Miguel Cabrera Is Doomed to Be the Next Alex Rodriguez or Albert Pujols

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Miguel Cabrera Is Doomed to Be the Next Alex Rodriguez or Albert Pujols
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When Miguel Cabrera signs on the dotted line of his new extension, he might as well sign "Alex Rodriguez" or "Albert Pujols."

That's basically what the Detroit Tigers are signing up for, after all. Just like what happened with Rodriguez's contract and what's ongoing with Pujols', the Tigers are inevitably going to find themselves staring at a deal that can't be moved and, worse, isn't being earned.

The latest, if you're just joining us, is that the Tigers and Cabrera have indeed come to terms on a long-term mega-extension. Word that the two sides were close was first whispered by Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, and ESPN's Jerry Crasnick first delivered on the basic terms:

Crasnick clarified that the extension is for eight years, with the other two years being the 2014 and 2015 seasons that the two-time defending American League champion is already under contract for. 

Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com reported that the eight years are worth roughly $248 million, an average of $31 million per year that tops the previous record average annual value set by Clayton Kershaw. Tack on the $22 million salaries Cabrera is owed in 2014 and 2015, and you get $292 million.

Heyman reports that the deal could climb even higher than that in the end:

And how does the rest of baseball feel about this?

ESPN's Buster Olney hints that the answer is something along the lines of "not happy":

This is understandable. For while it's a big enough issue that the Tigers may have pushed baseball toward an even more outrageous territory for player contracts, it's amplified because they've done so with a such reckless deal.

There are some big numbers tied to Cabrera's new contract, but the ones that really matter are 33, 40 and all of the numbers in between. Those are the seasonal ages the Tigers have agreed to buy for $248 million.

Cabrera living up to that commitment would essentially require him to be himself into his mid-30s, late 30s and one year of his early 40s. That would require him to avoid declining.

Which is not going to happen.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Easily the biggest concern is how Miggy's body is going to hold up. And given what happened in 2013, it's also where the aforementioned Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Pujols can be of some use as relevant comps.

When A-Rod signed his monster 10-year contract with the New York Yankees in 2007, his injury history was pretty clean. He hadn't been on the disabled list since 2000, and the one and only surgery of his career happened in 1999.

Pujols' injury history was less encouraging, as he had spent some time on the DL in 2011 before signing his 10-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels the ensuing offseason. He'd also had two surgeries, both on his right elbow.

But at the same time, Pujols' 2011 DL stint was with a minor wrist injury suffered in a collision, and his most recent surgery was a procedure in 2009 to take care of some bone spurs. Like with A-Rod, there wasn't anything that really screamed that he was breaking down.

This isn't the case with Cabrera. 

After being a picture of health his whole career, Cabrera developed abdominal and groin injuries late in 2013 that sapped his power and rendered him painful to watch when the Tigers were in the playoffs.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

These injuries did scream, "Hey, this guy might be starting to wear down!" And then the slugging first baseman went in for surgery to correct them when the season was over.

It was when they were coming off their age-31 seasons that A-Rod and Pujols looked like decent bets to age well based on their injury histories. Neither did, of course. A-Rod started breaking down in 2008, and Pujols just played a season in which he was limited to 99 games by problems with his wheels.

The 2014 season is to be Cabrera's age-31 campaign. He's not even as old as A-Rod and Pujols were when they signed their contracts, yet Miggy already looks like an iffier bet to hold up throughout the life of a long-term contract.

That's not a good look, and here's a reminder that his extension doesn't even kick in until his age-33 season in 2016. If what Cabrera went through in 2013 leads to more problems right away, he may well be damaged goods by the time his extension starts. 

But let's assume that Cabrera is able to pull off the unlikely trick of staying healthy as he ages. All he'd have to do is hit, and, seriously, how much is that to ask of the greatest hitter on earth?

Now? Not much, as Cabrera's never been a better hitter than he currently is. He owns a 177 OPS+ over the last four seasons, in which he's done no worse than a 164 OPS+ in any individual season.

But as dominant as Cabrera's been, it's not like there aren't cracks to be found under a microscope. He's become increasingly aggressive outside of the strike zone and took a turn for the worse at making contact in 2013.

Via FanGraphs:

Miguel Cabrera's Plate Discipline, 2009-2013
Season O-Swing% Contact% SwStr%
2009 31.7 80.3 9.6
2010 32.7 79.1 9.6
2011 32.5 82.4 8.2
2012 33.9 83.0 8.1
2013 34.1 80.8 9.6

FanGraphs

Looking forward even more, it's also notable that history doesn't bode particularly well for Cabrera.

There have only been two players (minimum 3,000 plate appearances) to compile an OPS+ of at least 170 through the ages of 33 and 40: Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds. One played a long time ago, and the other had, um, help.

There's not much precedent for what Cabrera will be looking to do even if we lower the standards. Here's the list of players who managed somewhere between a 150 OPS+ and a 170 OPS+ in the 33-40 window:

OPS+ of 150-170 Between Ages of 33 and 40
Player From To PA OPS+
Manny Ramirez 2005 2011 3199 150
Edgar Martinez 1996 2003 4848 156
Willie Stargell 1973 1980 3610 153
Hank Aaron 1967 1974 4547 163
Willie Mays 1964 1971 4611 153
Gavvy Cravath 1914 1920 3141 154
Honus Wagner 1907 1914 4714 151

Baseball-Reference.com

Just seven players, and only two from recent memory. One (Edgar Martinez) had the luxury of saving his body from wear and tear through years of designated hitter duty, and the other (Manny Ramirez) is yet another guy with ties to "help."

Consider this par for the course, as we just don't see older hitters do the things they used to. Since the penalties for getting busted for PEDs were increased in 2006, only 14 qualified players between the ages of 33 and 40 have done as well as a 150 OPS+ in a season. No individual player did so more than twice.

It's reasonable enough to expect Cabrera to be a good hitter throughout the life of his (at least) eight-year extension. Very good, even. But him sustaining the elite level of production he's enjoyed these last few years into his mid- and late 30s is more than likely out of the question. 

That puts Cabrera's extension in the Double Whammy category. That the Tigers have agreed to pay a king's ransom for what will be Cabrera's declining years is bad enough. That they've agreed to do so despite knowing that he's already an injury risk is even worse.

There's typically a way to see the upside whenever a monster contract is struck. It's easier with some contracts than it is with others, sure, but it's always possible all the same. 

But not this time. Any extension the Tigers could have given Cabrera at this juncture was going to be a risk. That they've given him a contract worth the richest AAV in history and potentially the richest total payout in history is...

I don't even know. I just know it's not going to end well.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked. Injury records pulled from Baseball Prospectus player cards.

 

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