Two paths diverge in a wood for Miguel Cabrera's monster extension
The Tigers are betting big on Miguel Cabrera's future, and history provides some possible future paths his career might take from this point on.
With Miguel Cabrera signing a long-term extension that will keep him in Detroit -- well, essentially forever -- it makes some sense to think about the future. Cabrera has put together one of the best starts to a career in major-league history and is coming off consecutive, though somewhat controversial -- I see you, Mike Trout -- MVP awards, so it is hard to fault the Tigers for investing in the hulking first baseman.
If you are feeling uncharitable, this contract feels a bit like the contract extension Alex Rodriguez received following his third MVP win in 2007. Rodriguez was a year older -- and presumably pumped full of gallons more steroids -- so it isn't a perfect comparison, however. Especially since Rodriguez was still relying on his athleticism at that point in his career, something we know isn't the case with Cabrera.
In fact, though they both broke in as teenagers and nearly immediately became elite hitters on the left side of the infield, Rodriguez isn't a great comparison for Cabrera's future. Per Baseball-Reference.com's similarity score, Rodriguez is not one of the 10-most comparable players to Cabrera through his Age-30 season.
Taking a look at Cabrera's most comparable players might give us an idea of how he could age through the life of his contract, however. Among his five most comparable players at age 30, three are Hall of Famers and the other two are pure locks, which isn't much of a surprise. Two of them in particular provide a set of divergent paths Cabrera's career might take.
The best-case scenario for Cabrera is to follow the career path of one Hank Aaron, who seemingly never aged during his assault on the record books. Aaron hit 51.5 percent of his career home runs after his age-30 season, aided somewhat by a move to a more hitter-friendly park. Aaron is Cabrera's most comparable player, which should make Tigers' fans happy, since he is the one with the most promising career path; if Cabrera follows in Aaron's footsteps, he might remain a first-round Fantasy talent until well into the 2020's.
On the other hand, one of Cabrera's contemporaries provides a bit more of a sobering test case. The fifth-most similar to Cabrera is Angels' first baseman Albert Pujols, who carried a similar statistical profile to Cabrera, though in a much slimmer physical profile. Pujols' Age-28 to 30 season saw him hit .331/.439/.635 with 126 home runs and 369 RBI; Cabrera hit .340/.427/.609 with 118 home runs and 381 RBI in the same span, remarkably similar numbers.
Unfortunately, Pujols has not aged nearly as well as Aaron, as his OPS has declined in five straight seasons, as injuries and age have taken their toll. Pujols was once an even better hitter than Cabrera and was similarly valued by Fantasy owners, but has tumbled to an average draft position of 47th in CBSSports.com leagues this season.
In the short term, Cabrera remains one of the best Fantasy options in the league and should be so for the next several years. History provides possible blueprints for the second half of his career, and the Tigers are betting big that he does not follow in the footsteps of a few recent superstar sluggers.
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