Miguel Cabrera Would Transform Astros into an AL Power

Jacob ShaferFeatured ColumnistNovember 9, 2016

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - AUGUST 06:  Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers looks on while wearing a special jersey to honor the ¡Fiesta Tigres! celebration game against the New York Mets at Comerica Park on August 6, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. The Tigers defeated the Mets 6-5.  (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

Houston, we have a rumor.

You want details? Here you go, courtesy of MLB Network's Jon Morosi:

Let's unpack the particulars.

First, the Houston Astros are planning to increase payroll. That's a positive development for Houston fans after their club crashed the postseason party with a wild-card berth and advanced to the division series in 2015 but fell to a third-place finish in the American League West last season.

The Astros want to get back to October glory. They want to topple the Lone Star State-rival Texas Rangers, who have won the last two division crowns.

Miguel Cabrera or Edwin Encarnacion would move the needle toward that end, but let's focus on Cabrera.

He is, after all, one of the best hitters of his generation with 446 home runs and 1,533 RBI in his career. And the Detroit Tigers are ready for a fire sale, as they should be, per Kurt Mensching in a special to the Detroit News.

Add Cabrera to Houston's lineup, and you could be looking at a new power in a wide-open American League.

The Astros fell exactly in the middle of the pack in 2016 with 724 runs scored and were No. 24 in baseball with a .247 average. 

Houston, however, has an enviable offensive core, including second baseman Jose Altuve (.338 average, .928 OPS, 24 home runs, 30 stolen bases), shortstop Carlos Correa (.274 average, 20 home runs, 96 RBI), right fielder George Springer (.815 OPS, 29 home runs, 82 RBI), catcher/designated hitter Evan Gattis (.826 OPS, 32 home runs, 72 RBI) and 2015 first-round pick Alex Bregman.

Now, imagine Cabrera in the mix. The 11-time All-Star and two-time MVP hit .316 with a .956 OPS, 38 home runs and 108 RBI for the Tigers in 2016. He's a future Hall of Famer riding out his peak.

Cabrera slugged 38 homers for the Tigers in 2016.
Cabrera slugged 38 homers for the Tigers in 2016.Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

Plus, as MLive's Evan Woodbery pointed out, Cabrera and Altuve "both hail from Maracay, a hotbed of baseball on Venezuela's Caribbean coast."

That could inspire Miggy to wave his no-trade clause. 

The Astros would likely need to part with legit prospects to land Cabrera. They have a loaded system, though, ranked No. 3 by Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter

The bigger hurdle might be Cabrera's contract, which will pay him a minimum of $212 million through 2023. Even if the Tigers toss in some cash, that's a hefty investment for a guy who'll turn 34 on April 18. 

On the other hand, as Morosi noted, Houston appears willing to nudge the budget northward and has few payroll commitments beyond next season. 

In all likelihood, Cabrera will be a financial drag before he's off the books. Sometimes, though, you pony up now and worry about the future when it arrives. 

This is workable. With a shallow free-agent pool, it could be one of the winter's most impactful moves.

"We can be better, and we're going to keep trying to be better," manager A.J. Hinch said at the end of August, per Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle

Hitting isn't the Astros' only need. Their starting rotation finished 2016 with a mediocre 4.37 ERA, with ace Dallas Keuchel (4.55 ERA) falling disconcertingly shy of his 2015 AL Cy Young Award-winning peak.

Keuchel, however, showed signs of recovery in the second half, shaving 25 points off his first-half ERA and winning three of his last four decisions.

The bullpen, meanwhile, finished 10th in baseball with a 3.56 ERA and boasts ample depth even after Houston traded right-hander Pat Neshek to the Philadelphia Phillies on Nov. 4.

Cabrera could join forces with his countryman, Astros' second baseman Jose Altuve.
Cabrera could join forces with his countryman, Astros' second baseman Jose Altuve.Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

This club is capable of contending. It pushed the eventual-champion Kansas City Royals to five games in the division series in 2015 and, despite a stumble back last season, remained relevant.

The Rangers are a threat. The Cleveland Indians desperately want to get over the hump after their devastating seven-game World Series defeat. Out East, the defending division champion Boston Red Sox and up-and-coming New York Yankees are forces, with the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays there, too.

There's no obvious powerhouse. With the right machinations, the 'Stros could be as safe a pick as any.

Having Cabrera protect the likes of AL MVP finalist Altuve and Correa would count as the right machination. 

It's not reality. Far from it.

But it's a rumor, and a titillating one at that.

                                                                                                               

All statistics courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.