Miguel Cabrera is not going to win the Most Valuable Player award this year. Forget about a third straight trophy or another Triple Crown. Cabrera himself has confessed he’s been weakened by his off-season surgery, and you can see it. At times the Detroit Tigers’ slugger has been hobbling a little, raising the scary specter that his legs and midsection are wearing out, like last September.
Though he’s recovered from his early season slump, Cabrera hasn’t broken out of it with the kind of authority we’re used to seeing from him. He’s just been merely very good—a productive RBI man at the core of the lineup. But his power numbers are down, and while he certainly remains a formidable hitter who can pound the ball to all fields, and frequently does, driving in a lot of runs, we should stop referring to him as “the greatest hitter on the planet.” He’s not—not this year anyway.
Cabrera, like Justin Verlander, is on the wrong side of thirty now, and even without the physical signs of wearing down that are sometimes evident, he needs a little more time to rest and recover, especially late in this season if the Tigers are to cast aside the Royals and win another division crown. Ease up on the outsized expectations. Let the Martinezes—Victor and J.D.—help carry the load.
Above all, Brad Ausmus should not make the mistake Jim Leyland made that may have cost the Tigers a world championship in 2013—needlessly playing Cabrera every game down the stretch, especially if it’s clear his body isn’t holding up. Detroit will need Miggy to be as healthy to make a run at the postseason.
And please no more talk of a third straight MVP and no argument that he should play every game so he can get that honor. Miggy will want to play all the time, but Miggy should sit from time to time.
Many argued that Mike Trout was more deserving of the MVP award last year, but no matter how you feel about that, Trout is clearly the correct choice this year. Whether or not Cabrera is the greatest hitter on the planet, Trout is the greatest player in baseball today. Period. Trout is not only a prodigious hitter, he does a lot of things Cabrera doesn’t. Besides hitting for average and for power (and drawing walks), Trout can run very well, he can play center field spectacularly, and he has a strong and accurate arm. He is not just good with all of his tools, he is great by many measures, the best player of his age that the game has ever seen.
Trout leads the American League in OPS and WAR. He’s on track to perhaps exceed .300/.400/.600 with 40 homers and 20 steals. Trout is already higher in career WAR through his age-22 season than anyone in the history of baseball—at 25.8 WAR through the All-Star break, ahead of Ty Cobb (25.5)—and of course, his age-22 season isn’t over yet.
Naysayers can forget about WAR, if they want, but calculate the stats anyway you want, and Trout is clearly having a better year than Cabrera in terms of offense alone. And that doesn’t even consider fielding. Trout is having the kind of offensive numbers you might dream of from the league’s best first baseman (Miggy) or DH (Victor Martinez)—but doing that while playing center field, one of the most important and demanding positions on the diamond.
Miguel Cabrera is a once-in-a-generation hitter, and perhaps will be considered the greatest right-handed batter in baseball history when his career is over. How great is Miggy? So great that he has single-handedly prevented arguably the greatest young player in the history of the game from himself winning three straight MVPs. But this will be Trout’s year to win the hardware, and in years to come these two will very likely continue to occupy the 1-2 spots in AL MVP voting. They probably did so in the 2014 All-Star Game MVP consideration as well.