Miguel Cabrera is hurt. He’s been playing hurt since opening day. And the injury occurred while he was wearing a uniform other than that of the Detroit Tigers.
Is that a problem?
Once again in March of 2017 teams representing several countries were assembled to square off in the World Baseball Classic, a Major League Baseball production starring many of the best players in the game.
There are those who love the WBC, and those who despise it. Some inside the game think it’s an unnecessary distraction from preparation for the regular season. Every three or four years, team rosters are cannibalized when the WBC is held. This past spring the Tigers had 15 players from their organization taker part, most notably Cabrera, a two-time Most Valuable Player and one of the best right handed hitters in history.
At some point in the WBC, Cabrera admits he hurt his back. He played six games for Venezuela, hitting one home run but otherwise not playing particularly well. He started the regular season in the lineup for the Tigers but missed about two weeks late in the month from a strained back. At various time throughout the season, Cabrera has suffered from nagging injuries to his oblique, lower back, groin, and legs. But he doesn’t alibi.
“Since the World Baseball Classic when I hurt my back, I can’t get it out of the way,” Cabrera told MLive in June. “It’s something that I deal with everyday. I’m not going to stop playing or make an excuse. I try to do my best.”
Miggy turned 34 in April, which typically indicates the decline phase of a baseball player’s career. But Cabrera is not a typical player. He’s an all-time great. When healthy he has remarkably quick hands and he makes adjustments as well as any hitter I’ve ever seen. He has tremendous power to all fields. In fact, most of his home runs come to center or right field, the opposite way. Like other greats of baseball history, Cabrera is not going to decline as quickly as a regular player. He should be able to be a very good hitter for several more seasons.
But in 2017 he’s flying out harmlessly to the outfield more than he’s hitting the ball hard into the gaps. He’s tapping slow rollers to the infield and he’s often been unable to turn on pitches on the corners of the plate. It’s evident in his slashline of 255/343/408 through August 17. Those are very un-Miggy like numbers.
The only conclusion for the frustrating season is that Cabrera is playing hurt. Probably very hurt. He’s previously shown that he will stay in the lineup even when he’s not 100 percent or even 90 percent. In 2013 he had injuries to his legs that would have sent most players to the disabled list. Instead he fought through it and won his second MVP award. Two years later he missed more than a month on the DL but still played hurt for more than half the season. In spite of being a gimpy player, Miggy won his fourth batting title. He came back in 2016 and regained his power, stroking 38 homers. This year, due to the back injury suffered in the WBC, his power has been sapped.
An injury like Cabrera’s will not fully heal until he stops playing. He’ll need an offseason to rehab and get back to his normal levels. I’d be willing to bet you a bag of Miggy’s BitBits that he’ll be back to his normal self in 2018.
Cabrera isn’t the only player to have suffered an injury in the international tournament. Yankee shortstop Didi Gregorious began the year on the DL after suffering an injury in the ’17 WBC. So did former Tiger pitcher Drew Smyly. Miami third baseman Martin Prado has played only 37 games this season after hurting himself in the competition. Others, like Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez, have reportedly been injured in the WBC and attempted to play through it.
It’s too early yet to know if the WBC has caused needless injuries. It’s not apparent whether some of these injuries would have occurred in normal spring training games anyway. But it’s possible that the competitive atmosphere of the tournament might contribute to players unnecessarily pushing themselves too early in the spring.
Miguel Cabrera was immensely proud to play for his native country in the World Baseball Classic, which is commendable. But I know one thing for sure, as a Tiger fan I’d feel a lot better if he hadn’t played and was healthy right now. We won’t have many more years to see his greatness.