Everyone knows that if you are lucky enough to get a Best Shape of his Life article in any given Spring Training, then you officially have the opportunity to have a career year. The guys (specifically Craig Calcaterra) over at NBC’s Hardball Talk make a showcase of this, handpicking individuals for this prestigious title every February, carefully singling out those specific players who have worked just hard enough to be blessed with an article and the label, BSoHL.
Well, Miguel Cabrera not only gets the label this year, he has PHOTOS to prove it, he has teammates claiming he’s lost nearly 25 pounds this off season, and it’s not just a publicity stunt. (Did I just make this serious? I didn’t mean to make this serious.) Well, in all seriousness, it appears he actually is making an effort to work out more than ever before, but it’s not for any prestigious recognition. He’s not Brandon McCarthy. Miguel Cabrera doesn’t do anything to please the public. He’s not Albert Pujols. He’s not an ambassador. He’s a kick ass All-Star who tears the tar out of a baseball for a living and has been doing so his whole life. He won a World Series in his rookie season with the Florida (now Miami) Marlins. He doesn’t really know “failure” at the major league level.
So why does he need to do anything different this year? He was apparently working out super duper hard even before Jim Leyland called him up and asked him his thoughts on signing Prince Fielder and possibly moving to third base. I’m not going to pretend I know anything, I’m just a blogger, blogging from the confines of a comfortable blogging environment, I don’t have any ties with anyone on the team so I don’t know if Dave Dombrowski had a conversation with him at the end of the year, I don’t know of any possible motivations.
What I do know is that on the 2nd and 3rd of October in 2009, when the Tigers were on the verge of elimination from the playoffs, Cabrera spent that Friday night partying with players from the Chicago White Sox at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, Michigan after their game (not important, but just proof that he’s not the humblest of people, he called some kid who asked for his autograph “fat” that night at the bar and refused to sign). He arrived home at six in the morning Saturday, the day of the pivotal game itself, and was picked up by the police. I’m not going to speculate on the 911 phone call placed by his wife, about the alleged argument or any of those gossipy details. God knows enough of us have been in situations like that to know how nasty they can be. Dave Dombrowski picked Cabrera up himself and then allowed him to start that night. The result? The Tigers lost to the Sox 5-1 and Cabrera never hit the ball out of the infield as he went 0-4.
There was a ton of talk and speculation about Cabrera as a ballplayer and as a person that offseason. Tiger fans had a right to be angry; the front office had the fuel they needed to discipline him.
Yet, they didn’t. PR statements were made, Cabrera dedicated himself to sobriety and showed up to camp in pretty good shape. 2010 came and went. Cabrera lead the league in RBI and On Base Percentage. He had his greatest season to date (7.4 WAR) in the first year making $20MM from his eight year $152MM contract signed back in the spring of 2008. He finished 2nd in the MVP voting and most were convinced that the event the year before was an anomaly.
Then February 16, 2011 happened. I’m sure you know the details, watched the police video, and downloaded his smiling mug shot all while cursing his name and telling yourself that he has a drinking problem.
He did have one. That was an incredibly disturbing entrance into Spring Training 2011. Was he going to miss time? How was he going to be affected during the season? How would the club handle this one?
Well, as we all know, none of those questions were answered as he and Alex Avila’s dad made a public statement apologizing, and that was that. The questions were left unanswered, however 2011 came and went with no issues. Cabrera had his best year yet (7.8 WAR). He played every single game and led the league in Batting Average, Doubles, and On Base Percentage once again. He championed the Tigers into the ALCS, where they eventually lost in 6 games to the Texas Rangers.
Now, here we are, the end of the 2012 off season. Pitchers and Catchers officially report Monday even though Cabrera arrived in Lakeland, Florida today. We know he’s been working hard, we know he wants to play third base again. He certainly looks like he’s changed his life.
Yet, I say that with caution.
Miguel Cabrera is the most dynamic player in baseball, in my humble opinion. He could wind up with mountainous and historic career numbers before he retires and be could easily be considered one of the greatest players in the history of the game. He’s never been accused of steroids (God knows what the reaction would be if that ever happened). Regardless of whether or not he is publicly recognized as an MVP, he is the Tigers “Most Important Player”. He is the key to the team’s success, even with Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander on the roster.
He’s the straw that stirs the drink, if you don’t mind a Reggie Jackson reference, and his transformation this offseason is incredibly encouraging and something to pay attention too, not only this year, but as a building block for his career. Simply put, the question is: where does he go from here?
Now, excuse me while I make my weekly contribution to the Prince Fielder Trust Fund and pick up a Hot N’ Ready for dinner. It’s been a joy writing this BSoHL piece.