In the wake of the Miguel Cabrera injury the Tigers have few good options

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DETROIT — It may be the Fourth of July, but Miguel Cabrera’s calf strain has sapped Comerica Park of its festive spirit. Indeed, despite sunny summer skies and red white and blue everywhere you look, it’s the gloomiest I’ve ever seen it.

When Cabrera came out of last night’s game with a calf strain you knew it had to be serious. Cabrera has played hurt in the past. He’s played injured in the past. He’s played when he probably shouldn’t have more times than I can count. But short of him literally missing a limb you never expect him to come out of a game.

That’s when Brad Ausmus knew it was bad, well before the MRI results showing a grade-3 calf strain came back.

“When Miggy says he can’t play, it’s serious, because Miggy plays through anything,” Ausmus said this morning. But he won’t be playing though this. Ausmus said he’s still waiting on a second opinion, but he doesn’t expect it to be any better. “I looked at the MRI. You can ask me about it,” Ausmus said. But even Dr. Ausmus is resigned to the fact that the best hitter in baseball will be out six weeks. And as he sat and spoke to the media this morning, he made it clear that the Tigers’ options are limited.

Alex Avilia will get the start today, but he has played only three career games at first base. And, Ausmus reminded us, he was just activated from the disabled list himself. He’s worried enough about Avila playing back-to-back games at the position he knows, let alone one that’s mostly unfamiliar.

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Jefry Marte taks grounders the morning after being called up. — photo Craig Calcaterra

The Tigers called up Jefry Marte from Toledo to take Caberea’s spot on the roster. Marte is 24 and is an eight-year minor league veteran. He’s hitting a respectable .271/.337/.497 at Toledo this year, but he is a third baseman, having only played a handful of games at first base in the Texas League and the Arizona Fall League. The system is devoid of anyone at first with major league experience. “Minor league free agent first basemen don’t want to sign with the Tigers,” Ausmus said “knowing that the best hitter in the game is here on a long term deal.” The 37-year-old Mike Hessman, just a few homers shy of the all-time minor league record, has played over 450 games at first between the majors and minors, but no one considers him an option.

What say you about Victor Martinez, Brad Ausmus? He’s played nearly 200 games at first.

“Victor in my mind is not an option,” Ausmus said. “He’s not on the radar.” The reason is simple: health. And, Ausmus added, “if you play him at first base and he gets hurt, then you’ve lost two bats.”

That leaves the trade market, but the pickings for a solid first baseman look slim. Ryan Howard is out there, but given how he’s hitting this year you can’t bet on him being a better option than Marte, at many, many times the price, either in salary or trade. And what do the Tigers trade anyway? Their most obvious trade chit may be Yoenis Cespedes, but you have to think the Tigers were hoping to hold him for a trade for a pitcher. Or two. And if you deal him now, the lineup will have only one serious power threat in J.D. Martinez.

One option, which I presume no one associated with the Tigers is eager to consider let alone speak about in public, is to make the best of a bad situation and use the Cabrera injury as an excuse to punt on 2015 and reposition for 2016. Be willing to go without that power in the second half if you can get someone who helps next year. Move some other pieces or even engage in an on-the-fly rebuild. After all, the Tigers are six games out in the AL Central. Maybe it’s time to get creative.

Or, maybe, when your owner is 90-years-old and has poured serious, serious money into this club, “rebuild” is a four-letter word.

Where does that leave the Tigers?

“Sometimes you find out more about a team when a player like Miggy goes down,” Ausmus said. “We’ll see what type of fight we have.”

We’ll find out right along with him.

 

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

aaron judge
Cole Burston/Getty Images
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TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.