LAKELAND, Fla. -- It is the thought nobody around here will allow. The nightmare scenario you dare not mention.
But it is a question that hangs over this place almost as awkwardly as the specter of that Scotch bottle in Miguel Cabrera's front seat.
Has a highly anticipated Tigers season been torpedoed before it even started?
|Miguel Cabrera's 2010 numbers have him ranked as No. 2 in the AL in slugging (.622) and BA (.328), and first in RBI (126). (US Presswire)|
But if Cabrera cannot control himself, how are the Tigers going to control their season? They're sunk.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland wasn't having any of it early Friday morning, saying, "I think Miguel Cabrera is probably going to have the biggest year of his life."
Leyland was talking about on the baseball field. But after Cabrera's ugly relapse this week following the hideous, drunken incident late in the 2009 season, the only year that could possibly be the biggest of Cabrera's life is the year he gets himself straightened out off the baseball field.
Last year was thought to have been it.
This year most definitely is not.
Cabrera was not in Tigers camp on Friday and there's no telling for sure when he'll arrive. Alcohol rehabilitation or psychological counseling seem more appropriate at this point than another session in the batting cage.
The Tigers have committed eight years and $153 million to a man who arguably is baseball's biggest game-changer this side of Pujols.
But when he goes off the rails, that's a game-changer, too.
Manager Jim Leyland remains convinced that Cabrera is primed for a career-best season. More >>
It's sad to think that a guy who could have a one of the great careers is in danger of throwing it away. More >>
There are two sets of questions here.
One surrounds Cabrera's life and his well-being.
The other is the Tigers' 2011 life and their well-being.
The answers to No. 2 start with the answers to No. 1.
"Miggy is the franchise player of this team," said Tigers outfielder Magglio Ordonez who, along with catcher Alex Avila, spent the winter working out with Cabrera in Fort Lauderdale. "He understands that they're building the team around him, and he needs to put everything together.
"He's a superstar, and he needs to act like a superstar and work hard."
There were still far more questions than answers Friday, starting with Cabrera's addiction and what the Tigers intend to do about it. General manager Dave Dombrowski, still in information-gathering mode, did not speak publicly. Likely, he hasn't even had time to run through the entire list of questions. His guy took a roadside swig from a Scotch bottle in front of a police officer while sitting at the steering wheel? Really?
This is a man who needs a leave of absence and a counselor more than spring training and a batting coach.
According to workout buddies Ordonez and Avila, there were zero indications that Cabrera had relapsed. He worked hard, and the Tigers maintain there is no way he could have maintained that pace had he been drinking all winter.
"I know for a fact, without getting into this situation [in detail], I know for a fact that Miguel Cabrera is in the best shape of his life," Leyland said. "He's stronger than he's ever been and he's quicker than he's ever been."
When discussing newcomer Victor Martinez, Leyland waxed rhapsodic about the voracious Detroit sports fans who fill Comerica Park and make the Tigers such an attractive place for marquee free agents.
It is for those same reasons that the club now owes strong answers to those who are buying all of these tickets and expecting to see a sober and committed Cabrera.
At 27, he should be in the middle of his prime. And while batting .328 with 38 home runs and a major league-leading 126 RBI last season, he was sensational.
Five months later, this is the point where what's best for Cabrera -- time away to get help -- might not be best for the Tigers.
"Obviously, if he's not here, that's definitely not good for our club," ace Justin Verlander said. "But I'm not a lawyer and I don't know the specifics here. All I know is how good a teammate and ballplayer he is."
"It's not going to affect the team at all," Leyland promised. "All of these people getting dramatic about this s---, all this negativity, it's not going to affect this team one bit. Trust me. That's all reading material. Everybody is going to get all upset, get real dramatic ... do you think Magglio Ordonez and those guys are going to go about their business any different?"
As Leyland said a minute later, "He's going to be welcomed with open arms by his teammates, and they're going to want to see him hit that son of a bitch over the right-center field fence."
Maybe. But that's pretty much impossible to do if he's not in the lineup. And until this Tiger changes his stripes, he shouldn't be.