What Cabrera’s surgery means for Tigers
The Tigers had been preparing themselves for the likelihood that Miguel Cabrera would need surgery to remove bone spurs in his right ankle, which would take out a chunk of his offseason workouts. They were not expecting that an exam would reveal a stress fracture in his right foot, too.
“It was a surprise, I’d say, for all of us at that point,” team president/general manager Dombrowski said Friday morning. “We were not aware it was there. I’m not sure how long it was there. He did have a couple of screws inserted.”
It’s the navicular bone at the top of his foot, and according to research online, it’s not rare among athletes, and there’s a history of it with basketball players. Joel Embiid, the highly-touted center out of Kansas, slid in the NBA Draft this offseason reportedly because of a navicular fracture. Michael Jordan, Kevin McHale, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Yao Ming all had navicular fractures in their careers, with Ming’s situation serving as a worst-case scenario.
The injury is less common in baseball. Dustin Pedroia had a nondisplaced navicular fracture in midseason 2010, tried to rehab it and avoid surgery, underwent the procedure, played the 2011 season with a screw in his foot and has been fine with the foot since. Cody Ross had a similar injury that did not require surgery, and ended up missing a month. Jacoby Ellsbury had a compression fracture of the bone in 2013, rested for a few weeks and played in the postseason.
In Cabrera’s case, it was severe enough that rest-and-rehab wasn’t an option.
Cabrera is built more like an undersized forward than a center, and he has taken steps to watch his weight the last few years. For the vast majority of athletes, this is a surgery that shouldn’t present long-term issues. However, it’s also an injury that deals with pressure on the foot.
Recovery seems relatively safe. Cabrera’s offseason workout plans, however, appear to be scratched for the second straight year. He might be able to do upper-body workouts, but he’s expected to keep weight off his surgically repaired foot. Thus, even if Cabrera checks out fine during his follow-up exam in January, he’s going to have some catching up to do to get back to where he wants and expects.
The injury, meanwhile, leaves the Tigers with some immediate concerns:
1. The Tigers have to be prepared at first base, under any scenario, when the season starts.
Detroit is familiar with this scenario from this past summer, when manager Brad Ausmus was juggling Cabrera and Victor Martinez at first base according to whether Cabrera felt strong enough to play in the field. Ausmus did not want to play Martinez every day at first base for fear of tweaking an injury with him.
Detroit’s other first base option this season was Don Kelly. J.D. Martinez played a couple minor league games at first base in 2009 and hasn’t played there since. Mike Hessman’s prodigious minor-league power is legendary, but he hasn’t hit above .250 since 2010. Jordan Lennerton went from Futures Game participant in 2013 to a .249 hitter at Toledo this season, though he batted .333 from June 23 on. Aaron Westlake batted .236 at Double-A Erie this season. It would behoove the Tigers to have a plan at first base in case Cabrera needs more time or has to DH.
2. The Victor Martinez talks just got trickier.
The recent buzz that Martinez is looking for a four-year contract on the upcoming free-agent market, as Jon Heyman reported today for CBSSports.com, potentially puts the Tigers in a bind. On one hand, if Cabrera isn’t ready for Opening Day, or even if he’s playing while his foot and ankle regain strength, getting production out of somebody else is huge, just as Martinez’s early-season production was for them this season. On the other hand, a four-year deal for Martinez puts him under contract through his age 39 season, and puts the Tigers at risk for a bad situation in a few years if injuries leave Cabrera better suited for DH work as he approaches his mid-30s, let alone if Cabrera is deemed better off DHing a little more often next year.
If Cabrera is slowed, it’s hard to see how the Tigers lineup works next season without Martinez. And yet, if Cabrera is slowing, it’s hard to see how the Tigers can succeed long-term with him and Martinez. There are other DH options headed for the market, from Billy Butler to Kendrys Morales, but the only free-agent hitter in the same neighborhood is Nelson Cruz.
And no, the free-agent market for first basemen isn’t better than the market for DHs. Adam LaRoche could hit the market if either he or the Nationals decline the $15 million mutual option in his contract, but there’s a question too of how many years he’ll want in a new deal at age 35. Mike Morse has played first base off and on during his career. Adam Lind is a potential trade candidate, according to the Toronto Sun, but he does not hit lefties well.