When Miguel Cabrera trots out to first base for the Detroit Tigers on opening day of 2014 it will mark the first time he has started at that position since Oct. 15, 2011 when Tigers fell in Game 6 of the 2011 ALCS to the Texas Rangers.
After the 2011 season, Victor Martinez, the Tigers’ designated hitter, would haplessly injure his knee during an offseason workout which ultimately caused him to miss the entire 2012 season. The Tigers then made the impulsive and reactionary decision to sign Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million deal which consequently bumped Cabrera to third. Now that Fielder has been traded to the Rangers, Cabrera will be moving back to the position he had diligently been working on mastering from 2008 to 2011.
In sharp contrast to the announcement that Cabrera would be moving back to third base, which was made two years ago, Tigers fans are relieved rather than concerned.
The learning curve should not be very steep for Cabrera due to the fact that he has already logged 598 regular-season games at first base. Furthermore, the fact that Cabrera played a much better third base than anyone expected him to over the past two seasons should give his confidence a nice little boost as well. Cabrera should be thinking that first base will be a piece of cake for him after he proved to himself and everyone else that he could tackle the hot corner when virtually no one thought he would be able to.
That being said, the statistics do show that Cabrera is a better defender at first base even though he was better at third than most expected. His lifetime fielding percentage at first is .992 compared to his .956 career fielding percentage at third base. Interestingly enough, Fielder’s career fielding percentage at first base is also .992, but he has logged more than twice as many games at first in his career than Cabrera.
In all likelihood, the Tigers will probably get about the same type of defense at first base from Cabrera next season that Fielder provided last year. Cabrera most likely won’t be challenging Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals for a Gold Glove, but he should be solid over there and be an average to slightly above average first baseman. Cabrera will probably make somewhere around 10 errors, as he committed 13 errors when he last played first base full-time in 2011 and also had 13 errors at first base in 2010.
At any rate, Cabrera makes his money with his bat rather than his glove, and it was painful to watch the game’s best hitter continue to limp out to third base and exacerbate his injuries late last season. Dave Dombrowski most certainly made the correct call by trading Fielder and moving Cabrera back to first base where he can get comfortable, stay healthy, and continue cementing his legacy as one of the best hitters the game has ever seen.