Miguel Cabrera has found his baseball home
Miguel Cabrera figured out the same thing Derek Jeter did — and something Albert Pujols did not.
When you find an organization that becomes your home — and when you thrive in a city that worships you — it makes no sense to see how much greener the grass is on the other side.
Cabrera agreed to an eight-year contract extension on Friday with the Detroit Tigers that carries over the two years remaining on the contract he signed in 2008. That provides him 10 guaranteed years at a baseball-record $292 million with the Tigers, who have vested options for two additional years should Cabrera finish in the top 10 in MVP voting at the end of the new deal.
I feel comfortable here. We’ve committed to a lot of good years together.
So he followed the lead of Jeter, who signed with the New York Yankees for 10 years at $189 million in 2001 and has since signed two other contracts that will enable him to retire with the team at the end of 2014.
Cabrera also learned from Pujols, whom Cabrera idolizes for his hitting skills and work ethic.
Pujols felt slighted by the St. Louis Cardinals and left for a 10-year deal worth $240 million with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He’s experienced a significant production drop off and injuries in the two seasons since leaving St. Louis, where he was revered.
Once a player becomes the face of a franchise, there are huge uncertainties involved in leaving. That wasn’t a chance Cabrera wanted to take.
He was asked to explain why.
"For a lot of reasons," said Cabrera, who will be 41 when the guaranteed portion of his contract is realized. "I feel comfortable here. We’ve committed to a lot of good years together.
"The last three years, we’ve been in the playoffs. This is going to be a great team for many years to come."
Cabrera was seated behind a table at a press conference in Lakeland, Fla., addressing reporters with manager Brad Ausmus to his right and general manager and president Dave Dombrowski to his left. Cabrera smiled often and praised his long-time friends in the organization: owner Mike Ilitch, Dombrowski and assistant GM Al Avila — the man who signed him for the Florida Marlins when he was 16.
Cabrera beamed when noting them and broke into hearty laughter when talking about his "new manager," Ausmus. That’s a laugh Cabrera has when he’s happiest.
Ausmus’ favorable impression on Cabrera could have been the final piece in the puzzle for him. He loved playing for Jim Leyland, but knew the "Skipper" was working on one-year deals and close to retiring.
"They make you feel comfortable here," Cabrera said. "They make you feel like this is your house. This is the place you want to be.
"I’ve got my house in Detroit, too. We have the great fans in Detroit. We’ve got a great ballpark, great stadium. I love to play in Detroit. I want to be a part of the Detroit family for a long time.
"We want to win a World Series for Detroit. That’s our goal. We want to make it happen, and we are going to work for that."
The Tigers have done everything but win the World Series with Cabrera, who in 2012 became the game’s first Triple Crown winner in 45 years and repeated as the American League’s MVP in 2013, when he won a third consecutive batting title.
Cabrera hit .348, 44 homers and had 137 RBIs last season, when he played half the games with painful injuries. Core-muscle-repair surgery corrected those issues, and Dombrowski noted that the time was right to sign this "rare player" for the duration.
He said that Cabrera has a chance to become "one of the greatest players of all time," and with a sense of awe, rattled off the names of Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron — whose numbers are within Cabrera’s reach.
Carbera, who turns 31 on April 18, is five hits away from 2,000, and has 365 career homers and 1,260 RBIs.
If Cabrera can duplicate his statistics from the last 10 years over the next decade, he’ll total 718 homers, 2,458 RBIs and 3,906 hits. That would allow him to eclipse the career record of 2,297 RBIs held by Aaron. Cabrera would also pass Ruth (714) in homers, leaving him behind only Barry Bonds (762) and Aaron (755). Just Pete Rose (4,256) and Ty Cobb (4.189) would have more hits.
Even if his stats drop off near the end of his career, Cabrera — should he stay healthy — is almost a certainty for 600 homers, 2,000 RBIs and 3,500 hits. Each of those totals would easily be in the top 10 in the game’s history.
"We want him to be a Detroit Tiger when he goes into the Hall of Fame," Dombrowski said.
Cabrera could very well enter Cooperstown some day with Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, who also said "yes" to Detroit with a deal that keeps the perennial Cy Young Award challenger with the team through 2019.
Cabrera has found comfort here, which is remarkable in some ways.
He plays the majority of his game at spacious Comerica Park, which could end up costing him more than 100 homers during the 16 years he’s expected to play in Detroit.
Then there’s the cold weather, which the Venezuelan who lives in South Florida disdains. Cabrera approached me in the dugout on one cold day and asked, "How do you live here?"
Still, he’s comfortable here because of the people he mentioned and the organization’s commitment to winning.
His father and friends are allowed pre- and post-game access to the clubhouse, dugout and field. He’s played with cherished friends and mentors like Magglio Ordonez, Victor Martinez and Carlos Guillen. Cabrera also has found like-minded contemporaries such as Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson and Alex Avila.
In the end, Cabrera didn’t need to become a member of the Yankees or Dodgers and play on the biggest stage to be happy. He was fully aware of all the money and fame that could be had in New York or Los Angeles, but he also knew he would be leaving a comfort zone that feels so good.
He’s found his baseball home.
"I want to be here," Cabrera said. "I want to stay here. I want to be a Tiger."