How much is Miguel Cabrera worth? Is deal a mistake for Tigers and baseball?


The “D” stands for Detroit. And dollars. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Miguel Cabrera is about to be paid like the best offensive player in baseball.

Cabrera, the two-time defending American League MVP and the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, has agreed to a contract extension with the Detroit Tigers that has shaken baseball because of its length and possible bottom-line figure of $352 million, which would be the biggest commitment to a player in baseball history. Here’s how it is expected to break down: Cabrera, who turns 31 in three weeks, would receive $248 million guaranteed over eight years. With two years and $44 million left on his present contact, that comes to a $292 million over 10 years and there are $30 million vesting options for the 11th and 12th years (according to CBS Sports.com’s Jon Heyman). The options are incentive-based.

Even in baseball, the contract is sobering.

Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal doesn’t think the contract is a smart bet — “not in any rational world.” But the Tigers aren’t operating rationally under owner Mike Ilitch, he writes, and there will be repercussions throughout the game. From Rosenthal:

Fans complain about salaries, say they’re insane, but teams keep paying them and none is going broke. Quite the opposite, in fact. Considering that baseball is a $9 billion industry, an investment of nearly $300 million in the game’s best hitter might not be crazy at all.

In any case, the next beneficiary will be the Angels’ Mike Trout, who is at a much lower service level than Cabrera, one year away from arbitration.

Trout was 10.4 wins above replacement last season — a $62.4 million to $83.2 million player based on the raw numbers cited earlier. He’s also 22, years away from entering his prime, still full of upside.

Should Trout accept the six-year, $150 million deal reportedly under discussion, knowing it only would be slightly more than half of the Tigers’ total investment in Cabrera?

Why not? He would become a free agent at 28, and heaven knows what he will be worth then.

Cabrera, a lesser all-around talent, just raised the bar at 31.

SI.com’s Mike Rosenberg believes that “[t]his is not just a bad contract — we see those in baseball all the time. It might make the least sense of all the big baseball contracts in this millennium.” Because Ilitch, at 84, wants to win and win now, he made a bad deal, Rosenberg writes. And the team still must try to retain pitcher Max Scherzer, with whom contract negotiations have broken off.

Ilitch wants Cabrera to be a Tiger for as long as he owns the team. Ilitch wants to win the World Series, he has no interest in regrouping for a year, and he has a limited understanding of sabermetrics or statistical studies of aging ballplayers, even when the player is as undeniably great as Cabrera.

Years ago, Ilitch’s general manager, Dave Dombrowski, would say that when you spend too much of your payroll on one player, it rarely works out. Dombrowski did not get dumber. He surely knows how risky this is. But Dombrowski has learned Ilitch will overpay for anybody he really wants, and he wants Cabrera more than anybody he has ever employed. The contract does not make sense because the player will get old. It happened because the owner already has.

Yahoo’s Jeff Passan thinks the deal may be the biggest contract mistake in baseball history, but teams and general managers just can’t help themselves.

[T]his is the same sort of slapdash, slipshod thinking that torpedoed the Rangers and Yankees with A-Rod, leaves the Angels stuck with [Albert] Pujols’ deal, makes the Mariners cringe at any possible regression from [Robinson] Cano and leaves Cincinnati hopeful Joey Votto’s doesn’t turn into a miss, too. Because these deals are the standard, they are the point from which agents negotiate. And because teams agree to them, it simply reinforces a standard that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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