Wednesday, April 9, 2008

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Cabrera?

The Detroit News' Lynn Henning notes that, among their many, many other problems, the Tigers' infield defense is pretty atrocious. Among his suggestions about how to address it:

Now that Miguel Cabrera's contract is locked in through 2015, have a chat with him. See if he might be interested in working at a different position once in awhile. Would he mind camping in left field periodically? Or, filling in as a designated hitter on occasion? . . . The basis for asking Cabrera to consider a different position is this: Brandon Inge is a better third baseman by about 3,000 percent . . . Cabrera has disturbingly limited range to his left. Edgar Renteria can't compensate for balls that get past Cabrera and into the hole.
I have only seen the Tigers play once this year, but I'll take Henning's word that even the slimmed-down Cabrera has issues at the hot corner (the fat version in Miami was certainly not very good). So what do you do? Sure, you can plug Inge in there (at least once Granderson returns) and move Cabrera to left "periodically" as Henning suggests, but Miguel is going to be in Detroit until 2015, and they need something a little more permanent than "periodical."

Thankfully this is Jim Leyland's problem, not mine, but it did get me to thinking about what happens to guys who get moved off third base while still in their prime. Here -- thanks to's wonderful Play Index feature -- are some fun lists:

Guys who have played 400 games at both 3B and LF (Cabrera has 379 and 248, respectively):

Harmon Killebrew
Gary Sheffield
Sid Gordon
Bob Bailey
Tony Phillips
Pete Rose
Howie Shanks

Sheffield is the obvious inspiration here, if for no other reason than that he's in the same dugout as Cabrera and can offer some pointers. But let us remember that Sheffield was originally a shortstop -- albeit a bad one -- and, in my opinion, a much better overall athlete than Cabrera is. Killebrew may be a nice comp in that (a) he was stocky; and (b) the vast majority of his time in left came when he was around Cabrera's age. He was moved back to the corners at age 29 in order to save his legs (and to accommodate Don Michner) however, got injured that year, and never went back to the outfield on a regular basis.

Howie Shanks was a Deadballer, and Rose, Phillips, and Bailey were more athletic than Cabrera is. Chipper Jones falls just short on this list, but his move to left was something of a disaster for his health and, to a lesser extent, his bat. If you expand it to all outfield positions you get guys like Bobby Bonilla, Larry Parrish, and Hubie Brooks. There are a lot of similarities to those guys and Cabrera, although Miguel obviously has a better bat.

If it's me? Given how much less of an athlete Cabrera is than the Pete Roses of the world, and given how much more valuable his bat is to the Tigers than any of these guys' bats were to their teams (possibly save Killebrew), I'd be wary of risking Miguel and his hamstrings in the outfield. It killed Chipper for a couple of years, and if it killed Cabrera in the same way, the Tigers would be toast.

Here's another list. Guys who have played 400 games at both 1B and 3B:

Pete Rose
Tony Perez
George Brett
Darrell Evans
Harmon Killebrew
Joe Torre
Todd Zeile
Jim Thome
Richie Hebner
Dick Allen
Enos Cabell
Dave Magadan
Jeff King

There's Killebrew and Rose again. Perez, Cabell, Zeile, and Magadan were leaner, more athletic types than Cabrera. Allen and Thome strike me as pretty good physical comps (Allen was thinner, but Cabrera doesn't smoke), and I suppose if they could make the move without killing themselves or others, so too could Cabrera. There's less of an injury risk at first than in the outfield and given the possibility that some of that famous baby fat could return, it may be a better place for him to be long term.

But should he play there? While first base has long been the dumping ground for guys who couldn't hack it elsewhere, it's almost always, as the above-list shows, a temporary or end-of-career thing. First base is not for everyone. While it's not shortstop, it is hard over there and quite awkward for the uninitiated. Contrary to popular belief, you can't simply hide an inherently bad defensive player there for more than a season or two, and Cabrera has the better part of a decade in front of him in Detroit. If it's me? I make him my DH yesterday and just leave him alone so he can get in touch with his inner-Papi.

Unlike me, however, the Tigers live in the real world and have Gary Sheffield signed through 2009, which means that unless Sheff falls off a cliff, Cabrera is going to have to gut it out at third, with Leyland applying liberal doses of Inge as needed.


Dre said...

Like it was some big mystery that Cabrera was a butcher with the glove when the Tigers got him.

Peter said...

Wouldn't the most obvious solution have been to move Carlos Guillen to third and Cabrera to first from the very start? Guillen moved to first because he is supposedly fragile, but the number of games he's played in the past two years says otherwise.

The idea of moving two guys in-season is pretty unappealing, though. The time to do it would have been this spring. As dre said, the Tigers didn't see this coming?

Anonymous said...


And if you reduce the bar of games played at 3B before a move to 1B, you come up with Jason Giambi. Cabrera is a more natural hitter than Giambi, but they are similar in athleticism and build. I can see 1B in the future for Cabrera, and DH.

Jake said...

No, the most obvious solution is Inge to 3rd, and Cabrera to LF. TODAY.

The Tigers have a young rookie making a splash right now in Clete Thomas who can play an average+ CF until Grandy gets back, and LF Jacque Jones has looked lost at the plate (yes, so has everyone else... haha).

I've watched every Detroit game so far this year, and Cabrera just can't cut it at 3rd. I'm worried a little about Guillen at 1st, but he's bound to improve.

After all, Joe Morgan said that Carlos is a future Gold Glove winner at 1st, so there!