Miguel Cabrera spent the past two seasons chasing firsts, reaching milestones and career totals that no Venezuelan-born player had found before. He is now coming to grips that he has entered a period of lasts: One last winter workout program, one last season to play the game he loves and that he has excelled at for years, one last chance to get in the batter's box and stare down a pitcher, one last chance to share a laugh at first base.
If there was any lingering doubt, Cabrera reiterated that this upcoming season, his 21st in the Major Leagues, will be his last.
“I think it's going to be my last year. It feels a little weird to say that,” the Tigers great told MLB.com’s Christina De Nicola on Monday ahead of this week’s charity gala in Miami to raise money for his foundation. “I thought, I'm not going to say 'never', but I think it's time to say goodbye to baseball.”
Cabrera has been identifying 2023 as his final season for at least a year, coinciding with the final year of the contract extension he signed with the Tigers in Spring Training of 2014. Late Tigers owner Mike Ilitch wanted that deal to ensure that Cabrera retired as a Tiger.
Before that, Cabrera has a chance to add to his historic offensive totals. Already one of just three players in AL/NL history with more than 3,000 hits, 500 home runs and 600 doubles, he could climb into the top 20 on MLB’s all-time hits list.
More than anything for this upcoming season, though, Cabrera wants his health.
“One of my goals is to play a full season with no injuries, try to help the Tigers to win more games,” he said. “Because I feel if we can stay healthy, we can improve more in the field. If you don't stay healthy, there's no chance we can win. We had a lot of injuries this year and it hurt us a lot. We'll see if we can stay healthy all year.”
To that end, he said, much of his offseason workout program has involved rehabbing and strengthening his knees and back. None of his injuries required surgery, and in the case of his knees, surgery wouldn’t make a difference. But the more flexible Cabrera can become, the better his chances of mitigating the aches and pains.
New Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris said a few weeks ago at baseball’s GM Meetings that Cabrera probably won’t have an everyday role next season. Cabrera said he doesn’t know if anything’s set, but that he’s open to any role the Tigers see for him.
“It depends how I'm feeling,” he said. “We're always open to talk and see. I always do whatever they want, whatever the manager wants me to do. I don't worry about if I'm going to play every day or not. So if they give me a chance, I'll play. If not, I'm going to support the team. Gotta be a good teammate.”
Cabrera also hopes to play for Venezuela in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
“I would love to play,” he said. “If they give me a chance, I'll play.”
While Cabrera is preparing to bid farewell to baseball as a player, he still wants to be involved in the game. He reiterated that he’d like to find a role in retirement, preferably in Detroit, where he has seen former greats Al Kaline, Willie Horton and Alan Trammell play important roles in the organization during his tenure.
“I've had a lot of conversations with my family,” he said. “I don't know, we'll see if I can stay in the Tigers' organization, help young guys. I have time to decide, but my goal is to stay in baseball, try to help, because I love baseball. Why would I go away?”
As a player, his legacy as one of the greatest hitters of his generation is secure. Events like Wednesday’s gala are a reminder that Cabrera’s efforts to give back are also a big part of his career. The Miguel Cabrera Foundation began in 2007 as a project to renovate youth ballfields in Miami, Detroit and Venezuela, and to help young athletes through sports, education and health, but in recent years, it has branched into college scholarships, including for students in southwest Detroit.
“I always say it's not only about playing baseball, it's also about giving back to the community,” Cabrera said. “I don't want to hear, 'Oh, he came here to Detroit or Miami to play baseball only.' I want people to remember he came to play baseball and he helped the community, too.”
The benefit gala is scheduled for Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET at Sebastian’s Venue in Miami, and features dinner, a collectibles auction and several MLB guests along with special performances by Miguelito Diaz, Oscar Arriaga, Nelson Arrieta, Ronald Borias, Manny Cruz and Charlie Aponte. Tickets, including a VIP meet-and-greet experience, are available at prontoticket.us.