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Miguel Cabrera joins 3,000 hit club

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Miguel Cabrera joins 3,000 hit club (AP file photo)

One of the most exclusive clubs in Major League Baseball history has added a new member.

Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera became the 33rd player in MLB history to reach at least 3,000 hits, accomplishing the feat with a first-inning single against Colorado Rockies pitcher Antonio Sentzatela in a game in Detroit on April 23. He’s the first Venezuelan player to reach the milestone and just the seventh Latino.

And hey, if you’re into exclusivity, well, here’s an even smaller club that Cabrera enters with this hit. He becomes just the seventh player in history to achieve the 3,000 hit/500 home run career combo, joining a handful of guys whose names might ring familiar – Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols. Pujols is the only other member of the 3,000-hit club still active.

While there are few sure things in the world of baseball scouting, the notion that Miguel Cabrera would become a star was awfully close.

He got his start in the Venezuelan Winter League at just 16 years old, but his was a hitting light that wouldn’t stay hidden under a bushel for long. Still a teenager, he was signed as an international free agent by the then-Florida Marlins in 1999, working his way through the minors before landing in the big leagues in mid-2003, when he was still just 20 years old.

In his time with the Marlins – roughly four-and-a-half seasons – Cabrera established himself as one of the best young hitters in the game. In 720 games, he had 842 hits (including 138 homers); he drove in at least 100 runs in each of his four full seasons there, ultimately slashing .313/.388/.542. He was a four-time All-Star and twice finished top-five in the MVP race.

Then, just as he was fully entering his prime, he was traded to the Detroit Tigers following the 2007 season. The Marlins received six players – pitchers Andrew Miller, Dallas Trahern, Eulogio De La Cruz and Burke Badenhop, outfielder Cameron Maybin and catcher Mike Rabelo – in exchange for Cabrera and pitcher Dontrelle Willis.

All Cabrera did then was become one of the best right-handed hitters in baseball for the next decade.

During his time in Detroit, Cabrera would lead the league in homers and RBI two times each while winning four batting titles (including three in a row). In 2012, all three of those accomplishments aligned, as Cabrera became the first winner of baseball’s fabled Triple Crown (leading the league in homers, RBI and batting average) in nearly 50 years and won the first of his back-to-back MVP awards.

Cabrera also led the league in on-base percentage four times and slugging percentage twice during his Detroit years. He was named to seven All-Star teams, won five AL Silver Slugger Awards and had five top-10 MVP finishes in years where he DIDN’T win (including three in the top five).

During his time with the Tigers, Cabrera signed two paradigm-shifting extensions. His first came in 2008 before he even saw the field in Detroit, an eight-year $152.3 million contract that was, at the time, the fourth-largest in baseball history. In 2014, the Tigers reupped with Cabrera, signing him to another eight-year extension worth $248 million – an extension that wouldn’t kick in until two years later and was viewed at the time as an albatross waiting to happen.

And, you know, it is. Detroit is on the hook for some serious cash over the last couple of years of the deal, even though Cabrera is more or less a shadow of his old self. Never a fast guy, he’s now one of the slowest players in the majors. His defense was sub-par at his peak; now, he’s an almost total liability in the field. His power is mostly gone.

And yet … Tigers fans got to bear witness to one of the best to ever do it. And they got to see him shine for a long time. If you ask them, it’s probably worth it.

The larger question, however, is this: is Cabrera the last to reach 3,000 hits?

The only active player who is even close is Robinson Cano, who probably would have had a shot if he hadn’t lost time to injury, the pandemic and a PED suspension. At the close of the 2017 season, he had almost 2,400 hits and a clear path to 3,000. Now, five years later, Cano is still over 350 hits away. And at age 39, the odds of him hanging in long enough to get there seem slim.

After that, the drop is precipitous. The only other active players with even 2,000 hits are Yadier Molina (2,116) and Joey Votto (2,035); both are in their late 30s and unlikely to stick around anywhere near long enough. Guys like Jose Altuve and Freddie Freeman are up over 1,700, but both are already 32 – the clock is ticking.

So enjoy Miguel Cabrera’s entry into Club 3,000. It might be a long time before we see another one.

Last modified on Wednesday, 27 April 2022 05:32

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