Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera contract good or bad?

Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers made history last night with a mega contract extension. Just days after Max Scherzer waved off a $144M extension from the team, the Tigers consummated a deal that will tack on eight additional years to Cabrera’s deal, totaling a startling 10 years and $292M in all. For good measure, there are two more option years on the back end that if they both vest would run the tally up to $352M.

The numbers are literally staggering. What is it: $50,000/at-bat? Not too shabby. What is unique about this contract is that despite those that have gone before him (Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols) and the clear failures that their contracts will ultimately end up being, the Tigers still felt it wise to extend now rather than wait until the end of 2015 when he would become a free agent.

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To that point, just look at how the market has ballooned from last year to this. New television money has MLB teams richer than ever before. In hindsight, Detroit literally stole Anibal Sanchez last offseason with a 5-year, $80M contract. The slightly above average Ubaldo Jimenez got 4-years and $50M a month ago from the Baltimore Orioles.

It's all smiles for Miguel Cabrera

It’s all smiles for Miguel Cabrera

Had Sanchez’s free agent clock waited just one more year he probably would’ve received a $100M contract. It’s all about timing.

And to that end, why not lock Cabrera up now? $292M in the year 2020 for a surefire Hall of Famer will potentially look like a bargain. And the value that Cabrera’s historical pursuits will bring to the franchise as his career draws to a close are virtually impossible to measure.

Consider that Cabrera will only need to average 104 RBI’s over the 10 years to pass Hank Aaron as the game’s all-time RBI leader. Tris Speaker is the game’s doubles king. Cabrera would need to average 38 doubles per season to catch Speaker. Tough, but doable. And as for the most coveted record of them all, Miguel Cabrera will have an outside shot at passing Barry Bonds for the game’s all-time home run king.

Cabrera would have to average 40 homers per season over the 10 years to catch Bonds. This is probably out of reach, but only because of Detroit’s home ballpark. Slap the big fella into Yankee Stadium or a host of other parks across the game and he’d average 50 per year for the foreseeable future and would put Bonds on high alert. If the Tigers were smart they’d pull the left and left-center field walls in about 20 feet, starting now.

[The Detroit Tigers shortstop carousel whirls on]

Even if he can’t catch the enigmatic Bonds, he only needs to average 30 per season to end up ranked 4th all-time in homers. And if he could bump that average up to 34/year he would join the exclusive 700-home run club.

All of this while wearing the Old English D? Obviously the Tigers felt that the money was worth the notoriety despite the obvious red flags of giving a soon-to-be 31-year old, heavily set man, this amount of years.

But let’s not solely get caught up in this all-time talk. Cabrera is the best pure hitter in baseball right now and it’s been that way for a while. Batting titles are the norm, MVP’s old hat, and Triple Crowns en vogue again thanks to the sweet swing of #24.

Are there potential problems with a long-term deal like this? Absolutely. Consider that ARod, after his suspension lapses at the end of the year, will have three full seasons left on his deal to the tune of $64M. Rodriguez has been experiencing a sharp decline in production since 2010 when he was only about halfway through his deal. The Yankees don’t want him, the fans can’t stand him, but he’s going to get that guaranteed money regardless.

Albert Pujols has had trouble staying on the field since joining the Angels and has eight intimidating years left on his contract. There is very little chance that the last $200M of this travesty ends well for the Angels.

So why might Cabrera’s contract end with better results? Well, it might not. He showed some cracks in the armor last year battling core muscle issues the majority of the season. And injuries will cause a player in his 30’s to decline at a frightening pace. Heck, even without injuries the drop in production can be alarming.

But if you’re going to believe in someone, Cabrera is probably the guy. There has never been a sniff of rumor about performance enhancing drugs. Returning to 1st base and playing in the DH-friendly American League will prolong his career for the better part of this new pact. In other words, Cabrera should last longer than most. 10 years though? In 10 years he’ll be 40 and likely a shadow of his current self but the history he’ll be closing in on will keep him motivated and the Tigers in the limelight. Regardless, staying in shape will be a constant storyline from this moment forward.

Naysayers can and will hate on this move by the Tigers. But had they not re-upped and then he walked after 2015 it would’ve cast a very dark cloud over the organization. Could Detroit have waited at least through this year to see if his body was going to experience further issues? Yes. And that might have been a very wise move but one the Tigers clearly felt unnecessary.

Bottom line: you can’t please everyone, but if you’ve got the money to burn you might as well please the best hitter in the game with a landmark contract and enjoy the subsequent ride toward history.

[Follow me on Twitter @isportsJoe]

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  • Neuman

    Man, Cabrera is going to be rich mother. I wonder how much endorsement money he is leaving on the table by not learning to speak English properly. I’ll bet it is close to 10 million a year.

  • Rob Gladstone

    My take is that with the signing we now own the best hitter in baseball. This is our last shot at a title considering how many starters will be lost in the next year or two to FA. We keep him, take our shot, then trade him at 34 to a contender for a boat load of top prospects to restock the farm system. A few years from now, $30M a season might have a few more club members and whoever gets him wIll be getting a guy chasing history as mentioned in the article.

    • Joe White

      Great point Rob. Nobody wants to think about the possibility of a trade a few years from now but it’s a real one.

    • burrwick

      Hard to envision a trade of Miggy at some point for two reasons. First I would hope the Tigers would continue to be a good team that has hopes of contending over the life of the contract making it unthinkable and secondly, Miggy has 10-5 rights and any trade would require his approval.

      Yes the Tigers will have a few players looking at moving on (Matinez, Hunter and Scherzer) but that’s no reason to believe they can’t restock using the dollars saved from those expiring contracts to reload.

      With Miggy on board it’s important the Tigers continue to make every effort to keep good players around him. Paying Miggy that huge amount is wasted if winning as a team isn’t of the highest priority.

  • burrwick

    Nicely stated and balanced opinion. You’ve dissected the pros and cons at a time where all I can find on the internet are cons. Watching the presser right now and DD makes a nice point saying he feels two years out from free agency is the ideal time to try and get a star player signed. If you wait until that last season there are so many “lures” for a star player to test the free agent market that it gets more difficult to get an extension done.

    I didn’t agree with the Pujols deal for the same reasons I question this contact (age, length and dollars). But…..I’ll keep my fingers crossed, hope the Tigers win at least 3 titles during the length of the deal and if so, no one will be looking back in regret.

    • Joe White

      Thanks. 3 titles might be extreme. I’d take one!