Miguel Cabrera ruptured his left biceps tendon on a swing last night and will miss the rest of the season. The injury comes a month after the Detroit Tigers first baseman, then sidelined with a balky hamstring, went out of his way to tell the media and fans that he was waiting until fully healthy to return.
“Nobody appreciates when you play hurt, so I’m going to take my time and play when I’m good,” he said. “I play a lot of years hurt here in Detroit. They don’t appreciate that. When you are doing bad, they crush you. They crush you. They say you are bad. You should go home. You don’t deserve anything. That you are old. I say ‘OK. I’m done playing hurt.’ When you are going good they say, ‘Oh, oh, you’re good.’ Now I take my time.”
Now all he has is time. And all the Tigers have is questions. Pressing ones with no clear answers. The simplest and scariest one is this: is Miguel Cabrera, as we know him — the Hall of Fame hitter and all-time great — finished?
The 35-year-old was hitting .299 in 38 games this year. But his power numbers are the real concern. Cabrera slugged just .448 and posted an OPS of .873, both of which are the worst since his rookie year, save for last season’s debacle.
In 2017, Cabrera’s slash went on a crash diet (.249/.329/.399). He hit 16 homers in 130 games. His on-base percentage was well over 100 points below his average during peak years. Anyone who watched him play day in and day out saw that it was a Herculean task. Perhaps no one has had more fun on the field over the past decade-plus. Now his boyish energy is zapped and it appears to be, well, work.
Hard, unproductive work.
The major problem for the Tigers, adrift in a rebuilding process more long-term than short, is that they’ll be compensating Cabrera handsomely for that work until 2023 at minimum. He is the pièce de résistance of the franchise’s bloated contract museum.
It seems weird and perhaps needlessly Debbie Downer-ish to cast such a dire future for Cabrera, who has, by any metric, been one of the best right-handed hitters in Major League history. His skill set is not going to magically disappear overnight and he is savvy enough to outsmart pitchers even as his body deteriorates.
But only the Pollyanna-iest of the Pollyannas can look at the events of the last 18 months and feel good about the path he’s on. The injuries are coming fast and furious and the results are slipping dangerously close to the edge. They could fall off at any time.
Any Tigers fan curious about what that might look like need not search too far. Victor Martinez, at 39 and with a fat contract himself, has been doing a magnificent impression of a 49-year-old while still anchoring the cleanup slot most nights.
Perhaps Cabrera will heal and come back a reasonable facsimile of his former self. Perhaps he’ll show flashes in between DL stints. Or perhaps it’s time to face reality and accept that there’s a small chance he’s over already and we just don’t want to admit it.