Miggy a worthy recipient of record deal
Tigers slugger has proven his value time and again for a team with eyes on big prize
As we enter the realm of another potential "largest contract in the history of baseball," this will be one time when the exercise does not have to be greeted with dismay and/or alarm.
The Detroit Tigers have agreed to pay a kingly amount of money to Miguel Cabrera. But what else would you have the Tigers do? Let him go in favor of a compensatory Draft choice?
Miggy has hit his way into a higher bracket. The last two consecutive Most Valuable Player seasons proved his worth in an indisputable way. His standing, however, was in place before that. And for once, this is not about the relative merits of Cabrera and Mike Trout.
This is about one player establishing himself as the premier hitter in the contemporary game. In a game in which power is diminishing and pitching is becoming increasingly dominant, Cabrera is like a throwback to a different era. He is that increasingly rare human commodity -- the right-handed, reliable, run-producing, power-hitting, middle-of-the-order man.
The Tigers, as presently constituted, are a perennial postseason contender. They have an imposing lineup -- as long as it includes Cabrera. They have an exceptional starting rotation, which includes two American League Cy Young Award winners, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.
The Tigers as yet have not been able to come to an agreement with Scherzer on an extension. Even though Cabrera had two years left on his previous contract, the Scherzer situation probably made getting a deal done with Cabrera an even higher priority. Detroit went through the trouble of trading Prince Fielder and his massive contract to put the organization in a position in which Cabrera and Scherzer could be retained. The Tigers knew it wouldn't be an inexpensive proposition.
Miggy will turn 31 in April. He will be back at first base this season. Playing for an AL team, the designated-hitter role may beckon more frequently later in Cabrera's career as a way of reducing the wear and tear and keeping his bat in the lineup.
Cabrera has already established not only the willingness to play hurt, but to be productive while playing hurt. He is not only a good teammate, he is much more comfortable discussing the success of his teammates than he is discussing his own exploits. Cabrera is, in other words, an ideal sort to have as the focal point of a team's offense.
Now to the very large amounts of money reportedly involved in this transaction. The new extension is worth a reported $248 million over eight years. Cabrera has two years and $44 million remaining on his current contract. That would give him a total of $292 million over 10 years, which would eclipse the record of $275 million over 10 years that Alex Rodriguez received from the Yankees.
The average annual value of $31 million for the eight-year extension would also eclipse the previous high for annual value. That was a recent record, set by Clayton Kershaw's $30.7 million average value in a $215 million, seven-year deal signed this winter with the Dodgers.
These are sums that are large enough to seem essentially imaginary to the vast majority of the rest of us. But this is the current market for stardom in baseball, a game enjoying general and sustained prosperity. The best hitter in the game will be paid at the game's highest prices.
The Tigers have previously demonstrated a willingness to spend money in the pursuit of championships. They didn't have anything to prove in this regard. In The Associated Press' projections of player payrolls for 2014, Detroit ranks fifth, with a payroll of more than $162 million.
Still, keeping Cabrera is not really an optional exercise for this team. He is a singular talent, that rare hitter who makes other Major League hitters shake their heads in awe. How long will this kind of ability last? The Tigers are betting on something as near to another decade as possible.
It is reportedly costing Detroit a record amount to keep Cabrera through 2023. But there is something to be said for having baseball's best pure hitter on your side for the rest of his career.
The Tigers have placed a very large bundle on this proposition. If it looks like a gamble on Cabrera's long-term future, look at it on the flip side: The real gamble might have been letting him leave while he was still one of the game's true greats.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.