By: Jamie Samuelsen
Reaction to the Miguel Cabrera contract has been swift and divided.
If you ask most Tigers fans, they’re reaction is something along the lines of, “MIGGY! Awesome! Ten more years. He’s not human! He can win a Triple Crown when he’s 38. Love it! Mike Ilitch is the best!”
If you ask the rest of the baseball world, they’re reaction is more like, “That’s the worst deal in sports history. They’ll rue the day they signed it. His body will break down in three years. The Tigers have driven up the market when they didn’t even have to do it. It’s a comically bad contract.”
The debate will rage on as to which side is right. For the record, the Tigers vastly overpaid for Cabrera even though he’s the best hitter of his generation. They didn’t have to extend him for the length of time or the money that they did. And within five years, those 30 million dollars will look like more than a burden than a blessing.
But as the old saying goes, it’s not my money. And if Ilitch is willing to spend it in a sport that operates without a salary cap, then so be it. The Tigers are better with Cabrera in the lineup obviously. And despite some off-season cost cutting, there has been little indication that the Tigers are looking to change the way they do business. They desperately want to win a World Series, just like the fans do. And if it costs them 292 million dollars to do it (or 352 million with vesting options) then that’s the ultimate price of success. Go Tigers!
Realistically though, Cabrera just signed the last of the eye-popping contracts that we’ll see the Tigers offer for the foreseeable future. This doesn’t officially end the Max Scherzer conversations. But given the fact that Scherzer (and his agent Scott Boras) feel that Max is worth more than 25 million or more than six years, those negotiations seem stalled. With Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, the Tigers will pay three players a total of about 68 million annually. If Scherzer signed that deal that the Tigers reportedly offered him over the weekend, that total would be roughly 93 million for four players. Those are four great players. But you still have to add 21 more.
And that’s where we get to the man who might have a hard time sleeping over the next week – GM Dave Dombrowski.
Nobody questions Dombrowski’s credentials. He’s the man who drafted Verlander and he’s the man who dealt for Cabrera and Scherzer among others. But he’s also been the beneficiary of working for Ilitch who clearly is the most desperate owner in sports to win a championship. Remember, Dombrowski shot down the Prince Fielder rumors after Victor Martinez injured his knee in January 2012. Ilitch was the one who green-lighted the massive contract offer and Dombrowski made the call. Part of his job has been challenging. Part of it has been easy. Now it gets dicey.
One of Dombrowski’s great weaknesses has been finding everyday players through the draft. If you look at the Tigers starting nine Monday against the Royals, you’ll see that only two (Nick Castellanos and Alex Avila) have been brought up through the Tigers system. (True, Verlander will start. But I’m including Martinez in the starting nine as the DH). The Tigers Opening Day roster will have just five position players that came up through the system (Avila, Castellanos, Don Kelly, Bryan Holaday and reserve outfield Tyler Collins). And next season, Torii Hunter and Martinez will both be free agents (and another year older). So in addition to solving the situation in left field, the Tigers will be on the search for two more key players.
Given Cabrera’s contract, something tells me that free agency won’t be the preferred route of choice for Tigers ownership. That means Dombrowski needs to start drafting better and he needs to do so in a hurry. Granted, it’s silly to focus on the draft in June and the need for position players in 2015. That ship sailed three years ago. But as the Tigers move into the next five years and (we assume) still have the annual goal of winning championships, the phrase that pays is going to be “home grown”. The Tigers have to start bringing up players who are moderately paid and who are under their control. Otherwise, as one rival GM put it, the Tigers will look like a basketball team consisting of Wilt Chamberlain and four other guys. It will be an aging Cabrera, Verlander and Sanchez. Certainly a nice core. But not a complete team.
But this is about the present, not about the future. The Tigers are very much in a win now mode. If Cabrera is Cabrera for five seasons and the Tigers get a couple of titles out of it, not a sole will complain that he’s overpaid for the last five. But as fans, we’re focused on all ten years. And it’s up to Dombrowski to make sure that the drop off for the Tigers doesn’t parallel the expected drop off for Cabrera.