Detroit — Miguel Cabrera isn’t worried, and isn’t worried about anyone else being worried.
“You worry too much!” he said, and his laughter boomed through the room at Comerica Park.
Frankly, that might have been the best sound the Tigers heard as they launched their Winter Caravan Thursday. Silly me for suggesting any concerns because with the best hitter in baseball, there usually aren’t. But the last time we saw Cabrera, he was laboring with torn abdominal and groin muscles, trying to contribute any way he could.
Since the Tigers lost in the American League Championship Series to the Red Sox, Cabrera has undergone hernia surgery and seen his slugging buddy Prince Fielder traded and his long-time manager retire. Then, oh, by the way, he agreed to switch from third base to first. And yet here he was, healthy and cheerfully eager to start anew, a reminder that in addition to his hitting stardom, Cabrera remains one of the game’s unheralded team players.
Was he shocked the Tigers unloaded Fielder’s huge contract for Ian Kinsler, thus significantly altering the batting order? Yep, he was. Was he saddened by it?
“What do you mean ‘sad?’ ” Cabrera said. “Yeah, he was a big part of our team. When you see somebody get traded, you don’t want that. But I don’t put extra negative things in my head because everybody talks about it. I got a great hitter behind me, and people in the big leagues got a lot of respect for Victor (Martinez).”
Some will fret about who bats cleanup after Cabrera — winner of back-to-back AL MVPs hitting in front of Fielder — and that’s understandable. But, Martinez should return to the role, and while he doesn’t have Fielder’s menacing power, he did hit .330 in 2011 behind Cabrera.
With spring training a few weeks away, the Tigers have only a few lingering questions. Max Scherzer reiterated Thursday he loves being here, and if he doesn’t sign a long-term contract before spring training, he hopes it could happen after the season. That sounded vaguely positive, as did news about Justin Verlander, who’s recovering well from hernia surgery.
Glad he played
In many ways, Cabrera’s health and mindset are the least of the Tigers concerns, as the slugger pointed out again and again, punctuated with laughter — “You are the worry guy!” He underwent surgery Oct. 29 and has been fully recovered for about two weeks. If he had to swing a bat in the snow today, he said he could.
Cabrera has no regrets about playing through the injury the final two months last season because the tightness of the division race made it difficult to step aside.
“I was playing with a lot of pain, but it was my choice,” he said. “If it was early in the year, yeah, I would have (rested more). But it was too late in the year to take too much time off. I feel strong now, 100 percent.”
The Fielder trade spurred Cabrera’s return to first base, and he said he was happy to do it. He’s played the position well, and it opens a spot for young third baseman Nick Castellanos.
For a team that has won three straight division titles, there’s plenty of transition going on. Jim Leyland vacated the manager’s office for first-timer Brad Ausmus, who at least has mastered one important element of the job — penciling in Cabrera third in the order, followed by Martinez, at least initially. Kinsler and Torii Hunter probably will fill the top two spots.
Cabrera excelled to historic proportions with Fielder behind him, winning two MVPs and a Triple Crown. In fact, if you count Ryan Braun’s steroid-tainted splurge with Milwaukee in 2011, Fielder has “protected” three straight MVPs.
But Cabrera’s numbers in 2011 with Martinez weren’t too shabby — .344 average, 30 home runs, 105 RBIs. And after a slow start last season, Martinez rebounded to become the team’s hottest hitter, .361 in the second half.
“I think Victor’s very capable of protecting anybody, to the extent anybody protects Miggy,” Ausmus said. “Teams are gonna be careful with Miggy regardless of who’s hitting behind him. The only guy that might be able to protect Miggy would be Miggy.”
Martinez will do
Martinez wasn’t there Thursday but teammates scoffed at the notion of Cabrera being marginalized — and relentlessly walked — by opposing pitchers in a less-fearsome lineup.
“You know why it doesn’t concern me?” Hunter said. “Because Miggy is still godly in baseball — he’s ungodly! OK, maybe he doesn’t get 130 RBIs, but instead gets 121.
“He’s still gonna do what he does because he’s Miguel Cabrera, one of the best hitters I’ve ever seen.”
In fact, with more speed in the lineup, there might be a few more runners in front of Cabrera capable of churning around the bases.
The Tigers are different now, and trading Fielder after his miserable postseason did send mixed messages. But it didn’t alter two reasons the Tigers remain World Series contenders — they have Verlander and Scherzer atop a great rotation, and they have a healthy and apparently happy Cabrera right where you can’t miss him.
There’s no superstar entitlement for Cabrera, no angst about the changes. And with muscles healed and spring coming, there’s no need to look back.