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Healthy Miguel Cabrera aiming to play 160 games in 2016

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera joked about a text he received from teammate J.D. Martinez this winter.

The two spent the offseason working out at the same gym, but Cabrera was surprised to hear from the 28-year-old right fielder on Christmas Day.

“He texted me, ‘Where you at?’” Cabrera recalled. “I mean, I got kids!”

Cabrera wasn’t getting his reps in that day, but there wasn’t too many others that he missed, as he recalled Tuesday in the clubhouse before the club’s first official day of full-squad workouts.

Like his veteran cohort Victor Martinez, the 32-year-old slugger was in a jovial mood, basking in the benefits of a lengthy offseason during which he was finally able to get healthy and return to the sort of training regimen he had been prevented from doing in recent years.

After playing through injuries for significant stretches during the 2015 season -- Cabrera was even placed on the disabled list for the first time in his career with a calf injury in July -- he was able to take the time to fully recover and heal this winter. He ran, improved his conditioning and built up strength in his legs.

“I feel the difference,” Cabrera said, referring to his swing. “I can feel my back leg more. Also, I can stay more back so I can drive the ball up the gap.”

All of that, he hopes, will translate into an impactful -- and healthy -- 2016.

“I mean, play 160 games. That’s my goal,” Cabrera said “I’m trying not to miss too many games. I’m trying to play every day.”

Cabrera laughed after the 160-game figure, but he was only half-joking. The two-time AL MVP has been an absolute workhorse throughout his career; he played in all but three games in 2014 and missed only one in 2012.

Last season, though he missed 43 games, Cabrera won a batting title despite the multitude of ailments he was playing through -- his calf, his surgically repaired ankle, his back on occasion -- and it begs the question: what is he capable of when healthy?

“You saw what he did last year. He won a batting title, but maybe those balls weren’t traveling like they used to,” said Martinez. “But this year, given his ankle’s feeling better, he’s able to condition more and strengthen more in his legs, I wouldn’t be shocked if we went out there and hit 40 [home runs] again.”

Manager Brad Ausmus said the team got a little lift even now with him in camp as the full squad convened for the day.

“I think when you have a [player the] caliber of Miggy’s, young players kind of look up with gaping jaws. People he’s played with, it’s probably not that big of a deal but the young guys are like, ‘That’s Miguel Cabrera,’” Ausmus said. “Triple Crown winner. So, that probably heightens the energy a little bit.”

Cabrera himself is excited about the upcoming season, especially with the number of upgrades the Tigers made via trade and free agency this offseason.

Beyond the improvements to the pitching staff, Cabrera predicts that outfield free-agent acquisition Justin Upton will have a Yoenis Cespedes-like impact for the team.

“He plays defense, [brings] power, brings speed to the whole lineup,” Cabrera said. “That’s great to have him.”

The key, Cabrera said, will be for the team to stay healthy, especially considering the quality of teams within the AL Central, including the defending World Series champion Royals.

“We haven’t played a game yet,” Cabrera said, bursting out into a laugh. “We’re undefeated.”

Cabrera reflected on his history with Tigers first-year general manager Al Avila, who in 1999 was instrumental in helping the Marlins sign him as a 16-year-old.

“Back in the day, I say, ‘Sign me, please,’” Cabrera said. “It’s amazing because we still here and we want to win a World Series together.”

Cabrera’s no longer in the position to plead for a contract -- he was awarded a monster eight-year contract extension in 2014 -- but he wouldn’t turn down another, he joked.

“If he give me another 10 years, that’s OK,” Cabrera said.