Great player. Bad move. Terrible contract.
"Why?" That was my first thought when it was first reported by CBS Sports' Jon Heyman that the Detroit Tigers had extended the contract of Miguel Cabrera through the 2023 season. The deal makes the Tigers total commitment to Cabrera now a 10-year contract worth $292 million. Heyman also reports that there is a vesting option for two more seasons if Cabrera finishes in the top-10 of the MVP voting in 2023.
The numbers are ridiculous and completely unnecessary. There was no need to make this move right now.
The Tigers still had Cabrera under contract for two more seasons at a very reasonable $22 million per season for both sides. Unless Cabrera was voicing his unhappiness behind the scenes and demanding a new deal, it is hard to understand the urgency to make this deal at this time.
The move is just one of many in this curious offseason for the Tigers and general manager Dave Dombrowski. Dombrowski has long been considered one of the best executives in the game, but he has had a very erratic winter.
Detroit is very close to being a World Series team again, and they seem to be operating with that mindset. The Tigers added closer Joe Nathan while trading Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for second baseman Ian Kinsler. Both of those moves seem to signal that Detroit was going for it.
Getting out from underneath the majority of Fielder's remaining contract was a huge move for the franchise in the long-term. It should have allowed Detroit to lock up ace Max Scherzer. Fielder simply wasn't producing up to expectations during the regular season, and especially the playoffs, as he was starting to show slight signs of decline at the plate.
Instead, Cabrera's extension comes on the heels of the Tigers publicly embarrassing 2013 Cy Young winner Scherzer over his unwillingness to take a deal that Detroit felt was more than fair. Dombrowski has since had to clear the air with Scherzer as reported here by USA Today's John Lowe.
Looking at Detroit's payroll obligations for 2014 and beyond, it is hard to see the Tigers retaining Scherzer. Detroit already has $98 million committed to six players on the 2015 payroll without factoring in Scherzer. It certainly feels like once Scherzer rejected the Tigers' offer, they made the decision to lock up Cabrera long-term.
At the same time, Detroit seemed to suddenly pinch pennies, dealing off above-average starter Doug Fister for very little immediate return. On this Tigers staff, Fister was easily the best fourth-starter in MLB. The bullpen and the bench for the Tigers could have clearly stood an infusion of talent.
This is nothing against Cabrera the player. The 30-year-old Cabrera is already in the midst of a Hall of Fame career that will likely land him in Cooperstown on the first ballot that he is eligible. He has won the AL MVP the past two seasons and will likely battle for the crown again this season barring something unforeseen.
Unfortunately, though, this deal will take Cabrera to the age of 40. Cabrera struggled through injuries last season, something that impacted his play down the stretch and in the playoffs. Cabrera underwent core muscle repair surgery this past winter to fix the groin/abdominal injury and has looked healthy this spring. With the departure of Fielder, Cabrera will benefit greatly from the move back to first base.
Detroit was freed from a cumbersome contract when they moved Fielder to the Rangers at the beginning of the offseason. It was something that Detroit should have learned from. Now they have gone and put themselves in even more of a precarious position over the next 10 years with Cabrera.
Dombrowski, Cabrera and the Tigers would have been much better served to spend this money by keeping Fister earlier this winter and signing free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew once it became clear that Jose Iglesias was likely going to be lost for the season due to injury. This team is built to win the World Series now, not just the AL Central.
Instead, Detroit will be going into the season with a below-average shortstop situation, questions in left field and questions in the bullpen while also having weakened the starting rotation in the process.
Detroit made Cabrera an offer he simply couldn't refuse. Now, the question is how long before the Tigers regret making the offer in the first place?
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