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Miguel Cabrera's Big Contract: "He's Babe Ruth, You Can Pay Him That"

Miguel Cabrera Game 5 ALDS home run

Warning: the following might contain more than a few statements that can derisively (or accurately) be labeled as “hot takes.” So be it. In this particular case it’s mostly the fan (what’s left of it) inside me speaking. Apologies, too, for not showing my work in the form of a graph or pie chart. I’ll let everybody in on a little secret: breaking down the math and minutiae of a contract isn’t what made me a fan of baseball in the first place.

Yet here we sit.

On Thursday, coming back from New York City on the Metro North train, Twitter provided me with entertainment in the form Miguel Cabrera’s big-money contract extension with the Tigers. Jon Heyman got the ball rolling and once the facts and figures began to trickle in (8 years, $248 million and potentially worth a total of $352 million if a couple vesting options kick in) it was only a matter of time for the instantaneous backlash toward the deal. Really all it takes is one or two “anointed,” for lack of a better term, online voices to criticize something and the Twitter hive-mind springs to life, patting itself on the back and the narrative is set.

Since it’s 2014 and nothing ever gets a chance to gestate, the Cabrera contract is immediately the WORST THING EVAR … at least until the next big contract, because rest assured Cabrera’s time atop baseball’s all-important Average Annual Value mountain is temporary. Records are meant to be broken, well maybe not in baseball (re: Barry Bonds), but eventually someone named Mike Trout will eclipse Cabrera’s AAV, which reportedly tops $31 million per year. Write it in pen. It’s the safest bet in sports: Mike Trout’s next contract will have a higher value than Miguel Cabrera’s.

As a fan, specifically a Tigers fan who is convinced he’ll never see the team win another World Series, it’s a little less black-and-white.

Allow me to perhaps crack a smile for once … is that still permissible? Although the Tigers might  will regret the deal a decade down the road, there are much worse things than locking up one of the best offensive players, who turns 31 on April 18, to what is essentially a lifetime contract. Perhaps Cabrera’s career — by pure coincidence — mirrors Albert Pujols after he moved from St. Louis to Anaheim. It is entirely within the realm of possibility. But it’s Mike Ilitch’s money and it’s hard to begrudge an 84-year-old man pouring money into the team trying to win a World Series right now. Most fans starved for a championship would trade places, right? It’s one thing to always sell the future through the farm system, but Cabrera is a proven commodity and reigning two-time American League MVP.

Again, writing as a f-a-n, I’ll take the next 4-5 years of Cabrera at MVP offensive levels and worry about what he does when he’s 41-years-old later. It’s very possible in 2024, given MLB’s skyrocketing salaries, that $31 million won’t seem as crippling as it does now. Most of my life, 2006 aside, the Tigers have been terrible. I’ll take Cabrera and the 517-456 record he’s help compile and three straight trips to the ALCS since 2008 compared to the dark days of Bobby Higginson and Dean Palmer.

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Anyways, there appear to be three main complaints/issues about the Cabrera extension. For one, it likely ensures the club won’t be able to re-sign Max Scherzer in the winter. If reports are true that Scherzer wanted a contract worth at least $25 million for 7-8 years, it seems fairly simple: take the everyday player over the pitcher, unless said pitcher’s name is Clayton Kershaw.

Next there was talk Thursday about owners being “disgusted” Ilitch threw baseball’s pay scale out of whack by signing Cabrera when he was still under contract through the 2015 season. Pardon me if I don’t shed any tears for the 29 other — rich — owners in baseball. Someone was going to set the new AAV mark eventually. Players across the bigs should be high-fiving each other since Cabrera’s deal helps raise all salaries in the long run. (Side note: baseball’s finances, regardless of World Series ratings, remain strong. Very strong.)

Detroit Tigers v Toronto Blue Jays

Finally seemingly every story about Cabrera immediately points to the contract for Pujols (10 years, $240 million) and Alex Rodriguez (10 years, $275 million). Those are fair examples. Pujols has been a flop with the Angels while the Yankees might have been better served burning down half of the Bronx than handing Rodriguez that contract back in 2007 when he was 32.

Even so there plenty of other long-term deals that deserve to be placed under the microscope just as much. The Reds inked Joey Votto to a 13-year deal worth $263 million. The quiet Canadian will pocket $25 million in 2023 when he’s 39. Robinson Cano — at 31 and older than Cabrera — received 10 years and $250 million from the Mariners. It’s not a 1o-year deal but the smaller-market Twins inked Joe Mauer to an eight-year deal worth $184 million and he’s already had to move from catcher to first base, although his deal ends when he’s 35 not (potentially) 42.

Most long-term deals in baseball tend to shade toward disaster status toward the end. Derek Jeter’s earlier 10-year contract is an exception. Evan Longoria’s 15-year-old contract, too, will probably pan out although he signed it right out of the minors as the Rays bought out his arbitration years immediately. Still, the long-term extensions to players like Matt Kemp (8 years, $214); Buster Posey (9 years, $164) and Prince Fielder (9 years, $214) will end up albatrosses toward the end.

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The Tigers are smiling today, but will likely rue the later years of Cabrera’s deal. The track record of players declining in their late 30s and early 40s is fairly concrete and Cabrera was slowed by a hernia injury in the latter part of 2013, perhaps the first sign of cracks in his superstar foundation. The Pujols example is hard to shake out of your mind.

If I were studying for my CPA license, the ins-and-outs of the Cabrera contract would fascinate me. Here’s the crazy thing, as a fan I’m much more interested watching Cabrera hit four times a game for six months the next couple years than I am charting the decline of players over 38 years old. If this deal means he’ll never play for the Red Sox or Yankees, even better.

Perhaps the craziest part of the Cabrera deal came from my dad. Sorry for dusting off an old Bill Simmons trope but I decided to call my dad and tell him the news since he doesn’t follow Twitter. My dad tends to be of the belief players should he paid roughly $60,000 per year on one-year contracts — all of them. When I told him the deal would pay over $31 million per season, he wasn’t upset and said something along the lines of, “He’s Babe Ruth, you can pay him that.”

Here’s hoping, as a desperate Tigers fan, my dad’s kneejerk reaction trumps all the baseball actuary tables.

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