The Tigers received brutal news on Tuesday, as first baseman Miguel Cabrera was diagnosed with a ruptured tendon in his left biceps that will require season-ending surgery to repair, manager Ron Gardenhire told reporters after tonight’s game (Twitter link via MLive.com’s Evan Woodbery). He’d previously left tonight’s game against the Twins to undergo an MRI after injuring his arm on a swing (video link) and had since been seen leaving the clubhouse with his arm in a brace.
Cabrera, 35, had gotten off to a nice rebound start to his 2018 season after a career-worst season in 2017. While his power had yet to return, he was batting .301/.394/.451 with three homers and 11 doubles through 155 trips to the plate. Cabrera had already missed nearly a month of the season due to a hamstring strain but had gotten on base at a .362 clip in 11 games since returning. Now, it seems that the rebuilding Tigers will be without one of the best hitters of the generation until the 2019 season.
While Detroit has gotten off to a better start than most anticipated, at 31-37, the organization likely didn’t have any delusions of contending for a postseason spot. But the team certainly will miss the presence of Cabrera in the lineup, and his injury will come as an unequivocal blow to the team’s spirits over the season’s final four months.
The greater question for the Tigers, and one that can’t be answered in the short-term, is what type of effect the mounting pile of injuries that Cabrera has endured in recent seasons will have on him in 2019 and beyond. Cabrera played through a pair of herniated disks in his back last season and, unsurprisingly, struggled immensely (by his own standards, anyway; his overall output was actually that of a roughly league-average hitter).
Between the herniated disks, last month’s hamstring strain and a minor groin strain earlier in the 2017 season, the long-durable Cabrera — he averaged 155 games per year from 2004-16 — has begun to show increasing signs of wear and tear. For a player who’ll turn 36 next April and is still owed an otherworldly $162MM from 2019-23 — his age-36 through age-40 seasons — that sudden decrease in durability and productivity is alarming. It’s not clear if the Tigers have insurance on Cabrera’s contract, though typically a team will take out a policy on a contract of this magnitude, in which case the Tigers could stand to be reimbursed for at least a portion of Cabrera’s $30MM salary in 2018.
[Related: Detroit Tigers depth chart]
In the short-term, the Tigers will likely turn to John Hicks and Niko Goodrum to log most of the at-bats at first base in Cabrera’s absence. Each saw significant action there in Cabrera’s earlier absence, with Hicks picking up 248 innings and Goodrum logging 92 innings at the position.
The Tigers don’t have a first base prospect who’s knocking on the door in Triple-A or Double-A, though 24-year-old minor league signee Edwin Espinal is getting on base at a .374 clip in Triple-A and has displayed strong K/BB tendencies despite a lack of power (.104 ISO). Speculatively speaking, perhaps the club could give Nicholas Castellanos a look at the position, as he’s once again turning in dismal defensive ratings for his work in right field. Alternatively, if the Tigers front office is keen on adding a low-cost veteran to the mix, both Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez were cut loose by the Red Sox and Mets recently and have yet to sign with a new organization.