As He Waits For Better Tomorrow, Miguel Cabrera Trying To Enjoy Today

Eventually, he expects to return to the playoffs in Detroit.

Will Burchfield
July 23, 2019 - 8:20 pm

© Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

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Sitting alone in the Tigers dugout Tuesday afternoon, waiting to take his turn for batting practice, Miguel Cabrera smiled. He had just been asked if he's still having fun. He opened his arms to the sunshine and the ballpark and the players shagging fly balls in the outfield. Right here, right now, everything was good. 

Otherwise, the picture isn't so bright. Cabrera, 36, appears to be spending the final years of his legendary career in purgatory. He's a shell of the hitter he once was, and who knows what will be left of his talent by the time the Tigers are ready to win again. 

Who knows when the Tigers will be ready to win again, in the first place. It's a question to which Cabrera doesn't have an answer, even if he ponders it in quiet moments like this. 

"You think about that. When are we going to be a winning team again? But you don’t really know," he said. "We have to ask the GM and the front office what’s going to be the plan for next year and the year after that. They have a better idea of what’s going to (happen) in the future." 

There's also the next week to think about. With the trade deadline looming, Al Avila and the Tigers have an opportunity to give their fledgling rebuild a boost. Should they opt to trade Matthew Boyd and Shane Greene, they could net the kind of prospects that make a murky future look a little more clear. 

Cabrera, for his part, hopes the Tigers hang onto Boyd and Greene. He believes they're pieces to build around in the years ahead. (No, he said, he wouldn't bring this sentiment to Avila.) So are some of the prospects on the farm, likes Casey Mize and Matt Manning, and further down the line, Riley Greene. 

"Hopefully we can see these guys here soon and see what they got, because we got big expectations for them," Cabrera said. "They look really good." 

He speaks with a commitment to the organization, almost like an ambassador. With a contract that pays him $31 million per year through 2023 -- a contract Avila and the Tigers expect him to play out -- Cabrera knows he's here for the long haul. And he knows the Tigers are counting on him to help them through it. 

For the most part, he's playing the role. He makes a point of encouraging the young players around him. He does his best to wear a smile through the sting of constant losing. He tries, however he can, to help the team win; he deserves credit for producing hit after hit with men on base. (Cabrera's .438 average with runners in scoring position ranks second in the majors.)

One day, maybe it will all be worth it. Yes, said Cabrera, he expects to play postseason baseball in Detroit again before his career's over. 

"You always have to expect that," he said. "Be a winning team and be in the playoffs again." 

If it happens, it won't be for at least a couple more years. It leaves Cabrera in an awkward position, trying to make the most of today while hoping for a tomorrow that might not arrive -- and that might not fully include him when it does. The question came up again. 

Sill having fun? 

He nodded, then paused and admitted, "When you’re losing, it’s hard to have fun. But we have to understand this process right now. We still have to go out there and have fun and try and win some games." 

A short while later, Cabrera rose from the bench, his bat in hand, and strolled toward the batting cage at home plate. As others took their swings, he bounced among his teammates on the balls of his feet. Then he stepped into the cage and sprayed a few line drives across the field, as the sun sank lower in the sky. 

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