With all he’s accomplished in baseball, it’s hard to think that Miguel Cabrera could fly under the radar. But he did. Somehow, this week he and the Detroit Tigers agreed to a record-setting contract during a spring when attention had been turned to Max Scherzer’s deal. But every head in Lakeland, in Florida, in Michigan, and in the baseball world snapped suddenly to attention when word came out Thursday that the Tigers and Cabrera had come to terms on a contract that will keep Miggy in a Detroit uniform well into Hillary Clinton’s second term as president. (Or whoever it is who wins the 2020 election).
Talk about an unexpected gift for Detroit fans. This announcement sends happy shivers down the spine of Tiger Nation, who already have shivers everywhere else on their body due to the Arctic Winter of 2014. We’ll shake them off and enjoy a happy weekend as we prepare ourselves for the official kickoff to the ’14 season on Monday in Detroit when our team faces the Royals on Opening Day.
Opening Day in Detroit – just imagine – Miggy will be in the Old English D for 10 more of those! And that’s a great thing for the fans, team, the organization, the game of baseball, and for the city of Detroit. Don’t listen to those who criticize this deal (they’re popping up to criticize, but like a whack-a-mole game, they can be sent back into their holes with a swift thumping. Most of them like this one, ignore the human element and the impact to the value of the franchise beyond just stats on the field). This contract, which reportedly will be worth close to $300 million when all is said and done, is a great deal for the Tigers. In fact, it’s a bargain.
If you look at the Cabrera contract solely from a baseball perspective, there are many easy arguments you can make to pan the deal. Cabrera turns 31 in a few weeks, and by the time 2019 rolls around, while you’re zipping down to Comerica Park in your flying car while talking to a hologram of your dead great-grandfather and ordering a Tigers’ jersey with your brain, the Tigers will be paying two 36-year old players close to $60 combined (that’s Miggy and Justin Verlander, who is signed to a 10-year deal that started in 2010). Who knows what sort of financial landscape baseball will have in 2019, but it’s probably likely that paying two players that much will mean the Tigers will need to have one of the top 4-5 salaries in the game. Will that leave them room to field a competitive team, or will Don Kelly be making $1 million dollars to play left field AND center field? Oops there goes another standup triple, Tigers fans.
But here’s why that doesn’t matter. The Tigers have to stay relevant in the city of Detroit. They are in a position that no other team in baseball is in: they are playing smack dab in the middle of a city that is losing people in mass numbers every year. People are leaving Detroit like soccer moms from a Miley Cyrus dance studio. It’s ugly and the exodus is on. For sure, Detroit is resilient and it will survive, hopefully transforming itself into a leaner, tough city. But that will take a while, and a professional sports team is a luxury in this environment, not a necessity. Detroit has to field a good team with stars, and Miguel Cabrera is a star. No other player has been as popular as Cabrera since the end of the Trammell/Whitaker era, two players who shared the spotlight. But Miggy is one man and he’s larger than life. He’s a big, fun-loving man-child with a bat who sends baseballs screaming all over the ballpark. He’s more popular than JV, Mad Max, and any other Tiger you can pick combined.
This deal was necessary because the Tigers couldn’t lose the best hitter in baseball to the Yankees or Dodgers or Angels in a couple of years. They needed to sign him for the same reason they inked Verlander to the long-term deal: because he’s the best in the game at what he does, because he’s a Hall of Fame caliber player, and because it sends a strong message to the fan base. That message is: This is who we are, we’re the best hitter in baseball who happens to love the game, smiles a lot, and does amazing things like win triple crowns and hit 425-homers to center field off the best relievers in baseball.
Listen: have a conniption if you want about the size of this deal. One person on Twitter pointed out that Miggy will make more per at-bat than the average annual income for workers in Michigan. Clever. Celebrities, entertainers, superstars, athletes, they make a lot of money and teachers don’t. We know that. It’s upside down in some ways, but it’s also the way the market works. A person who is the best on the PLANET at what they do, will command a ton of money on the free market. Few people ever complain about the high salaries of movie stars ($30 million to someone named Bradley Cooper to make a movie? Bradley?), they just plop down $10-12 for a ticket, get a bucket of popcorn and enjoy the movies. This is the world we live in.
Speaking of living, let’s remember too that Mr. Ilitch is not going to be with us forever. The Sage of Motor City has done many wonderful things for Detroit, like him or not. He’s kept the Red Wings and Tigers competitive by spending a lot of his money to bring great players to our uniforms. He’s built venues, renovated, and donated until we had to ask, “Can he own the Lions and Pistons too, please?” Detroit sports fans, you are spoiled. You could have been born Royals’ fans, or Twins’ fans, and watched your baseball teams spend a tiny portion of their profits on players while pocketing millions, content to just be “good little ballclubs that are rebuilding from within.” Screw that, Mr. Ilitch goes out and signs Prince Fielder when his DH gets hurt. He greenlights deals that skyrocket the Tigers to the top of the sports pages nationally. He fields a team that wins three straight division titles and goes to baseball’s Final Four four times in eight years. It’s not a given that Ilitch’s successor will act as a steward of the Tigers. Securing Miggy for a decade is insurance that this franchise is going to shoot for the World Series every year.
I also wouldn’t worry too much about this deal hamstringing the Tigers financially. Cabrera is a rare breed, he’s the alpha male that everyone else follows. He’s a legendary player who is a lock for Cooperstown. Will he win a triple crown every year? No. A batting title? Not necessarily. But he is an All-Star caliber player whose skills are in their prime. He reported to camp in great shape after the off-season surgery. He has made the game look easy once again as he launches balls out of the park. He just seems to be in a higher league than everyone else. He’s like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron , Mike Schmidt, the greatest of the greats, guys who were stars for a long, long time and produced until they were in their late 30s. Miggy will give us all he has for 10 years, and even if he’s playing DH and hitting.280 with 25 homers as this contract winds down, he’ll be worth every penny. His presence increases the value of this team, the security of this team in a troubled city, and it serves as proof to the fans that the Tigers want to keep their own.
Think of the contract this way: the Tigers get Cabrera for his age 31-36 seasons for about $45 million per year. Some of the money is basically “deferred” to his late 30s seasons. That’s how the team looks at this deal. They get the best player in baseball for 5-6 years when he’ll still be in the upper echelon, and they spread the cost of that over a decade. Sure, he’ll be on their roster when he’s long in the tooth, but no one knows what that’ll look like. Will it be a late-career breakdown like Ken Griffey Jr.’s or will it be a more graceful and productive tapering off like that of David Ortiz? Either way, the Tigers get Miggy’s 30s, and a lot can happen between now and 2023, this contract could get flipped. Meanwhile the Tigers, with Cabrera, JV, and a willingness to bring in new players every few years, are contenders year after year.
Max Scherzer may or may not resign with the Tigers this offseason when he hits the free agent market. But one thing is for certain, he knows the Tigers are a serious team that wants to win and will spare no cost in doing so. They don’t make terrible financial decisions (don’t give me Fielder, the Tigers won a pennant and went six games into an ALCS in the two years Prince was here), they don’t have drama, and they are one of the 3-4 most historic, iconic franchises in baseball. Scherzer will think long and hard about staying in Detroit, and the appeal is greatly enhanced by the prospect of having #24 in the lineup for several more years. Max may not stay, but Tigers fans are happy to know that their MVP will be in town for a long, long time. It’s just what this team and city need.