DETROIT -- Before Thursday, the last time Jose Cabrera talked at Comerica Park was seven months ago, just before the left biceps surgery that ended his 2018 season. He was around from time to time last summer, but he kept a low profile, away from the games.As Cabrera talked with
DETROIT -- Before Thursday, the last time Jose Cabrera talked at Comerica Park was seven months ago, just before the left biceps surgery that ended his 2018 season. He was around from time to time last summer, but he kept a low profile, away from the games.
As Cabrera talked with reporters at the ballpark on Thursday to open the Tigers' annual Winter Caravan, chatting with teammates and checking in with management, he felt like he had just rejoined the team.
"At first, it feels kind of weird," Cabrera said. "But right now, it feels like you're back in baseball. [My goals are to] get back out there for Spring Training and try to get ready for the season, try to have a good season."
Everything Cabrera has done so far this offseason suggests he'll be ready for the season. He has been swinging a bat for the past month, he has picked up his normal offseason workout regimen, and he said he's on track to report to Spring Training next month with no restrictions.
Whether Cabrera can have a good season by his standards is the big question. That won't be clear until after the Tigers break camp and head north in late March.
Asked if he can be a dangerous hitter again, Cabrera smiled.
"I want to be dangerous," he said. "You have to be confident at home plate. Not like you have to be cocky, something like that, but you have to be confident and feel like you can still do it. I'm going to play my best."
Cabrera won four batting titles in a five-year stretch, including a Triple Crown in 2012. He fell out of batting-title contention in 2016, but still hit .316 that year with 38 home runs, 108 RBIs and a .956 OPS, keeping him among baseball's most feared hitters.
Since then, a series of injuries -- back, groin, biceps, hamstring -- have limited his effectiveness when they haven't sidelined him. After batting just .249 with a .728 OPS in 2017, Cabrera hit .299 with three homers, 22 RBIs and an .843 OPS last year before his left biceps tendon ruptured. Most of that production came in the season's opening month, before a right hamstring strain landed him on the disabled list.
Even with those struggles, Cabrera heads into 2019 with the best career batting average among active players with at least 3,000 plate appearances, a fraction of a point ahead of good friend and fellow Venezuelan Jose Altuve. Cabrera's .946 career OPS ranks third among that contingent, behind Michael Trout and Joey Votto.
Cabrera doesn't claim to know whether he can get back to that old form. But he wants to be healthy enough to find out.
"I want to be back," he said. "Because when you don't play, you're not going to post your numbers. And it's more than just numbers. But right now, I feel healthy. Right now, I can say I'm going to go out there every day and work hard and try to post some numbers every day and see what happens at the end of the season."
Cabrera knows that production is critical for a rebuilding Tigers team, especially with Nicholas Castellanos' future in question and young hitters up and down the rest of the lineup. In contrast to Castellanos, who's approaching his final season before free agency as the Tigers wait for the outfield market to sort out and potential trade interest to emerge, Cabrera is staying put. General manager Al Avila told reporters Thursday he believes Cabrera will remain with the Tigers for the rest of his career.
Cabrera's contract runs through 2023, the year of his 40th birthday, with vesting options for '24 and '25 if he finishes in the top 10 of AL MVP voting. If Cabrera can stay healthy for even half that time, he should hit milestones with his 3,000th hit -- he's currently 324 hits away -- and 500 home runs -- currently 35 off.
Those marks aren't on Cabrera's mind right now. He wants to help this team dig out from back-to-back 98-loss seasons, which is why the proud defender is open to playing some at designated hitter, if that's what manager Ron Gardenhire asks him to do.
"I always think you play for a reason: you play to win games," Cabrera said. "If the team's better if they put me at DH, I'm going to do it. If they think it's better to put me at first base, I'm going to do it. I'm open to everything."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.