The Tigers and Miguel Cabrera received some tough news recently when four different medical opinions agreed that the future Hall of Famer is dealing with “chronic changes” in his knee that will impact the remainder of his career. The immediate ramifications of that diagnosis brought about a position change for Cabrera, who is now relegated to DH duty on a full-time basis and won’t be seeing any action at first base for the foreseeable future. As detailed at the time, Cabrera is owed more than $150MM through the end of the 2023 campaign on a contract that looks to be more onerous than ever before.
General manager Al Avila met with reporters Thursday to discuss the situation (all links to Twitter via Evan Woodbery of MLive.com). “The bad news is that it’s going to get worse as it goes along,” said Avila of Cabrera’s knee condition. “It’s incumbent on him to stay in good shape and it’s incumbent on us to make sure we get him the proper treatment and proper rest.” If both sides are able to hold up their end of the bargain, Avila added, the organization is confident it can “keep [Cabrera] productive on the field through the remainder of his contract.”
That’d be a tall order even for a fully healthy Cabrera (or any player signed into his age-40 season). This version of Cabrera, though, is not only dealing with the recently revealed knee issue but also multiple herniated disks in his back and the perhaps lingering effects of last season’s surgery to repair a torn biceps tendon. The 36-year-old surely enjoyed proving some doubters wrong for a night when he ripped a grand slam just hours after the extent of his knee troubles became public knowledge Tuesday. His overall line of .287/.357/.376, however, illustrates the manner in which his power has yet to materialize in 2019.
Given that substantial commitment to Cabrera for another four years beyond the current campaign, it’ll be all the more imperative for the Tigers organization to produce cost-efficient young talent. To that end, Avila discussed a number of intriguing young prospects Thursday, touching on the timelines of infield prospect Willi Castro and several of the club’s top-ranked pitching prospects.
Castro, a shortstop, is hitting .335/.413/.505 through 232 plate appearances in Triple-A while the Tigers’ entire infield flounders at the plate in the Majors. However, Castro has also committed 10 errors in just 44 starts at short (398 1/3 innings) after making only 15 errors in all of 2018. Scouting reports agree that he’ll eventually be a solid defender at the position, but it seems that consistency has eluded him. For a player who just turned 22, that’s not necessarily a shock. It’s worth wondering whether he’ll get a look later this month, as we’re right around the period of time at which teams can begin promoting players without worrying about Super Two status.
As for the pitchers, Avila suggested that although right-handers Beau Burrows and Kyle Funkhouser have struggled, if they can return to “doing what they’re capable of doing,” they’ll likely get a look in the Majors later in the 2019 season. Tigers fans, though, are surely more interested in getting a look at last year’s No. 1 overall draft pick, Casey Mize. The former Auburn standout is among the game’s top 10 pitching prospects and has decimated minor league lineups in 2019, pitching to a comical 0.83 ERA with a 65-to-10 K/BB in 70 2/3 innings between Class-A Advanced and Double-A.
However, Avila wasn’t shy about the fact that promoting Mize in the near future isn’t all that likely. While the GM didn’t expressly rule out a promotion at some point in 2019, he plainly stated that there’s “no purpose” in promoting Mize to the Majors right now, citing a wariness of undoing some of the progress he’s made thus far. Perhaps if the Tigers were postseason contenders with a pressing rotation need, there’d be more urgency, but Avila was candid in his assessment of his big league roster as well. “Quite frankly it’s not going to make us into playoff contenders this year,” he said of a near-term promotion for Mize.