LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) — This is one number put up by Miguel Cabrera that is not subject to debate.
The Triple Crown winner agreed Friday to the richest contract in American sports, a $292 million, 10-year deal with the Detroit Tigers.
“I want to finish my career here. I have worked hard to get better, and Detroit is like a house for me,” Cabrera said.
Cabrera has won the last two AL MVP awards, both times beating out Angels phenom Mike Trout in votes that set off heated disputes in the baseball world.
Those in Cabrera’s corner claimed his fearsome hitting stats and triple-digit RBIs were worthy. Those touting Trout argued he was a better all-around player and pointed to the value of his WAR, sabermetric for wins above replacement.
Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski and manager Brad Ausmus stood by Cabrera, flanking him for the announcement at the Tigers’ spring training complex.
“He’s on track to be one of the greatest players in the history of baseball,” Dombrowski said. “He’s done a lot for the team and a lot for Detroit.”
Cabrera was due $44 million over the final two years of his $152.3 million, eight-year contract. The new agreement incorporates that money and adds $248 million guaranteed over the following eight years, including an option buyout.
Cabrera turns 31 next month and has helped the Tigers win three straight AL Central championships. A slugger with power to all fields and still very much in his prime, he is among seven players to hit at least .320 with 365 homers and 1,260 RBIs, joining Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols and Stan Musial, according to STATS.
“Good for him,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said before Cabrera went 1 for 3 in an exhibition against the Rays. “He plays in another stratosphere.”
The deal came shortly before opening day in Detroit, on Monday against Kansas City at Comerica Park, and soon after Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer turned down the team’s long-term contract proposal.
The Tigers are again among the favorites to go far this season. Cabrera won a World Series ring with the Marlins as a 20-year-old rookie and is trying to bring a title to Motown for the first time in three decades.
Cabrera will make $43,195 per plate appearance under the deal, based on his yearly average of 676 plate appearances during six seasons with the Tigers. That’s higher than the average U.S. yearly wage of $42,498 in 2012, according to the Social Security Administration.
His new salaries are $28 million apiece in 2016 and ’17, $30 million in each of the following four years and $32 million annually in 2022 and ’23. The contract also includes $30 million options for 2024 and 2025 that would become guaranteed if Cabrera finishes among the top 10 in MVP voting in the previous season. If Cabrera doesn’t finish in the top 10 in ’23, the following year becomes a $30 million team option with an $8 million buyout.
Cabrera’s new deal will raise his career MLB earnings to $413.8 million, including the $1.8 million signing bonus he got as a 16-year-old with Florida in 1999 when Dombrowski oversaw the move by the Marlins. Cabrera was acquired by Detroit in a December 2007 trade.
An eight-time All-Star, Cabrera has a .321 career average with 365 homers and 1,260 RBIs. He played 148 games last year despite a sore back and left hip flexor, a strained lower abdomen, shin trouble and a groin tear that hampered him in the postseason and led to offseason surgery.
His body might get more of a break this season. He’s moving across the diamond, shifting from third base back to his previous position at first base after Prince Fielder was traded to Texas.
Cabrera takes over baseball’s highest-paying contract from Alex Rodriguez, who agreed to a $252 million, 10-year deal with Texas that started in 2001, was traded to the Yankees after three seasons and then signed a $275 million, 10-year deal with New York in December 2006.
Cabrera’s average of $29.2 million is second only to the $30,714,286 that Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw averages under the $215 million, seven-year deal he agreed to in January.
A steady presence in the lineup — Cabrera has played 157 or more games in eight of the last 10 seasons — he hit .348 with 44 homers and 137 RBIs last season to win his second straight MVP award. In 2012, Cabrera put together baseball’s first Triple Crown since 1967, hitting .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBIs.
Dombrowski started talking with Cabrera’s agents, Fern Cuza and Diego Bentz of Relativity Sports, at the end of last season. Detroit also had been negotiating with Scherzer, and those talks broke off last weekend after the pitcher didn’t accept an offer for $144 million from 2015-20; he can become a free agent after the World Series.
Cabrera was aware his deal was cause for celebration in his native Venezuela, a nation troubled by turbulent politics and economics.
“I don’t think I can do much. They are going through such hard times,” Cabrera said. “We have had struggles down there, and they are trying to do their best.”
Aiming for its first World Series title since 1984, Detroit agreed last March to a $180 million, seven-year contract with ace pitcher Justin Verlander, the 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner. Verlander didn’t sound envious of Cabrera’s even greater riches.
“He deserves it,” Verlander said. “He is the best player on the planet. He wants to stay in Detroit, and I couldn’t be happier for him. That means we are staying together for a long time and can be Tigers for life.”
Outfielder Torii Hunter said there’s no reason Cabrera can’t remain an All-Star through the end of the deal.
“The way Miggy composes himself, you need to see how hard he works behind the scenes,” Hunter said. “He’s up at 6:30 a.m., he’s running, lifting weights. I got my 2,000th hit last year, then I find out that Miggy’s only 30 and he’s gonna get 4,000 hits and 600 homers. That’s something.”
Ausmus, the Tigers’ rookie manager, smiled during the news conference.
“I’m not going to complain,” he said. “Who would when you have the best player in the game?”