CLEVELAND -- You know him now as the greatest hitter of his time and place. A man who has won two American League MVP Awards and who also ended baseball's 45-year Triple Crown drought. A man on pace for a sort of Modern Triple Crown by leading the AL in each triple-slash category -- batting average (.350), on-base percentage (.456) and slugging percentage (.593). A man who deservedly took over first place at first base in the latest Esurance All-Star ballot update.
Miggy just spent the weekend in New York, where he saw a 39-year-old Alex Rodriguez crank out his 3,000 hit, 667th homer and 2,004th RBI with a single swing. And while others concentrate on the controversy that has obviously accompanied the accrual of A-Rod's historic numbers, the 32-year-old Cabrera drowns all that out and fixates instead on the idea that he, too, wants to remain a productive, game-changing factor when he's pushing 40.
"It would mean a lot," Cabrera said. "This game is about consistency. Doing it over and over. No quit. Don't be weak in your mind. Try to be strong. You've got to do your work so you can play hard. That's my goal."
This is a goal Cabrera voiced to the Tigers last year when his gargantuan $292 million extension was finalized. It's no accident that the extension runs, at minimum, through Cabrera's age-40 season (there are vesting options for each of the following two years).
"He wants to put himself in that position to play until he's 40," Tigers president, CEO and general manager Dave Dombrowski said this spring. "If he does that, he'll put up some of the best numbers in the history of the game. He doesn't talk about that, but he is driven to do that."
Actually, Cabrera talks about it quite a bit -- with other players.
"Torii [Hunter], Omar [Vizquel], Andres Galarraga, Jim Thome, Barry Bonds, Manny [Ramirez], David Ortiz -- a lot of players, man," Cabrera said. "I ask them how they have success after age 35, 36. How do they prepare for the game? There has to be a key, you know? And they always tell me that it's now. It's right now. You've got to prepare your body, your mind, everything now if you're going to have success when you're at that age."
These are words of wisdom that Cabrera took to heart and put into practice over the winter.
The key to Cabrera's continued elite output in this 2015 season is not just a healed right ankle after surgery to remove bone spurs and repair a stress fracture. It's the work he did even when he couldn't put weight on the ankle -- the leg exercises and upper-body lifts aimed at making himself a more explosive athlete. Cabrera has not just been a plus bat but also a plus defender at first base. He's started all but one of Detroit's 70 games this season, and, despite some occasional crankiness from the ankle in the cold, he's moved around as well as he ever has.
"He's happier," Tigers hitting coach Wally Joyner said. "And he doesn't hurt as much."
Cabrera takes it a step further.
"I'm better," Cabrera said. "In my mind, I think I'm better. I've got a better approach. I don't need to go in the video room to spend like one hour looking at video. I know what they're trying to do to me and how they're going to pitch me."
Cabrera could retire tomorrow and have a worthy Hall of Fame case. He hit his 400th homer and logged his 1,400th RBI recently. Only five other players have reached those lofty totals by the end of their age-32 season:
Because A-Rod's career is so clearly complicated, Pujols is Cabrera's most comparable contemporary. It was Pujols' age-32 season when he made the shift from St. Louis to Los Angeles and saw his OPS regress to a then-career-worst .859 (it would drop below .800 in 2013 and '14).
In other words, it was reasonable to wonder if Cabrera, especially after a 2014 season in which he was slowed by the recovery from '13 core muscle surgery and then the ankle issue, could get back to this elite level.
"I think the last two seasons helped me to understand how to treat my legs, how to do my exercises right, how to take care of the little muscles you don't think about," Cabrera said. "Negative things, I always try to turn around and make them positive. If you can work out like this, you're going to be able to play the game a long time."
Something to consider with Cabrera: Through his age-31 season, his closest statistical comparable, per Baseball Reference, was Aaron.
Well, Hammerin' Hank is the only player to reach 500 homers and 3,500 hits. Cabrera is 95 homers shy of 500 and 1,228 hits shy of 3,500. The homers seem a foregone conclusion. The hits? Eh, that's more complicated. But Cabrera can get there if he plays through his age-40 season, as planned, and averages 146 hits per year.
Cabrera is a long way away from that, and it could be that the things he can't control (broken bones, for instance) ultimately unravel his goal of being a 40-year-old force of nature.
But here in 2015, at least, Cabrera has dispelled any notion of decline and has re-established himself as the AL's elite bat.
Cabrera has plans to keep it coming.
"He's the best that you and I will ever see," Joyner said. "So let's appreciate it."