By any reasonable set of standards, Cabrera has therefore done more than enough to aid the Tigers in his time with the club.
But veteran right-hander Octavio Dotel has his own set of standards, and they say Detroit's star third baseman could do more.
"You have to step up and say something," said the veteran right-hander in an interview with Eric Adelson of Yahoo! Sports. "Miggy's more about his game. I don't see him as a leader."
Zounds! Them's fighting words!
Indeed, and this is also a case of Dotel re-opening old wounds. He was snubbed by Cabrera when he asked the slugger to address the media after a crushing loss to the Oakland A's in Game 4 of the ALDS. Dotel told Adelson that he had also asked Cabrera to call a team meeting ahead of Game 5, but to no avail.
"He didn't give me that support," Dotel said. "So I didn't try no more."
Dotel hoped against hope, however, that Cabrera would change gears and call a meeting after the Tigers dropped Games 1 and 2 of the World Series to the Giants in San Francisco. Nothing happened, and the Tigers went on to get swept. Dotel clearly doesn't consider the water to be under the bridge.
Dotel is as entitled to his opinion as anyone else. And because he's a 14-year veteran with a World Series ring, his words aren't entirely weightless. This isn't a case of some nameless rookie speaking way out of turn.
But Dotel is barking up the wrong tree. Even for a player with as much star power as Cabrera, becoming a vocal leader isn't a simple matter of flipping a switch. Some guys are cut out to wear that hat, and Cabrera doesn't appear to be one of them.
When it comes to Cabrera's personality, there aren't any conflicting reports. He may be the most quiet and most unassuming superstar in baseball. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wrote that Cabrera didn't even feel like celebrating after the Tigers clinched their second straight AL Central title in October. He waited it out in Detroit manager Jim Leyland's office.
When Cabrera finally emerged, his teammates serenaded him with "M-V-P!" chants. He got those not because of what he meant to the team off the field, of course, but because of what he meant to the team on the field.
Cabrera's job is to hit, and it's something that he's very, very good at. In the last three years, he leads all qualified hitters in batting average, slugging and OPS (see FanGraphs). Only Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista has hit more homers.
The more Cabrera hits, the better the Tigers are. Between April and June last season, Cabrera compiled a .917 OPS while the Tigers compiled a 38-40 record. He had a 1.082 OPS the rest of the way, and the Tigers went 49-34.
When the Tigers went 11-5 in their last 16 games to leapfrog the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central standings, Cabrera had a 1.057 OPS. That late spark played a significant role in his winning the AL MVP award.
The degree to which the Tigers rely on Cabrera's hitting was evident in the postseason as well, for better and for worse.
Whereas Dotel was worried that Cabrera wasn't being a strong enough leader in the ALDS against the A's, it was Cabrera's bat Dotel should have been worried about. Cabrera had a three-hit game in Game 2 of the series, but he managed just two singles in 11 at-bats in Games 1, 3 and 4. He went 0-for-4 in Game 5 of the series. His subpar hitting would have been a major storyline had Justin Verlander not come through with a masterful performance in Game 5 to seal the deal.
It was easy for Dotel to take issues with Cabrera's leadership then, and it was easy once again in the World Series when he managed only two singles in his first nine at-bats as the Tigers fell behind 3-0. He hit a key home run in Game 4, but also struck out three times. The last of those punch-outs came on a Sergio Romo fastball right down the middle that ended the series.
However, neither Dotel nor anybody else bothered to complain about Cabrera's leadership when the Tigers swept the New York Yankees in the ALCS. With him compiling a .313 average and a .984 OPS in the four games, there was nothing for anyone to complain about.
Because the writing is on the wall that the Tigers win when Cabrera hits, Dotel should be much more worried about Cabrera's bat than his leadership. It's fine if he has his heart set on having a vocal leader in the clubhouse, but there are other guys who can handle that role besides Cabrera. Some of them are surely more cut out for it than he is.
Victor Martinez is one of those guys. When he tore his ACL last offseason, one of the first things Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said was that Martinez's leadership was going to be missed.
"[It's] not possible to replace Victor as a person around the club. He's a guy who was very valuable in our clubhouse in that role," Dombrowski told ESPN's Jayson Stark.
Torii Hunter, who the Tigers signed to a two-year contract earlier this offseason, is another guy with leadership cred. He told MLive.com in January that he plans on helping Detroit's clubhouse chemistry any way he can.
"I'm a chemistry guy. The chemistry is there with this ballclub. I'm not here to destroy the chemistry, I'm only here to either make it better or just blend in," said Hunter.
Following Martinez's and/or Hunter's lead may prove difficult for Dotel, as his comments to Adelson suggest that he wants a player with a certain kind of status to be the Tigers' vocal leader. In addition to Cabrera, Dotel also floated Verlander's name. He was iffy on Prince Fielder, though, as 2012 was only his first year with the team.
But since when do vocal leaders have to be appointed, and why does status have to matter? If a team is close-knit enough, can't anyone become a leader?
Take the Giants, for example. Their rah-rah guy during the playoffs wasn't Buster Posey, Matt Cain or one of the club's other star players. It was Hunter Pence, a player who had arrived in a deadline trade and who had actually played rather poorly down the stretch.
The Giants allowed Pence to serve as their emotional leader during the postseason anyway, and his words definitely had an effect. When the Giants were down in the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds, nobody asked Pence to get everyone fired up. He told MLB.com that he did it on a whim.
"That day it happened," said Pence, "we were so fired up before [batting practice] that I wanted to make sure we kept that energy when the game started. I was like, after they announce us, I just wanted to get everyone together, and here we go. We're all in."
If somebody had gone asking around in the Giants clubhouse for a player to call a meeting, the request probably would have gone to Posey, San Francisco's own MVP. But like Cabrera, Posey just isn't the rah-rah type. He's better at keeping everyone calm rather than firing everyone up, and he does that simply by being himself.
"He's a leader on this club," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Posey to Joe Lemire of SI.com. "He leads by example. He's a calming influence."
The "leader by example" description has also always fit Yankees captain Derek Jeter pretty well. He's always had a reputation as a natural leader, but he told MLB.com last September that it wasn't until he got older that he started getting more vocal. He wasn't much of a talker earlier in his career.
Obviously, not every quiet guy in baseball can be a leader by example. Dotel's comments suggest that if Cabrera is a leader by example in the mold of Jeter and Posey, he's not feeling the effect.
But Dotel doesn't speak for everyone in Detroit's clubhouse. Tigers catcher Alex Avila told Adelson that Cabrera has "definitely opened up a little more, knowing he’s the face of the franchise."
"He's a determined leader," said Dombrowski, "just not a vocal leader."
It should also be pointed out that these guys go much further back with Cabrera than Dotel does. Avila came up with the team in 2009. Dombrowski has been with the Tigers for a decade, and he was the one who traded for Cabrera in the first place.
The hope then was that the Tigers were getting an elite hitter who could help them win ballgames. They've gotten their wish, and the dream isn't over yet. Cabrera still has a couple prime years left, and Detroit's championship window shouldn't close anytime in the near future.
To make sure it stays open for as long as possible, Cabrera should just worry about being himself. That entails being a hitter first and foremost, and a leader and whatever else a distant second.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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