Justin Verlander’s gone. So too are Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez. Ian Kinsler’s a prime trade candidate this offseason, and can test free agency at the end of next season even if the Tigers hang onto him for some reason. Likewise, Victor Martinez’s 2018 campaign will likely be his last in Detroit, if the Tigers don’t ship him elsewhere before that. That leaves Miguel Cabrera as the last man standing from the Tigers powerhouse that won four straight AL Central crowns from 2011 through 2014.
Figuring out what to do with Cabrera overshadows all of those other decisions. For starters, there’s the money. Every year from 2018 through 2021, Cabrera will make $30 million. That number rises to $32 million in 2022 and 2023. If he finishes in the top-10 in 2023 MVP, his 2024 and 2025 club options ($30 million apiece) become guaranteed; otherwise, the Tigers can buy him out for 2024 at another $8 million. Even if Cabrera’s only declined a bit from his prime at that point, that’s a bigger financial burden than most teams will be willing to take.
The bigger problem, though, is performance—and by extension, age. We don’t have to wonder when Cabrera might start to slip, because his decline is well underway already. He’s batting just .250/.333/.404 this season, the worst showing of his career. On a park-adjusted basis, Cabrera’s 2017 performance is right in line with the murderers’ row of Danny Valencia, Yolmer Sanchez, and Max Kepler. Cabrera’s dealt with injuries this year, and batted a very Cabrera-like .316/.393/.563 last year, so it’s possible that his 2017 performance is a fluke, and that he’ll return to all-world status in 2018. But he’s also 34 years old, making $30 million-plus a year through his 40th birthday. The Tigers won’t be motivated to trade a franchise player and future Hall of Famer unless the return is huge, and no other team will be motivated to trade for Cabrera unless he can get back to raking and Detroit picks up a big chunk of his contract.
So while the Tigers embark on their rebuilding efforts, one of the most recognizable and impactful players the team has ever had will likely be the last (old) man standing.