquiring young pitching, noting that Ray was one of 15 pitching prospects who interested the Tigers and the only one with which a rival club was willing to part. Perhaps Dombrowski sensed the impending injury to Fister that has sidelined him to open the season, but he was healthy enough at the time of the trade to pass Washington's physical, so it seems unlikely that any sort of major red flag was present.
With Lombardozzi already shipped off, the Tigers are left with Ray, Krol and one year of Gonzalez to show for Fister, making Ray's development critical to the trade's success. Should Ray fail to pan out, the Tigers would be left with a left-handed reliever and some extra cash that may have helped to facilitate a likely ill-fated contract extension for Cabrera -- a tough pill to swallow for Detroit fans.
Despite question marks in the bullpen and at shortstop, the Tigers boast an elite rotation and a lineup that should score plenty of runs, making them the favorites to take home their fourth consecutive AL Central Division Championship. This team is in a clear win-now mode, although the subtraction of Fister does contradict that thinking to an extent. The Tigers could very well find themselves in the market for a one-year upgrade at shortstop or some short-term help in left field, but even if they stick with in-house options, they're likely to see October baseball once again.
The long-term outlook is more questionable, as after shedding the decline phase of Fielder's contract, the Tigers purchased a larger portion of that same phase of Cabrera's career. They already have a remarkable $83.8MM in contracts guaranteed in 2017, $68MM in 2018 (including buyouts for Kinsler and Anibal Sanchez) and $58MM in 2019. With some potentially restrictive commitments for declining players on the books in the future, the team could be facing a closing window for its first World Series title since 1984.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Here are Sunday's minor moves from around MLB:
- The Brewers have released left-hander Will West, per Baseball America's Matt Eddy. West received a 100-game suspension in January after being suspended for 50 games last August. The 21-year-old has now failed three tests for recreational drug use plus another for a performance enhancing drug (amphetamine), according to Eddy. When on the field during his three-year tenure in the Brewers' organization, West had a 5.98 ERA, 8.2 K/9, and 3.2 BB/9 in 105 1/3 innings covering 29 games, including 20 starts.
- Also from Eddy, the Cubs have released outfielder Mitch Maier. Maier, drafted by the Royals with the 30th overall pick of the 2003 amateur draft, spent 2013 with the Red Sox's Triple-A affiliate and posted a .310/.431/.451 line, though he only received 137 plate appearances due to a wrist injury. The 31-year-old, who signed a minor league deal with the Cubs last December, hasn't appeared in a MLB game since 2012, but has slashed .248/.327/.344 during his six-year career, all with the Royals. Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com tweets Maier is recovering from surgery and will be ready to play in three months.
- The Tigers have released left-hander Wil Ledezma, reports James Schmehl of the Detroit Free Press. Ledezma, who inked a minor league contract with the Tigers in March, last saw MLB action in 2011 with the Blue Jays, but made 26 relief appearances (covering 30 2/3 innings) for NPB's Chiba Lotte Marines in 2013 good for a 3.23 ERA, 6.5 K/9, and 3.8 BB/9. Over the course of his nine-year MLB career with the Tigers, Braves, Padres, Diamondbacks, Nationals, Pirates, and Blue Jays, the 33-year-old has a mark of 5.40 ERA, 6.4 K/9, and 4.5 BB/9 over 192 games (including 45 starts) and 396 1/3 innings.
- With the Dodgers' designation of Mike Baxter for assignment earlier today, there are now eight players in DFA limbo, per MLBTR's DFA Tracker: Baxter, Vin Mazzaro (Pirates), Eduardo Nunez (Yankees), Jeremy Jeffress (Blue Jays), Hector Noesi (Mariners), Pedro Ciriaco (Royals), and Frank Herrmann and Preston Guilmet (Indians),
The Tigers have claimed lefty Mike Belfiore off waivers from the Orioles, the club announced. Detroit optioned Belfiore to Triple-A.
Belfiore, 25, has no meaningful MLB experience but threw to a 3.18 ERA in 76 1/3 Triple-A innings (in just 37 appearances) last year. Lengthy relief outings are not a new thing for the Boston College product, who notably tossed 9 2/3 scoreless frames in a collegiate post-season tilt that proved to be the longest game in college baseball history. He came to Baltimore as the player to be named later in the trade that shipped Josh Bell to the Diamondbacks in early 2012.
The Tigers have signed star slugger Miguel Cabrera to a major long-term contract extension, the team announced. On top of the two years and $44MM he is already owed under a prior extension, Cabrera will be under contract for an additional eight years and $248MM, with two more years possible via successive vesting/club options. All said, the Tigers will field the two-time American League MVP through at least the 2023 season, his age-40 campaign.
With those numbers, the deal would set several high-water marks. Most notably, an average annual value of $31MM would top the newly-minted record of $30.7MM set in the Clayton Kershaw extension. The figure of $248MM in new money would represent the the third-largest single contract in MLB history (and the biggest contract given to anyone other than Alex Rodriguez). With ten years and $292MM in overall future commitments to Cabrera, the Tigers stand to owe him more than any team has ever owed a single player at any point in time, besting the ten-year, $275MM Rodriguez contract in that respect.
And that is all before factoring in the deal's two vesting options, which could add two additional seasons at $30MM apiece. Each of those options vest only if Cabrera finishes amongst the top ten of the MVP vote in the year prior.
The deal is slightly backloaded, as Cabrera will earn $28MM in 2016 and 2017, $30MM a year over 2018-21, and $32MM for both of 2022 and 2023. Cabrera can also rack up significant additional earnings through a host of performance and awards bonuses, including $2MM for each MVP award.
The Relativity Baseball client, who turns 31 in April, has been the game's most consistent force at the plate for at least the past four seasons. Over those campaigns, Cabrera has logged successive OPS+ figures of 178, 179, 164, and 187. Of course, in the "down" year of 2012, he also managed to secure a Triple Crown.
Cabrera's current deal -- an eight-year, $152.3MM extension -- has paid off handsomely for Detroit. The Venezuelan slugger has racked up a cumulative .327/.407/.588 triple-slash and 227 home runs over that deal. He leads the bigs in homers and slugging percentage over that time, is a close second in average to Joe Mauer, and lands fourth in OBP. And, yes, he is comfortably ahead of all other players with 737 RBI in the same term.
Cabrera is set to shift back to first base after spending the last two seasons at the hot corner. Though advanced defensive metrics have not loved his glove on either side of the diamond, they generally prefer his work at first. Unsurprisingly, the 6'4", 240-pound Cabrera has not been valued as a plus on the basepaths, though neither has he been a serious negative in that area of the game.
While there has been some controversy over Cabrera's successive AL MVP awards, given that his contributions come almost exclusively at the plate, there is no doubting his offensive prowess and status as one of the game's few truly elite players. Indeed, he has accumulated a healthy 36.4 rWAR and 35.1 fWAR over his time in Detroit.
The question remains, however, whether he can continue that remarkable pace well into his thirties. Though Cabrera has certainly shown no signs of slowing in the immediate term, he is already under contract for two more years. That deal takes him trough his age-32 season, so any new guaranteed years would be buying out his age-33 campaigns and beyond.
Cabrera's extension is not only larger, but starts at an older age than other recent comparables. The biggest free agent deals for first basemen are the ten years and $240MM given to Albert Pujols and the nine-year, $215MM Prince Fielder contract. On the extension side, Joey Votto's ten-year deal guaranteed him $225MM in total. The Cabrera deal covers his age-33 to 40 seasons. Pujols signed on for his age-32 through 41 seasons, while Fielder's contract runs from his age-28 to age-36 years and Votto's deal (inked while he still had two years left on his original extension) goes from age 30 to 39.
Viewed in this light, the staggering overall commitment is fraught with risk. Needless to say, the Pujols contract looks to be a bad one at this point. And while it is easy to say that Cabrera represents a better risk at this point, he is not on the kind of all-time-great pace as was Pujols when he inked his deal. To be fair, Pujols was coming off of a year in which he posted a personal-low 147 wRC+ and was valued at 4.4 fWAR, but before that he had posted ten straight seasons with at least a 150 wRC+ and 7 fWAR tally. Cabrera, on the other hand, is coming off of his best-ever season in terms of wRC+ (a remarkable 192 mark), but peaked at 7.6 fWAR. His early-career history features less outstanding seasons at the plate than Pujols had, and Cabrera has only topped 6 fWAR in five seasons due to his lesser contributions in other aspects of the game.
Most importantly, of course, Pujols was a free agent while Cabrera is still two years away from the open market. If anything, the fact that Pujols had a season that hinted at decline before landing his deal is reason for further wariness with respect to a pre-free agent commitment to Cabrera. To be sure, the Tiger is a great player. But it is difficult to see this deal creating surplus value for Detroit, and rather easy to see how it could end up working out poorly for the club. With that in mind, why didn't the team wait at least another year before moving to lock down Cabrera?
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com first reported that the sides were close and that a deal had been reached (via Twitter). Jon Morosi reported (via Twitter) that the deal was for eight years and approximately $248MM. ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick reported that the deal would extend the total commitment to ten years and just under $300MM (links to Twitter). Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com first suggested the $292MM total commitment figure on Twitter. Heyman reported the presence and value of the vesting options (via Twitter), and reported the final contract breakdown (Twitter links) and bonus provisions (Twitter links).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.