Maybe he's not the slickest third-sacker. I understand he wants to play there. Good for him to offer to "take one for the team." Perhaps Professor Leyland doesn't want to upset his star by telling him to hold his horses. Our boys just don't have a better DH than either Cabrera or Fielder.
I say let them test Cabrera at third in spring training and maybe in the first few series of the year. If it's obvious he can't do it, then the boss could say that we need him at DH. (I doubt anyone can be that good.) Save face, platoon Cabrera and Fielder at first and DH, and Inge at third. The possibilities boggle the mind, but there's no reason to feel Miggy needs to be stuck at third.
Miguel Cabrera takes grounders in '08. Five errors in 14 games ended the experiment.
JULIAN H. GONZALEZ/Detroit Free Press
Miguel Cabrera said he was moving back to third base to make room on the Tigers' infield for free-agent signee Prince Fielder at first base. In order to play third effectively, Cabrera must lose weight, former major league infielder Harold Reynolds said Wednesday.
"He's got a lot of work to do if you ask me, starting with his weight," said Reynolds, an analyst with MLB Network. "The size he's at right now at first base, he's going to have to lose a lot of weight to be a little more nimble.
"I'm not as optimistic as others might be (that he can play third). I still think he might end up in leftfield. He doesn't have the luxury of standing right by the base at first and catching balls thrown to him. He's going to have to get back to being the young athlete that he was. At third, he's going to have to charge in on bunts, range to his left on balls and move around and be a lot more nimble."
But Reynolds, who won three Gold Gloves at second base, added:
"Put this down for sure: He's a special athlete, and this deal with Prince doesn't get done if you don't think Cabrera can move. I think he can move. I'm just saying that if he's going to move, these are the things he has to do.
"I'm not saying he's one of these guys in a softball league playing first base. He's a pretty good, nimble athlete at first. But if he is going to play on the other parts of the field, he's going to have to be in better physical condition."
Will more punch overshadow less D?
Steve Phillips, the former general manager of the New York Mets, said Wednesday that he loved Cabrera and Fielder hitting back-to-back in the Tigers' order. But like Reynolds, Phillips expressed concern whether Cabrera could play third base well enough to justify a move there.
"Typically, if you sign someone to a $214-million contract, it answers questions and solves big problems," Phillips said of Fielder's deal. "It does not tend to create other questions and problems. This tends to do that.
"The big wild card is, do you believe Miguel Cabrera can play third base? I personally have some real doubts about it. He's got a .951 career fielding percentage at third base. He's made 48 errors there in 387 games."
Say Cabrera had a .951 fielding percentage playing third base regularly this past season. In that case, he would have ranked 14th among 20 players who played at least 100 games at third base.
Phillips, who co-hosts a morning show on Sirius XM, said the most challenging play for Cabrera would be the bunt: charging it, bending over, fielding it bare-handed and throwing off-balance to first.
"Teams are going to challenge him with bunts every game he's at third," Phillips said.
In 2008, Cabrera, listed at 6-feet-4 and 240 pounds, played 14 games at third for the Tigers. He committed five errors, posted a .900 fielding percentage and was moved to first base.
Fielder, like Cabrera, isn't an elite first baseman. Neither ranked anywhere near the top 10 defensive first basemen in the majors last season according to The Fielding Bible.
"What complicates it for me is that it's one thing to say you are sacrificing some defense for offense when you put Cabrera at third base," Phillips said. "You're already doing that at first base with Fielder. I don't know what second base is going to be for the Tigers. Jhonny Peralta in my mind does not have great range at short. He may have played a little better last year. I don't love him at shortstop."
As of Wednesday night, the Tigers hadn't announced Fielder's signing, which was pending a physical. They do not comment on transactions until all the T's are crossed and I's dotted. But baseball continued to buzz about Fielder's nine-year contract worth around $214 million. Phillips, the product of De La Salle High, said of his hometown team's new 1-2 punch: "Those two guys back-to-back -- wow."
Reynolds said: "They will be scary and dangerous and fun to watch for years to come."
Cabrera, 28, now figures to hit directly in front of Fielder, 27. Phillips pointed out that Ryan Braun hit in front of cleanup man Fielder for Milwaukee last year and won the National League's Most Valuable Player Award. The Brewers won the National League Central and, Phillips noted, weren't a great defensive team.
And, you ask, how many intentional walks did Braun receive last season?
Which equaled his combined total for the previous two seasons.
That's right -- in the past three seasons with Fielder hitting directly behind him, Braun has drawn four intentional walks. Imagine if Cabrera received that few. He had 22 intentional walks last season, when usually he had Victor Martinez behind him. The year before, Cabrera drew 32 intentional walks.
One of the most famous baseball trivia questions is the one about how many intentional walks Roger Maris received the season he hit 61 homers to break Babe Ruth's record. The answer is zero. Mickey Mantle hit directly behind him.
Looking ahead to the Tigers with Fielder, listed at 5-11, 275, at first base and Cabrera at third, Phillips said, "The offense is probably improved more than the defense is negatively impacted. But I will not be completely shocked if it goes in the other direction."
If the Tigers decide Cabrera can't play third base, they could put him at DH this season. But Martinez, who was supposed to be the full-time DH until felled by his torn knee ligament, is due to return for 2013. When the 2013 season begins, Martinez will be 34 and will have two years left on his contract.
"To find a trade for Martinez would not be hard," Phillips said. "People still love him."
If Cabrera can play third adequately, it leaves room for Martinez. But it raises another question.
Say the Tigers lead by one run going to the top of the ninth and Cabrera is the third hitter due up if there's a bottom of the ninth.
Would manager Jim Leyland take out Cabrera and put in Brandon Inge or Don Kelly as his defensive replacement?
"That's going to be the challenge," Reynolds said, laughing. "I'm glad Leyland's got to make that decision, not me."
More Details: Not-so-hot corner?
Miguel Cabrera has played third base in 387 games. A closer look:
YEAR TEAM GAMES E FLD%
2003 FLA 34 1 .986
2005 FLA 29 2 .971
2006 FLA 157 17 .957
2007 FLA 153 23 .941
2008 DET 14 5 .900
Totals -- 387 48 .951
More Details: Where's MIGGY?
Miguel Cabrera has played four positions in the field during his nine-year career. A closer look:
POSITION GAMES E FLD%
First base 596 42 .992
Third base 387 48 .951
Leftfield 247 10 .976
Rightfield 100 7 .962
Totals 1,330 107 .984