By: Holly Horning
We receive great questions from readers. Some of them require longer answers than our Saturday blogs can accommodate, so I’ve decided to pull one of them to answer today when there is the ability to provide more space and analysis. And this topic is very timely.
Bob I. emailed us his concern about Miggy’s return to the lineup from the DL. As we all saw, in the very first inning of his return, Cabrera aggravated his injury – grabbing the back of his leg and grimacing. And given that Ausmus or Rand never even left the dugout to check on him was head-shaking.
So Bob wants to know more about when to bring a player back from the DL when the team is out of contention. And it’s a great question because it involves the priorities of the owner, team, manager and the player. Let’s dig in…….
We all saw Miggy working out with the team earlier this month – running tentatively and, as we say out West, still with a “hitch in his giddy-up”. But fans were shocked to hear the claims that he was perfectly fine and ready for action. What we saw visually conflicted with what we heard.
And the other reason for our concern is based upon Miggy’s injury history dating back to 2013. Groin injuries, bone spurs, broken foot bones – none of which ever factored into a team decision to pull him from play. Fans have a right to raise the red flag.
Let’s add further evidence – given that fans have watched a number of other Tigers, from JV to VMart to Avila, hobbled and playing in pain over the past couple years. The visual proof stands out as a distinct pattern among MLB teams and was the subject of significant media speculation and concern.
After all, it’s not just that we love Miggy and everything he does. There’s the matter of that little contract that could take him through 2025, each year at $28 million to $32 million a pop. Everyone would like to see him make it there gracefully. And logic tells us that when you have something that’s really unique, valuable and very expensive, you take extra special care of it, right?
So here’s where it gets complicated. While fans may operate from a compassionate point of view, the powers that be may not necessarily put it at the top of their priority list. There are agendas and goals still to be achieved these last 45 days and they are in direct conflict to what may be popular opinion.
Let’s start with Cabrera. Miggy loves to play the game. He needs to play the game. Of course, he’ll want to return despite not being 100%. He’s a gamer. And although he won’t say it publicly, he has to be itching to continue his quest for another batting title. There’s also the desire to add a 12th consecutive season of at least 25 HRs and 100 RBIs.
Then there’s his manager. With the Tigers closer to last place than near the top, he’s obviously concerned with his managerial record, prolonging his job and avoiding the cellar. All more likely when you have Cabrera in your lineup. But we’ve also seen where Brad has had a hard time convincing his players what to do.
Ausmus probably has little to no influence over Miggy. Earlier in the year, we watched the torture show called Victor Martinez and his knee at the plate. The manager was unable to get VMart on the DL and a midnight meeting with Mr. I and Dave Dombrowski had to be called before Victor acquiesced.
Another factor is the Tigers’ medical team. We have no idea what their professional opinion may be but it’s likely that they hold little sway in the final decision-making process unless their prognosis contains serious consequences. As employees of the Tigers, they are seen as one voice out of multiple ones yet not the primary decision-makers.
But now we address what is probably the most influential and loudest voice in determining whether Miggy stays in the lineup or not. And ironically, because the Tigers are generally considered to be out of contention, it gives more weight to playing him.
The driving force may just be about attendance and revenue. The Tigers are caught up in a vicious cycle of having a huge payroll that is primarily sustained by big attendance numbers. Currently, the Tigers have not yet hit the 2 million mark and turnstile numbers are down over last year and even 2013.
Attendance (ticket sales, food, parking) is 40% of the team’s revenue. That’s a huge chunk of change! And this is why the team will never officially say they are out of the wild card running. They won’t throw in the towel. There is the need to keep hope and excitement, and thus attendance, alive.
And that all-important viewership figure is also down. Not good news when you are prepping for re-negotiations of two major media deals which could bring in a record number of dollars. No, the dream must continue to spin – and that dream must include Miggy. He is the star of the show.
Officially, he is the face of the franchise. To paraphrase an infamous line from Field of Dreams, “If you play him, they (fans and media) will come.”
Is there a conflict of interest between playing and protecting Cabrera? Based upon what we’ve seen and what we know, yes. But the most important question, yet unanswered, is to ask who is really watching out for Miggy’s interests.