Earlier today, Buster Olney reported that Miguel Cabrera has a small fracture under his right eye and might be out a week or two.
It almost goes without saying that Cabrera is a very lucky man. As a Cyclops who has undergone numerous vision-altering (and destroying) eye surgeries, you just don’t want to get in a position when the doctors have to start poking at your peepers with a shrimp fork. I don’t mean to denigrate the wonderful professionals who saved my life, but once you go down that road, there really aren’t a lot of good outcomes. For me, a writer, it means small but significant limitations on my activities. For a ballplayer, it can be the end. If Kirby Puckett was still alive, you could ask him about it.
I alluded to the Tigers’ short-term alternatives to Cabrera in yesterday’s post on the mishap. Assuming the diagnosis and timeframe for recovery are accurate, these are less important than whether the injury calls into question the entire Cabrera-at-Third experiment. The answer, in three one-syllable words: Of course not.
The Tigers will derive great benefits from playing Cabrera at third, or at least they could if they are smart about how they use the designated hitter spot. Instead of alternating Prince Fielder and Cabrera at designated hitter and playing a non-hitter at third base (or spending organizational resources to upgrade there), they get to place bats at both corners and move Delmon Young’s astoundingly poor glove out of left field. This presents only two problems:
1. Delmon Young isn’t a good hitter for a designated hitter or left field. Young is only 26, but despite his solid hitting in 2006, he must be rated one of the game’s great prospect busts.
2. The Tigers aren’t exactly going to exploit their left field opening. Neither Andy Dirks nor Clete Thomas is an impact hitter; the Tigers might be better to try to pry Kirk Gibson away from the Diamondbacks and see what he has left at 54.
Any third baseman can be undressed, Charlie Brown style, by a hard-hit ball; yesterday’s play was not the inevitable result of Cabrera’s lack of ability at the position, and there is no reason to think that he will be in mortal danger each time a ball is hit his way. The remaining question is,
will Cabrera’s defensive shortcomings be so severe that they will negate whatever offensive advantage the Tigers derive from this alignment?
The answer is probably not, but that may also have more to do with how the left fielders and designated hitters perform. If his defense somehow is that bad, nothing says that the Tigers can’t make another change, whether by moving Cabrera back to first base/DH or trading for another third baseman. It’s a common mistake, but everyone makes it: just because a team is playing a certain roster or lineup on Opening Day doesn’t mean that they’re locked into that alignment.
Given that, it seems particularly unlikely that this is the Tigers lineup we will see in October. They are almost certainly going to win the AL Central, and with the World Series scent in their nose, they’re almost certainly going to upgrade somewhere, be it in left field, at DH, or even second base, where Ryan Raburn may be challenged to last a full season. The good news, in a glass-half-full sense, is that they have the flexibility to make a move, flexibility that Cabrera at third base allows them to have.
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