Miguel Cabrera doesn’t like to talk about his right knee.
On Thursday, however, the 39-year-old did not hesitate to discuss the issue. Some reporters approached Cabrera’s locker in the clubhouse after the Detroit Tigers DH sat out Wednesday’s series finale in Minneapolis. Realizing what had happened, the 20-year MLB veteran — a lock for the Baseball Hall of Fame — met them in the middle to talk about his health.
There is a chance that Cabrera is playing his last season.
He is undecided on his status for 2023.
“I have to talk to my agent, I have to talk to the GM (general manager Al Avila), I have to talk to everybody to see what the plan will be for next year,” Cabrera said. “Right now, we’re focused on today. We’re going to go day by day and see what happens. I’m not thinking about next year right now. I’m thinking about trying to finish healthy this year, and we’ll see.”
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Cabrera is owed $32 million by the Tigers for next season. He has spoken repeatedly over the past two seasons about his goal of winning a World Series with the Tigers and his plan to retire after his contract expires, but this time he would not commit to 2023.
“I’m not feeling well right now,” Cabrera said. “I’m trying to do everything I can to go out and play, but I’m not feeling very well right now.”
It was always a matter of “when,” not “if,” for the two-time MVP and his ailing right knee. He was diagnosed with a chronic right knee injury in 2019, but on the recommendation of four specialists, including sports physician Dr. James Andrews, he did not opt for surgery.
Cabrera’s knee pain would only worsen over time.
Everyone knew that.
“It’s a chronic thing where he’s going to have to live with it, and with treatment, you’re going to have to put him on the field,” Avila said in June 2019. “The bad news, obviously, is that it’s going to get worse as you go. You have to he stays in good shape, and we have to make sure we give him proper treatment and rest. It’s a combination. If you keep that up, we should be able to keep him productive on the field for the rest of his contract, so that’s our expectation and hope.”
Now, it’s time for Cabrera, the third player in MLB history to reach 3,000 hits, 500 home runs and 600 doubles, along with Albert Pujols (playing his final season in 2022) and the late Hank Aaron.
The tread wears thin on the tires.
“The last three weeks, it hurts more,” Cabrera said. “I’ve had that problem for the last three or four years. Right now, I’m trying to get more training. I have to deal with it.”
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The 12-time All-Star, including an “All-Star Legends Selection” to the 2022 edition of the Midsummer Classic, posted a .308 batting average through 70 games through July 6, just before being named to the squad despite just seven. doubles and three home runs.
Since then, Cabrera is batting .132 with two doubles and one home run over 20 games. Overall, he has a .271 average with nine doubles, four home runs, 36 RBIs, 23 walks and 82 strikeouts in 90 games.
Oftentimes, Cabrera takes funky swings and can’t rotate his right knee while trying to attack pitches in the batter’s box. Going without a healthy back knee means Cabrera, who averaged 33 home runs per season from 2004-16, is unable to generate power.
“I feel it when I swing,” Cabrera said. “When you see me hitting a lot of ground balls to my right side, it’s because of the pain. … I’m going to try to do more exercises to strengthen my quad or my (hamstring) or whatever around my knee. . We’ll see what happens.”
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The Tigers are taking a proactive approach to the situation, with Cabrera and manager AJ Hinch working together to determine his playing time for the rest of the season.
Cabrera and Hinch didn’t talk about 2023, but they mapped out the current home at Comerica Park, which runs from Aug. 4-11 with an off-day Monday. The Tigers play the Tampa Bay Rays through Sunday, then the Cleveland Guardians from Tuesday-Thursday. The Tigers will reevaluate Cabrera’s health before preparing their schedule for the second half of August.
“He’s hurting,” Hinch said. “He’s not moving great. He’s playing through the pain.”
Until further notice, Cabrera is scheduled to serve as the Tigers’ designated hitter every other day, and when he’s not in the starting lineup, he’ll be available to pinch-hit. The Tigers, as they have for several years, will monitor his performance on the base paths.
For now, the Tigers hope Cabrera can avoid the injured list.
He has been placed on the injured list once — a 10-day layoff in April 2021 due to a left biceps strain — since a ruptured left biceps tendon in June 2018 sent him to the 60-day injured list and ended his season.
“I don’t necessarily think that’s the solution,” Hinch said. “If this continues later in the month, I think we’ll have to think about it. But he can give us what he’s got.”
Cabrera loves to play in games, exemplified by his playful personality on the field, and spent the 2020 campaign begging the organization to let him return to first base, which Hinch — unlike former manager Ron Gardenhire — allowed in 44 of his 130 games last year. season .
But Cabrera didn’t work at first base in 2022. He willingly gave up his infield spot to 22-year-old rookie Spencer Torkelson, who proudly took the field as the Tigers’ Opening Day first baseman. The Tigers demoted Torkelson to Triple-A Toledo in mid-July, but when that happened, Cabrera didn’t advocate for a return to first base.
He also didn’t battle missing playing time in the final two months of this season due to his lingering knee injury. He said he was willing to give up some of his at-bats to younger players so the Tigers could “see what we got for next year.”
“I don’t want to hurt the team,” Cabrera said. “I don’t want to put myself in a bad position. I’m not performing, so I’m okay with that. I understand that. This is always a problem that I’ve had with my knee, so that’s okay. I love this team .I don’t want to hurt this team.
“You have to understand your body. I understand my body and my position in this team. I’m still going to work, and every time they give me a chance to play, I’m going to go out and do my job. That’s the bottom line, and that’s what matters.”
All signs point to the fact that the end is near for Cabrera, one of the best players to ever wear the old English “D” on his chest. When baseball’s most recent Triple Crown winner decides to hang up his cleats remains a mystery.
But Cabrera will eventually play his final game.
Maybe sooner than expected.
“I think that’s a big step for him and also a big step for any athlete who starts talking about the inability to physically do certain things,” Hinch said. “I wouldn’t say it sounded the alarm, but it certainly made it a more open topic that we talked about behind closed doors.
“I hate that he’s not feeling great. He’s been through so much pain in his career that we probably can’t even fathom, but this time, I think it’s convinced him to talk openly about it and make sure we do the right thing.”