July 31st, 2020 in Tigers
There will come a day when Miguel Cabrera will stand on a stage in the pastoral village of Cooperstown and accept a plaque that signifies his entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame. But what happens in the next 14 months will have a lot to say about what numbers appear on that plaque and where Cabrera may rate among the all-time greats.
Cabrera’s Cooperstown-Worthy Accomplishments
Miggy’s Hall of Fame plaque will reference his four batting titles and career .300-plus batting average. It will mention his World Series title as a baby slugger with the Florida Marlins, and it will mention his two Most Valuable Player awards. Most assuredly the words on the plaque will reference his seven seasons with a .300 average, 25-plus homers, and at least 100 RBI and 100 runs scored. Cooperstown’s copywriter will probably use a phrase like “one of the greatest right-handed hitters in history.” The plaque will most definitely refer to Cabrera’s Triple Crown of 2012.
But what will the plaque not say? Will it make any mention of his hit total or home run totals? And if so, will those numbers be nice, lofty historic numbers or “close but no cigar” numbers?
Cabrera’s 2020 Season Challenges
Entering the 2020 season, Cabrera had 2,815 hits. His career home run total stood at 477. Miggy ranked 30th in home runs and 51st in hits entering the season. But two milestones are in his sights, both of which seem a little further away now that the 2020 season has been chopped into a 60-game schedule. Can Miggy still reach 3,000 hits and 500 homers? If he does, he could join a club that to this point only includes two of the legends of the game.
Complicating matters is the sharp decline in production that Cabrera has shown in the last three seasons. This is not your father’s Miguel Cabrera. His legs are coming out from under him, his swing is just a little slower, and his body is breaking down. At 37, Cabrera is still a young man in a typical sense, but he’s aging out of the arena as an athlete.
Since his 34th birthday, Cabrera has hit .267 with a meager .401 slugging percentage, and only 31 home runs in more than 300 games. Savaged by injuries, the Detroit slugger has missed an average of 60 games the last three seasons.
With roughly 185 hits and 22 homers to go for 3,000 and 500, Cabrera has his work cut out for him the next two seasons. Even if the virus allows the 2021 season to be played in full, Cabrera’s health and diminished production will make it difficult for him to reach 3,000 hits next year. But if he can accomplish it, Miggy will join an elite group.
The .300/3,000 Hits/500 Homers Club
Only two players in baseball history have collected 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, and also finished with a .300 career batting average: Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. That’s a special group. Miggy’s current batting mark is at .314, and even if he limps to the finish line, he will almost certainly end with a batting average north of .300.
Albert Pujols, currently of the Angels, has more than 3,000 hits and 500 homers (more than 600 actually), but his career batting average has slipped below the .300 mark, tantalizingly resting at .299 as of this week.
The Tigers will still be paying Miggy in 2022 and 2023, as the final two years of his eight-year, $240 million contract peter out. Will he have the legs and stamina to still be on the field? What if he’s only a few homers away from 500? Or a dozen hits from 3,000?
It’s hard to imagine he won’t work his way into playing shape to reach those milestones. The last Tiger to reach 3,000 hits was Al Kaline, who got his historic hit in 1974. A Miggy run at 3K would be fun and historic and help Detroit fans forget about a rebuilding (and losing) team. Miggy might not be the MVP we all remember, but who doesn’t want to see his big smile as he basks in the glow of 3,000?