Cabrera back to first for WBC

DETROIT — Miguel Cabrera could be moving back to first base, but it won’t be for long or with the Tigers.

It appears Cabrera will be playing a good deal of his old position for the Venezuelan national team during the World Baseball Classic in March.

For Venezuela, it’s as simple as WBC manager Luis Sojo putting his best team on the field. Venezuela currently lists five infielders on its roster: Cabrera, San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval and middle infielders Elvis Andrus, Asdrubal Cabrera and Marco Scutaro.

Cabrera has played 598 games at first base and 541 at his current position of third base. Sandoval, the 2012 World Series MVP who hit three homers in Game 1 against the Tigers, has played 483 games at third and 63 at first.

Venezuela would likely be better off with Cabrera at first and Sandoval at third base because of Cabrera’s decided experience advantage at first.

“Whatever Sojo wants,” Cabrera said. “If he wants me to play first, I will play first. If he wants me at third, I will play third. I have no problem either way.”

The most popular topic of conversation during last week’s Tigers caravan and TigerFest was the team’s closer position, where Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski refers to rookie Bruce Rondon as the “leading candidate” to replace Jose Valverde.

During a question-and-answer session with fans at Comerica Park, Dombrowski was asked why he hadn’t pursued free-agent closer Brian Wilson, who is recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery.

“He wants to be a closer and he wants to be in that position,” Dombrowski said. “So we’re really not in a position to make him that kind of promise.”

Another TigerFest fan shouted, “Let’s keep JV in the D!” — meaning keeping Justin Verlander in Detroit after his contract expires.

Verlander said he hopes to maintain his high level of performance and gain entry to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He also said he would “love” to do that as a career-long Tiger, although details of any contract discussions are not known.

“Any time we have contract negotiations, it’s best to keep those behind the scenes,” Dombrowski said. “We would love to have him with us for a real long time.”

Dombrowski laughed about a comment Verlander made during the week.

“Justin said he’d probably play this game for nothing,” Dombrowski said. “I thanked him for saying that.”

Verlander, who turns 30 on Feb. 20, will receive $20 million both this season and in 2014, when his five-year, $80 million contract expires. It’s safe to say it will take between $150 million and $200 million to either extend his contract or get him to sign a new deal for six to eight years.

Dombrowski classified himself as a “traditional general manager” who uses the “statistical aspect” presented by sabermetricians.

But he did admit to wondering how seriously the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) statistic should be taken.

He recalled a conversation with former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa comparing the WAR ratings of Cabrera and Chicago Cubs shortstop Darwin Barney at one point during a recent season.

“I said, ‘Tony, do you know Darwin Barney is ranked ahead of Miguel Cabrera?’” Dombrowski said. “Now, no offense to Darwin Barney, but he’s not the player Miguel Cabrera is.”

Cabrera ranked sixth last season in WAR ratings despite being named the American League MVP and winning the first Triple Crown since 1967. Mike Trout led the majors with a 10.7 WAR, and was followed by Robinson Cano (8.2), Verlander (7.5), Buster Posey (7.2), Andrew McCutchen (7.0) and Cabrera (6.9).

Verlander takes golf almost as seriously as baseball. He lives in a golf-course community in Lakeland, Fla., and has a golf-course hole lined with sand traps as his main photo for his Twitter account — @JustinVerlander — along with this description of himself: “Pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and semi-pro golfer.”

He’s thrilled about playing in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Feb. 4-10, on the iconic courses on the Monterey Peninsula in northern California.

Pitchers and catchers report to Lakeland Feb. 12, so the timing is perfect. Verlander has been working out in Lakeland for weeks, but will take a brief break to experience something special.

“I am excited and nervous,” Verlander said. “What I am looking forward to most is just the atmosphere of a PGA event.”

Verlander will join other celebrities such as Bill Murray, Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly and Giants pitcher Matt Cain in pairing with PGA players. Verlander didn’t yet know who he’ll be playing with.

Tigers first base coach Rafael Belliard and his wife, Leonora, visited Thailand and China during the offseason.

“Me and my wife walked to the top of the Great Wall of China,” Belliard said. “We would get to what we thought was the top of the wall and find that there was another section of the wall to climb. It took us one hour to reach the top, but we made it.”

They reached the top but didn’t think of covering the length. That would be 5,500 miles, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.