Detroit — There will be some empty seats on the Tigers winter caravan Thursday and Friday, and at TigerFest Saturday.
Miguel Cabrera, Jose Iglesias, James McCann, Victor Martinez and pitching coach Chris Bosio will not take part in the annual barnstorming weekend.
Cabrera and Iglesias both are tending to serious family health issues. McCann and his wife, Jessica, are tending to their newborn twins, who as late as Wednesday were still being treated in neonatal intensive care.
Martinez, working his way back after having an ablation procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat, also was excused.
Bosio is recovering from minor surgery.
With fan favorites like Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton and Ian Kinsler traded away, Cabrera is the last marquee star left on the club, so his absence from the TigerFest activities will be a big blow — both for the fans and for the media.
Cabrera is coming off the worst statistical season of his career, a season that was ruined by two herniated disks in his back, which did not come to light until the end of the season. Also after the season, news hit that his former mistress was suing him.
Cabrera will have to answer those questions now on the first day of spring training. But on Wednesday during the annual Detroit Sports Media Tiger Day luncheon at Sinbad's, general manager Al Avila spoke at length about Cabrera.
“Miggy works hard and he has pride in what he does,” Avila said. “He and I have talked several times. I know he tends to mess up off the field sometimes, and you read about it in the gossip magazines. But on the field, this guy is a professional as far as his work ethic.
“He knows the game and he has that pride. He wants to finish his career strong. He wants to be in the Hall of Fame. He doesn’t want to end his career on a dud. I believe him on that. There is still a lot of good baseball left in Miggy for years to come.”
Asked if he thought Cabrera could ever be traded or flipped for prospects, like Verlander and the others, Avila was non-committal.
“It’s hard to predict,” he said. “He has a huge contract and those contracts aren’t easily moved.”
Avila, for the first time, admitted that Cabrera withheld the severity of his back pain from the team last season.
“Part of his problem last year was he didn’t want to come out of the lineup,” Avila said. “We didn’t have full disclosure on the injury. But that’s the kind of guy he is. We’re trying to win and he wants to be out there.”
Cabrera completely changed his off-season workout regimen this year. He stopped doing heavy weight work and focused on flexibility and strengthening his core muscles to better support his vertebra.
He is expected to be ready to go at the start of spring training.
Mad at Mikie?
Speaking of not disclosing injuries, Mikie Mahtook stayed quiet about his nagging groin for nearly a full month last season until it became too painful to hide.
“There are players who won’t give you an at-bat or pitch an inning unless they are 100 percent,” Avila said. “That’s not what you want. Then there are guys like Miggy who will go out there crippled and won’t come out until they can’t walk.
“Mahtook is one of those guys. We’ve got to be careful with that guy because he’s a little bit of a nut. He really made me mad last year because he was playing hurt at the end of the year.”
Mahtook, who hit .276 and is slated to start in left field this season, was finally shut down on Sept. 22.
Tigers sign four
The battle to replace super-utility player Andrew Romine, now in Seattle, got another contestant.
The Tigers officially announced that veteran Alexi Amarista was among four players signed to minor-league contracts Wednesday. Amarista, 28, was the only one of the four invited to big-league camp this spring.
The former Padres and Rockies player will compete with other minor-league signees Ronny Rodriguez, Niko Goodrum and Pete Kozma for a back-up infielder/utility role. Amarista hit .238 with the Rockies last season and has 702 games of big-league experience.
Like Romine, he has played center field, as well as third, shortstop and second.
The Tigers also announced the signings of right-handed pitcher Matt West and left-handers James Russell and Caleb Thielbar.
Russell, 32, has a history with Tigers pitching coach Chris Bosio and has pitched in 394 big-league games (10-18, 4.09 ERA). He pitched in Mexican League and in Double-A last year.
Thielbar, 30, pitched in the Twins organization under both manager Ron Gardenhire and Tigers bullpen coach Rick Anderson. He has pitched in 109 big-league games.
West, 29, pitched in Japan last season.