On Thursday afternoon, the Detroit Tigers and Miguel Cabrera agreed on a massive 10-year extension worth roughly $300 million, stunning the baseball world in the process. While recent success would tell one that Cabrera is worth the deal, the facts are that this is a move destined to end in failure.
During the 2013 MLB season, Cabrera played in 144 games and compiled 26 doubles, 44 home runs, 137 RBI, 7.2 WAR and a slash line of .348/.442/.636. These totals earned him a second consecutive American League MVP Award, saw him narrowly miss out on an unprecedented second straight Triple Crown, and generally remain the most lethal hitter on the planet. Sure, he had an unsightly -1.4 dWAR, but that can be overlooked when you hit the ball the way Cabrera does.
The only thing wrong with rewarding a player for previous success is that it never works out, especially not for baseball players that are already 30 years or older. One can just ask the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels and Boston Red Sox about this, as massive deals for Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez all turned into unmitigated disasters, and normally very quickly after they are signed.
In the case of Cabrera, the warning signs have already been placed on the wall about future health issues, but Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski either didn’t see them, or more than likely paid a blind eye to them. Just last season, he dealt with a lingering back injury and a hip flexor injury, and a strained lower abdomen that eventually required surgery. Unless Cabrera possesses some sort of magical powers that nobody knows about, it is only reasonable to expect that more injuries will begin to pop up as the years pile on, which likely will result in lower amounts of success.
For the next two to three years, it would be hard pressed for anyone to claim that Cabrera won’t be worth roughly $30 million a year, especially in the current free agent landscape. Past that it is anyone’s guess, as the 30 year old will begin dealing with age associated decline, injuries that could come with being a heavier set playe, and the continuing deterioration of fielding skills that never really existed.
My guess would be that even with perfect health that Cabrera averages somewhere between 2-3 WAR during the last eight years of this contract, which makes him worth roughly $15 million a year, not $30 million. When one considers that the Tigers still have to sign the likes of Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson to extensions in the next two years, Cabrera will amount to a gross overpayment, and sooner rather than later.