He has ten consecutive years of 25+ homers and 100+ RBIs. He has placed in the MVP voting for ten straight years, winning the last two. He is first Triple Crown winner in over 45 years. He is the best player in baseball and the most valuable to his team: Miguel Cabrera. He is also the holder of the richest contract ever given in American professional sports. The argument was made that Angels outfielder Mike Trout’s stock just skyrocketed after the Cabrera deal. However, until Trout puts up consistent numbers like the Tigers first baseman, Cabrera is in a class all by himself.
He burst on the scene as a 20-year old rookie with the then-Florida Marlins. The raw talent received a mid-summer call-up and went on to drive in 62 runs in 314 at-bats. He provided a power presence behind Derek Lee and Mike Lowell. The defining moment for the eventual World Series champion Marlins was Cabrera homering off baseball legend Roger ‘Rocket’ Clemens.
Based purely on the numbers, Cabrera’s worth to the Tigers and the city of Detroit eclipses that of any player in baseball. Over the past two years, he has amassed 398 hits, 66 doubles, 88 homers and 276 RBIs while posting a robust .338 batting average and .620 slugging percentage. It is important to note Cabrera also plays in the pitcher-friendly Comerica Park where centerfield is nearly 420 feet from the plate. Power hitters are not supposed to have a high batting average but Cabrera is a once-in-a-generation player. His .417 OBP meant the hitters behind him usually were batting with Cabrera on base, giving them more RBI opportunities. Remove him from the lineup and the entire Tigers team suffers as his presence is irreplaceable. Even with dual aces Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, the Tigers are a .500 team without Cabrera and do not make the playoffs. With him, they are World Series contenders. Cabrera played through a lot of pain last season lifting the Tigers to the second round of the playoffs where they would eventually bow out to the Red Sox.
The lack of protection behind Cabrera is troubling. The Tigers should take example of LeBron James’ defection to South Beach. For years, James had clamored for a supporting cast before realizing he was not going to win a title with an aging Shaquille O’Neal and co. With Cabrera’s new $292 million deal, at least the Tigers have him locked up until retirement. But without many stars surrounding him, he could express frustration if the Tigers swoon. The organization had thought the Prince Fielder signing would bring a Manny Ramirez-David Ortiz type duo but Fielder never adjusted to the Detroit fans before he was dealt to the Rangers. Someone needs to step up for the Tigers to make a run in the postseason.
On the other hand, Trout has an easier route. If pitchers throw around him, they have to go up against former MVPs Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Angels Stadium is also much more hitter-friendly. While Trout has put up numbers comparable to Willie Mays’ first two full seasons, he still has a long ways to go before he reaches Cabrera’s status. In 296 games, Trout has 57 homers, 180 RBIs and 238 runs scored with a .324 batting average. Through 318 games, Cabrera had 66, 228, 207 and a .308 batting average. Trout does have 82 stolen bases so the potential is there. However, he needs to win a title. He needs to put up consistent numbers for a decade. He also needs to bring fans to the Ballpark. Prior to Cabrera’s arrival, the Tigers had seasons ranking 25th or below for attendance. They have not finished out of the top five since 2008. Even if Trout is lost for an extended time, the Angels still have a loaded roster to draw fans and win games.
Trout is a great player and should be for many more years. He has the chance to be remembered as one of the best of all-time. But that accolade is something Cabrera has already achieved. That is why he is deserving of the record-breaking deal and the standard for all athletes to look up to. He plays by the rules, respects the game, and is now officially the face of Major League Baseball.
All stats are courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/.