Leyland strongly defends Cabrera to third
If you haven’t seen it already, we have a good package of stories on the site from the Prince Fielder press conference, including what it means for the batting order, lineup and the Scott Boras legacy in Detroit (more than $400 million in contracts since 2004). But in confirming Miguel Cabrera as not only a third baseman, but the starting third baseman, Jim Leyland took a strong stance on the plan.
“Mr. Ilitch and Dave have given me a lot of nice pieces to this puzzle,” Leyland said. “It’s my job, along with the coaches, to figure out how to put that puzzle together. I don’t think that’s going to be an issue whatsoever. It’s a pretty nice problem to have.
“Miguel Cabrera’s going to play third base. I’ll make that perfectly clear today. Obviously we’re going to start [working] in Spring Training. I feel very comfortable with it. I think that we need to, right from the get-go, shoot straight from the hip: He’s not going to have the agility defensively, most likely, that Brandon Inge had. You give up a little something, but you get a whole lot in return. We’re going back to the old-fashioned baseball. We’ve got big-time power on the corners. … Putting the puzzle together is not going to be a problem. Whenever you have great players, it’s a nice problem to have.”
Leyland added that he has no plans to use a defensive replacement for Cabrera late in games.
“We will monitor that,” Leyland but as we speak today, I don’t think that you defense for those star players very often.”
The Tigers did a very diligent job of telling as few people as possible about their talks with Fielder, trying to keep their interest as quiet as possible. Cabrera might have been the only player given a heads-up, so that the team could make sure he was on board with moving away from first base. If he wasn’t, Dave Dombrowski said, they probably wouldn’t have pursued the deal.
“He’s 100 percent on board. He feels real good about it,” Leyland said. “He’s going to shed a little bit of weight — I hope not too much. I think a couple years ago he got a little too thin.”
For comparison’s sake, even infield coach Rafael Belliard didn’t know the Tigers were closing in on Fielder and pondering a shift of Cabrera to third.
“I said, ‘What do you think about Miguel playing third base?’ He said, ‘Oh, I think he can play third base,’” Dombrowski said.
“I said, ‘Really?’ He said, ‘Yeah, Miguel told me his goal was to play at 40 games at third base this year.’ And I said, ‘Well, do you think he can do it?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’
“He said, ‘What I have to do is narrow his base a little bit, but his hands are good, his arm is plenty good, his instincts are fine.’”
Dombrowski said he checked with Leyland to make sure he felt the same, and that Jim felt the advantages outweighed the negatives.
The enthusiasm for Cabrera towards playing third base, too, made a difference.
“We talked about Miguel being our third baseman if we played in the World Series last year,” Dombrowski said. “And this past wintertime, Miguel has told me numerous times, ‘I’m going to play third base. I want to play third base.’ Because he likes to play there. So his goal was to play.”
Cabrera already has lost weight this winter, Dombrowski said, as part of an overall goal regardless of where he played. When he weighed in last week, he was lighter than last year, enough so that he shouldn’t have to do a crash-course weight loss plan to get to where he wants to be.
“He’s already lost a lot of the weight that would need to go towards doing it,” Dombrowski said. “Now, he’s a big man. This guy’s big. He’s not going to be 180. But there’s been other big guys that have done it.
“Again, those perfect players don’t exist in too many spots. And so, you give and take on certain things. I think he’ll be fine at third. Do I think he’ll win the Gold Glove? No, but I think he’ll be fine. But when you put his offense there, there’s not many guys that can put up those numbers that he can put up. You start thinking how many clubs in baseball might get 70 home runs, 230 RBIs out of the corners? There’s not many. Maybe he’ll have a couple more errors, but again, the team is not perfect.”
Dombrowski said the move shouldn’t put more responsibility on shortstop Jhonny Peralta to make up for the difference.
“Jhonny can only do what he can,” Dombrowski said. “I mean, Jhonny is a steady shortstop, catches what he gets to, makes the throws. In the ninth inning with one out in a one-run game, you want the ball hit to Jhonny, because you feel real good he’s going to make the play. He doesn’t have the greatest range, but he’s ok. But again, he can hit .280-.300 and hit 15-20 home runs and knock in 70 runs, that’s a pretty good choice overall for you.”