Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera has been diagnosed with a pair of herniated disks in his back after undergoing an MRI, manager Brad Ausmus told reporters Sunday (link via MLive.com’s Evan Woodbery). The team doesn’t yet have an exact treatment plan lined up, but Woodbery notes that surgery is not believed to be on the table at this time. Further, Cabrera could still conceivably play again before season’s end.
As Woodbery notes, back issues have been a persistent problem for Cabrera throughout the season, and they could expedite the decision to move the former AL MVP to a full-time designated hitter. That won’t happen in 2018 unless Detroit can find a taker for Victor Martinez and the $18MM he’s owed next season at some point this winter, but the 2018 season is the final remaining year on Martinez’s four-year, $68MM contract.
While the decision of where to play Cabrera down the road won’t be up to Ausmus, who will not return as the team’s manager in 2018, Ausmus wasn’t shy in expressing that he feels Cabrera will eventually have to make that move. “Not only do I think that would benefit him, I think that’s probably going to happen,” said Ausmus of a potential move to DH for Cabrera. He also indicated that treatment options presently include anti-inflammatories, injections and various means of conditioning to alleviate the discomfort Cabrera is feeling.
The 34-year-old Cabrera has had far and away the worst offensive season of his career in 2017, hitting just .249/.329/.399 with 16 home runs in 529 plate appearances. The 2017 season marks the first time that he’s ever been below the league average in terms of offensive production, per OPS+ (92) and wRC+ (91).
Cabrera’s sudden decline and newfound back issues are particularly problematic for a rebuilding Tigers club that has been looking to shed payroll and get younger. While there’s never been any talk of moving Cabrera, his massive contract figures to be somewhat of an impediment to achieving those goals in the coming years. Cabrera inked a mammoth eight-year, $248MM contract extension prior to the 2014 campaign, which added onto a preexisting contract that still had two years and $44MM to go. He’s just wrapping up the second season of that deal and is still owed $192MM over the next six years.