It’s time for Tigers to consider making Cabrera a designated hitter

Has the strain of playing 150+ games every year in the field caught up with Miguel Cabrera?

Has the strain of playing 150+ games every year in the field caught up with Miguel Cabrera?

The Detroit Tigers have righted their ship, and now it’s time to protect the team’s future while it sets sail for a World Series berth this year. Dave Dombrowski worked his magic again, wrangling Jose Iglesias from the Boston Red Sox at the trade deadline and just before the PED suspension deadline.

The trade was a real coup: getting a talented young defensive shortstop (who may not be a bad hitter either) for nothing more than Avisail Garcia and Bryan Villareal. Villareal has already failed in several trials, and Matt Tuiasosopo has proven he can do what Garcia was going to do. Garcia has a bright future, but Iglesias has a chance to be a genuine star.

Not only do the Tigers now have a shortstop to fill the hole created by Jhonny Peralta’s suspension, but for next year and beyond too. And the Tiger pitchers, especially Doug Fister and Rick Porcello, are going to love seeing how many runs a shortstop with great range saves them. They won’t miss Peralta in the field, and they might not really miss him at bat, either, especially if you believe this season’s career-best performance was PED-enhanced.

Amazingly, the Tigers have reeled off win after win while Miguel Cabrera has been on the bench nursing a left hip injury. He’s only played a handful of games in the two weeks the Tigers have turned it around, with a strained lower abdomen also nagging him.

All that this has proven is that, even without Miggy, the Tigers can beat bad teams — since they forged their summer hot streak playing only the White Sox, the Phillies, and the slumping Nationals, all sub-.500 mediocrities.

But now that the Tigs have fixed their shortstop problem, they should resolve to protect their franchise player. Cabrera is a once-in-a-generation talent at the plate. So doesn’t the long-term health of the franchise require protecting him as much as possible from injury?

You can’t keep Miggy from swinging the bat or running the bases, but you can keep him from aggravating injuries by playing the field, which appears to be happening more and more as he grimaces while corralling a grounder. As Cabrera enters his 30s, it’s time to make him a permanent DH.

I don’t propose this because of his defensive deficiencies. Regardless of how you evaluate his defense, it’s certainly overwhelmed by his contribution at the plate. That’s not the issue here.

From here on, if I were the boss of the Tigers, I’d never let Cabrera go out on defense. Yes, there will be a cost. Victor Martinez, a good DH, will have to become a valuable pinch-hitter, a useful but diminished role. The Tigers will also need a third baseman. But the alternative, having Miggy not in the lineup at all, is worse. Even if his defensive duties aren’t the main cause of his aches and pains, roaming the hot corner certainly isn’t helping him stay healthy.

The fallout from such a move doesn’t have to be disastrous. It’s time to call up Nick Castellanos from Toledo anyway. Castellanos started out as a third baseman and was moved to the outfield only because was he was blocked by Cabrera. Put him back at third base in Detroit.

I’d move Iglesias to the No. 2 spot in the lineup, drop Hunter to fifth, and put Castellanos sixth. Not really a downgrade for the lineup.
For next season, look to see if you can trade V-Mart for something of value (Outfield help? A bullpen arm? A prospect?). And if Castellanos is a bust at third, you can gamble on re-signing Peralta and putting him there, which is where he belongs anyway.

It’s true, the Tigers seem more potent with Cabrera at third and Martinez in the lineup. But that’s the case only if Cabrera can stay in the lineup. Why risk the chance of injury to the best Tiger hitter since Ty Cobb?

If anyone was made to DH, it’s Miggy. That’s where he’s going to end up anyway, but now is the time to bite the bullet. If the Tigers don’t do so, they are flirting with disaster.

With Iglesias and Castellanos instead of Peralta and Martinez, the Tigers may actually be a more well-rounded team. They’ll have their best hitter in the lineup every day, a better defense, and a much-needed big bat on the bench to pinch-hit late in the game. What’s wrong with that?

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About Michael Betzold

Author of Queen of Diamonds: The Tiger Stadium Story and other books, former Detroit Free Press reporter Michael Betzold always wore #4 to honor his first hero, the "Sunday Punch," Charlie "Paw Paw" Maxwell.