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Friday, March 28, 2014
Cabrera: Never eyed free agency

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Calling him a player with "a chance to be one of the best hitters in the history of the game," Detroit Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said Friday that the team's eight-year, $248 million contract extension with first baseman Miguel Cabrera is a chance he has no regrets about taking.

"When you're talking about the best player in the game, sure, you feel a little uncertain," Dombrowski said at a news conference announcing the contract. "But ... to get a deal done, you need to take that chance. I'll take the chance on him."

Counting the two years and $44 million remaining on Cabrera's present contract, the deal guarantees the two-time MVP a total of $292 million over the next 10 years. He would be 40 in the final year of the contract, in 2023. There are also two vesting options, for a reported $30 million each, that would become guaranteed if Cabrera finishes in the top 10 of the MVP voting in the previous season, Dombrowski told ESPN.com.

Asked whether the length of the contract concerned him, given the way recent 10-year deals for Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols have gone wrong, Dombrowski acknowledged that "any time you give a long-term contract, you're concerned. That's just the way it is, because anything can happen in this game."

But the GM said he was more comfortable giving a deal of this type to Cabrera because they have known each other for so long, since Dombrowski's days as the general manager of the Marlins.

"I know Albert Pujols. I know Alex Rodriguez. But I don't know them [the way he knows Cabrera]," Dombrowski said. "I'm sure their organizations felt comfortable doing so at the time. But I know [Cabrera]. I know how dedicated he is, and what a hard worker he is, and [how he's] committed to excellence. And he wanted to be here."

Dombrowski said that while he touched base with Cabrera's agents, Fern Cuza and Diego Benz, early in spring training, the deal came together in the past three weeks. And he said that Cabrera and his agents made it clear numerous times that Cabrera wanted to finish his career with the Tigers.

"This is the place I want to be," said Cabrera, who will turn 31 on April 18. "I love to play in Detroit. I want to play in Detroit for a long time."

Miguel Cabrera
Miguel Cabrera's new deal will help him stay in Detroit, which he called "the place I want to be."

Asked if he could see himself becoming a designated hitter by the end of the contract, Cabrera said: "I don't know yet. I've got to wait 10 more years. ... Wait 'til I get to 40 and ask me that, and I'll tell you what I'm going to do."

Dombrowski said he felt this was the right time to negotiate an extension, with two years left on Cabrera's current contract, because if the Tigers had waited longer, the "lure of free agency" would have made it more difficult to reach a deal.

"Perhaps if you had something you needed to observe about the player, it would be different," Dombrowski said. "But I don't think we need to observe anything about Miguel's ability. I think he's the best player in baseball."

Although the Tigers have been criticized for not getting a discount by negotiating the contract with two years remaining before Cabrera's free agency, Dombrowski said, "The dollars generally don't go down. ... So it seems to me this was the optimum time."

Dombrowski conceded he had concerns about a contract that would take Cabrera through age 40.

"I'm not so smart to know how any hitter's going to be at 39 or 40," he said. "I know a lot of people will point to individuals that fall off, and I understand that. But I think you also have to look at the other point, that if you go a couple more years [before signing him], I don't think that anybody -- if Miguel puts up the numbers that we think he will in the next couple of years -- is going to think that he's not going to sign an eight-year deal out there ... and maybe longer. There's been a couple of 10-year deals at that [age].

"Do I expect him to win a Triple Crown when he's 40? No. But maybe. He's pretty good."

Cabrera said he never got close enough to free agency to be tempted to explore the market.

"I didn't because there were like two years left to free agency, and you don't think about going to be a free agent," he said. "I was spending a lot of time with my family in the offseason, thinking about how bad I want to stay in Detroit, thinking that if there's any chance we can work out this deal, I told the front office and the Tigers to make it happen.

"I was hoping to do it. I was never thinking about going to free agency and signing with another team. I was thinking I want to be here. I want to stay here. I want to be a Tiger. ... I'm thankful because I want to finish my career here."

The Tigers recently broke off negotiations with pitcher Max Scherzer on an extension that would have kept him from becoming a free agent next winter. But when asked whether the Cabrera deal would affect the Tigers' ability to keep Scherzer long-term, Dombrowski replied, "That's a separate issue."

"We are committed to having a very good baseball club," he said. "And I think you can see that. Where we end up spending our dollars are to be determined. But it's a situation where we will have a very good club. ... We have one of the highest payrolls in baseball now, and the organization is committed to continue doing that."

The Tigers' 2014 payroll is estimated to be approximately $161 million, the fifth-highest in baseball and highest in franchise history. They now employ the highest-paid position player in baseball (Cabrera) and the second-highest-paid pitcher (Justin Verlander). And they are committed to paying $60 million to just those two players in 2016, '17, '18 and '19.

"I don't know if anybody's talked about this, but he's already on the cusp of being a Hall of Famer," Verlander said. "If he quit today, he might be a Hall of Famer. I mean, it's crazy to say, but I've talked about that. Triple Crown. Two MVPs. The numbers that he's put up are just sick.

"If he stays healthy, I don't see any reason why he can't be the best hitter of all time ... or at least in the conversation."