Before Jose Cabrera, there was Ivan Rodriguez. Before Rodriguez, there was Vladimir Guerrero.Though Guerrero never played for the Tigers, he's the player that general manager Al Avila keeps citing when talking about Cabrera's back issues and their potential impact on his career. Guerrero spent time on the disabled list with
Before Jose Cabrera, there was Ivan Rodriguez. Before Rodriguez, there was Vladimir Guerrero.
Though Guerrero never played for the Tigers, he's the player that general manager Al Avila keeps citing when talking about Cabrera's back issues and their potential impact on his career. Guerrero spent time on the disabled list with a herniated disc in his back as a 28-year-old in 2003 before playing eight more years.
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The Tigers, with Avila then as assistant GM, tried to pursue Guerrero as a free agent following that 2003 season. They instead ended up signing Ivan Rodriguez, whose own back issues scared off enough teams for the Tigers to take a chance coming off a 119-loss season.
"Vladimir Guerrero had a very rigorous workout routine that helped him play for many, many years," Avila told reporters on Monday at Major League Baseball's GM Meetings in Orlando, Fla. "Pudge Rodriguez, when we signed him, he had back issues, and he had to go through a workout routine.
"We took a risk on Pudge. Our first medical doctors, they didn't want us to sign him. Mr. Ilitch took a risk. But the thing is, the way he worked out in his workout routine allowed him to play for many more years."
This is what the Tigers are hoping for from Cabrera, whose back issues stemming from the World Baseball Classic never forced him to the disabled list but hampered him throughout the worst offensive season of his 15-year Major League career.
"There's no reason why Miguel can't follow that pattern, which is what he's doing this wintertime," Avila continued. "We expect him to come in ready to go."
Avila said he has talked with Cabrera twice since season's end about the workout routine that was prescribed to him. Cabrera's offseason training, which had been focused on strength work, was rigorous enough that teammates who worked out with him would post photos on Instagram.
Those days are done. Cabrera's new workouts are focused on core strength and agility.
"He's working on his core muscle, and it's a whole different workout program than he had before," Avila said. "It's basically geared toward strengthening that back and the vertebrae. Right now, in talking to him, he is probably going to be stronger than ever."
He doesn't mean overall strength, but core strength.
"You know how during the season he lost a lot of weight? He also lost some strength," Avila said. "So he was weak in certain areas. And just because you lose weight doesn't mean your muscles are strong enough to hold your back. And so, that's what he's doing now. He's got the weight off, and now he's strengthening those muscles around the core to give him that support."
What impact that has on Cabrera's game remains to be seen. His back issues last year left him unable to generate his usual power, dropping his slugging percentage more than 150 points under his career rate, and he also struggled to reach outside pitches.
Cabrera turns 35 in April. He has six more seasons guaranteed on the contract extension he signed a few years ago, plus two vesting options. For all the trades the Tigers have pulled off to get younger, Cabrera's contract all but ensures he'll be a Tiger for the foreseeable future.
So far, Avila said he's encouraged.
"Cabrera's actually doing very good," Avila said.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook. Mark Bowman, a reporter for MLB.com since 2001, contributed to this report.