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Miguel Cabrera is hurt once again

The Tigers are not competitive enough to miss Miggy’s bat, but how will continued injuries affect how people perceive the rest of his career?

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Boston Red Sox Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Miguel Cabrera has been one of the best right-handed hitters of my lifetime. For his career, he has hit .316/.395/.551, good for a 148 wRC+. He is one of the few hitters I have ever seen that can be described as having an 80 hit tool with 80 power for at least some part of his prime. Combining that level of hitting skill with that much power is extraordinarily rare. He without a doubt will easily get into the Hall of Fame on his first chance.

That is why Miggy’s latest injury is so sad. He tore a tendon in his left biceps while swinging a bat on Tuesday night. He clearly felt it right away, as he immediately dropped his bat, grabbed his left arm, and went straight to the Tigers’ dugout. He will need surgery and will miss the rest of the season. It is expected that he will be back in time for spring training, but it is far from guaranteed. Cabrera had already missed time this year due to a biceps issue, and he recently missed four weeks due to a right hamstring strain.

Cabrera had only played in 38 games this season, but he was performing much better than last year, hitting .299/.395/.448. His 128 wRC+ pales in comparison to his career 149 wRC+, but it was a big improvement over the year before. In 2017, he hit only .249/.329/.399. I can’t imagine Cabrera slugging below .400, but it happened. That combined with his usual poor defense and baserunning led to a sub-replacement level season. He struggled with injuries all year, primarily from a pair of herniated discs. It is admirable to want to play through injuries to benefit your team, but there is a limit to that. Miggy was too hurt to help his team, and the team was terrible anyway.

Despite Cabrera’s big improvement from last year, there were some red flags. He had only three home runs and his .149 ISO was identical to last year. What really jumped out at me was how often he was putting the ball on the ground, doing so at a 54.6 percent rate. I can only speculate, but I wonder if his biceps was messing with his swing to the point where he was having trouble putting the ball in the air. He is way too smart of a hitter to be doing that on purpose.

Cabrera had an incredible run of durability for 11 years through 2014. Ironically, the 2014 season was his last fully healthy season when he signed his monstrous extension right before then. He hit the DL for the first time ever in 2015. His 2016 season is the only one of the last four where he did not miss any time on the DL.

Obviously this does not affect the Tigers at all. They are performing better than expected, but the fact of the matter is that they are not a competitive team. It is better for them to lose games, and a lack of Miggy’s bat will help that.

The biggest problem, of course, is that Cabrera is still under contract through 2023 and he is owed approximately $180 million. He famously signed an eight-year, $248 million extension before the 2014 season that was almost universally lambasted. It was a gross overpay for a player who was still two years away from free agency. Furthermore, it locked him up through age 40, when history has a strong history of players with Miggy’s body type aging poorly. It was clearly the doing of late owner Mike Ilitch, who admirably wanted to spend whatever it took to make the Tigers competitive, especially since he wanted to see a World Series title before he passed away.

Nobody holds that against Mr. I, but the fact of the matter is that Miggy’s contract could go down as the worst in history, even worse than that of Albert Pujols. Cabrera is definitely a better hitter right now, but there is still five years left on his deal. It is possible that Cabrera’s contract will still be going when the Tigers are competitive again, and that will hamper their ability to bolster their team via free agency, or to extend any players under a rookie contract.

FanGraphs’ Jay Jaffe, the leading expert in Hall of Fame analysis, discussed how injuries could affect Cabrera’s pursuit of prestigious milestones. He is not wrong, but the meaningfulness of those milestones has been decreasing. Pujols recently crossed the 3,000 hit mark, and he hit his 600th HR last year. Those are amazing accomplishments, but how much did it really affect his “legacy”? He has been the inarguable second-greatest first baseman of all time for years now. Put another way, had Pujols retired before his performance fell off a cliff last season, he would not have reached the aforementioned milestones, but I doubt anybody would have viewed his career any less positively.

Cabrera is already a lock for the Hall of Fame, of course, but Jaffe focuses on milestones as a mark of an “inner-circle” Hall of Famer as perceived by others, because there is obviously no such thing as an “inner-circle“ Hall of Famer. A player is either in the Hall of Fame, or he is not.

If Cabrera plays out the entirety of his contract and then retires, he will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2029. That is a long time, and I am curious as to whether or not those milestones will matter much to most people then, especially if he performs poorly from now until the end of his career. Personally, I am not a big believer in sacrificing career rate stats for career counting stats.

Whatever happens, I sincerely, sincerely hope that Cabrera does not spend the rest of that deal as a sub-replacement level player. He deserves better than that. Tigers‘ fans deserve better than that. He is one of the best hitters I have ever seen.

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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.