Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera will be limited to DH work for the foreseeable future after being diagnosed with “chronic changes” to his knee, the team told reporters Tuesday (Twitter links via Evan Woodbery of MLive.com and The Athletic’s Cody Stavenhagen).
Dr. James Andrews was among the four surgeons from whom Cabrera sought an opinion, and while season-ending surgery was discussed as an option, it was not recommended in the end. Beyond the news on Cabrera, Woodbery tweets that second baseman Josh Harrison will undergo surgery to repair his partially torn hamstring later this week and is expected to miss six to eight weeks of action.
The outlook on Cabrera is certainly troubling, even though he is not being placed on the injured list. One of the generation’s great sluggers, Cabrera missed most of the 2018 season due a biceps tear and hasn’t been himself at the plate in 2019. While he’s hitting for average and still drawing walks, Cabrera’s power has completely disappeared, and the resulting .284/.356/.356 line is rather light for a full-time designated hitter — solid average and OBP marks notwithstanding.
Furthermore, it doesn’t seem as if this is an issue with much hope of improving. Tigers trainer Doug Teter told reporters that the changes are the “natural result of attrition” from a lengthy career, adding that Cabrera will deal with this issue for the rest of his career. As for the prospect of future surgery, Cabrera indicated today that he simply doesn’t consider it an option at present. Woodbery notes that while Cabrera acknowledged he is “sad” to be moving away from first base, he was also firm in his stance on undergoing another operation: “Forget about that. I’m done with that.”
Beyond the mere fact that a healthy Cabrera is a joy for any fan to watch, his knee issues further underscore the misstep made by the Tigers in extending Cabrera back in 2014. He was already signed for two more years at that point (through age 32), but the Tigers tacked on an additional eight years and $248MM to keep him in Detroit for the remainder of his career. Not only is Cabrera earning $30MM in 2019, he’ll be paid that same sum in 2020 and 2021 before receiving a $32MM salary in both 2022 and 2023. There’s also an $8MM buyout on the Tigers’ club option over Cabrera for the 2024 season.
All told, Cabrera is owed a staggering $151MM from today through the end of contract in 2023. It was always assumed that he’d have to move to DH eventually, but this is probably sooner than the team had hoped. And if this year’s lack of power is in any way a lasting development, the remaining salary owed to Cabrera will prove all the more problematic for the organization. That, of course, remains to be seen. Perhaps Cabrera’s power outage is tied, at least in part, to lingering effects from last year’s biceps tear.
If that’s the case, one would imagine he’ll rediscover some pop as he further distances himself from that surgery. A return to his peak output clearly can’t be expected — we’ve yet to even mention the multiple herniated disks with which he was diagnosed in 2017 — but Cabrera’s average and discipline should allow him to at least be a productive hitter if he can regain some of that extra-base ability. Even in that scenario, though, his salary will be generally viewed as an albatross on the team’s books and will hamper the team’s maneuverability when it is fully ready to emerge from the current rebuilding state.
As for Harrison, he’s playing on a one-year deal worth a guaranteed $2MM and now figures to be out until after the All-Star break. Detroit signed him and his former Pirates double-play partner, Jordy Mercer, to fill out the middle infield in the offseason but haven’t received value from either deal. Harrison was hitting just .176/.219/.265 when he landed on the injured list. His absence will open more playing time for veteran Gordon Beckham and younger options like Dawel Lugo, Niko Goodrum and Ronny Rodriguez.