Detroit Tigers star and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera entered last season with a chance at two major milestones — 500 home runs and 3,000 hits.
To reach them, he would’ve needed 23 home runs and 185 hits, lofty expectations for him at his advanced age and considering that he’d hit just 31 home runs in his previous 304 games entering last season.
The COVID-19 pandemic took that chase out of his hands, as the MLB season was shortened to 60 games, making it impossible for him to reach those milestones in 2020. But, after a relatively healthy and solidly productive reduced season, it did set him up nicely to accomplish both this year. If he does, he’d become the seventh player in MLB history to hit both marks, joining Hank Aaron, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Willie Mays, Rafael Palmeiro, and Eddie Murray.
He played in 57 of Detroit’s 58 games last season (two were canceled due to the pandemic) and hit .250 with 10 home runs and 51 hits. Those numbers put him 10 home runs shy of 500 and 134 hits shy of 3,000.
The home run mark should be easily do-able over the course of a full season if he stays healthy. He’s averaged over 10 per year over his last four seasons, and that includes last seasons shortened schedule and the 2018 season when he played in just 38 games.
The hits number will be more difficult but still attainable. If he matches what he did in his last full season in 2019, he’ll get there. He had 139 hits in 137 games that season.
The Tigers are still in the midst of a massive rebuild and are likely to once again be in or near last place much of the season. So, Cabrera’s chase of history might be the only interesting part of their season as they continue to try to develop young talent. Cabrera himself is all-in on the chase.
“We can do both,” Cabrera told ESPN. “I hope I can get to 500, 3,000 this year. It’s one of my goals this year. Mentally, I feel good. I feel mentally strong. I’m trying to go day by day and trying to play hard.”
Cabrera is one of his generation’s greatest players, a former MVP and Triple Crown winner, a World Series champion, and a player who made the ball jump off his bat with ease from the second he emerged as a precocious teenager on a Florida Marlins team that came out of nowhere to win a World Series in 2003. Cabrera hitting a home run off of Hall of Famer Roger Clemens in game four is a pretty incredible early-career highlight, and it set the tone for what else he would achieve after getting traded from Florida to the Detroit Tigers.
But, as age and injuries have caught up with Cabrera, his production has deteriorated. He’s struggled to stay healthy in recent seasons, and stuck on a Tigers team that is expected to be among the worst in baseball for the foreseeable future, there hasn’t been the added motivation of chasing a late-career championship to help will him toward some personal milestones that are within reach.
Cabrera’s contract also likely means he’s not going anywhere. The Tigers signed him to a 10-year extension in 2014 when he was already 31-years-old, and he still has three years remaining on that contract. He’d surely prefer to be playing out his final years with a chance at a championship, and the Tigers would definitely love to be out from under his massive contract for a player not capable of producing at a superstar level anymore, but neither of those things is likely to happen.
Still, Cabrera seems to be taking this chase seriously. Prior to the pandemic shutting down spring training last season, he’d showed up to camp in February in shape and lost a significant amount of weight, which is likely what helped him get through last season healthy. He also kept that motivation when spring training was shutdown. When workouts resumed in Detroit last summer, Cabrera had maintained his slimmer physique.
Cabrera kept in shape over the offseason and once again entered spring training in good shape. He even posted videos of himself fielding ground balls on social media in a not-so-subtle hint to the front office that he’d like to be more than just a full-time designated hitter this season.
The team has a new manager this season in A.J. Hinch and a commitment to have open competitions at the infield positions. Cabrera playing at DH is designed to preserve his health, but if giving him occasional starts at first base help improve his mental approach to the game, the Tigers aren’t opposed to it.
“I think A.J. is open-minded to give him some innings at first base,” general manager Al Avila told MLive. “From a health perspective, he’s really worked hard and hopefully he does stay healthy. If he does, he does have the potential to continue to be a productive player.”
Cabrera has a reputation for starting seasons strong, so a good push in April and May could position him well to eclipse both marks this season. And if some of Detroit’s prospects develop well enough to provide him with more protection in the lineup, he’ll have an even better chance at making history.