LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers manager Brad Ausmus spent 18 years as a player watching the game blossom and contracts grow. He's part of management now, but when he hears the cries of salaries soaring up and away, it rings like the old generation griping about the new music the kids are listening to.
"Every generation of players says that about the following generation," Ausmus said. "They always say that the following generation is getting too much money.
"My take is the market's changing, and it has changed consistently since the union was formed, and this is what players are worth, and that's what they should get paid. I don't fault owners for paying it. I don't fault players for taking it.
"It's an entertainment industry. People don't gripe about what Tom Cruise is making. I'm sure he's doing pretty well."
Cruise, as Ausmus observed, never won a Triple Crown. When a reporter answered that Miguel Cabrera has never won an Oscar, Ausmus was ready.
"Neither has Tom Cruise," he said with a smile.
While Cabrera's record-setting contract created a stir around baseball, it was probably no surprise that the reaction was different in Tigers circles. Justin Verlander was in Miguel Cabrera's spot a year ago, holding a news conference at the end of Spring Training for a market-shifting contract extension. On Friday, he was a spectator, watching Cabrera accept an extension that makes his the largest contract in Major League history, reportedly $292 million for the next 10 seasons. The deal includes vesting options for 2024 and '25 at $30 million each, which would be triggered if Cabrera finishes in the top 10 in American League MVP Award voting the previous seasons.
"He deserves it," Verlander said. "He's the best player on the planet in my opinion, certainly the best hitter."
No matter what happens to the Tigers' payroll, Verlander's future in Detroit, of course, seems secure. Several teammates on the verage of hitting the open market in the next couple years, however, had similar sentiments.
"Well deserved," said Torii Hunter, who is entering the final season of his two-year deal.
Both Verlander and Hunter mentioned, as well as Ausmus, is the work that Cabrera puts in behind the production. As much as ability has put him in position of the best hitter in the game at the moment, and possibly one of the best of all time, so has his preparation over the past few years.
There's a price Cabrera puts in to be the player he is, they insist. It reflects in the market value he gets back. It's an aspect of Cabrera's game Hunter has said several times that he didn't know about until he joined the Tigers.
"Me on the other side as the enemy, I just saw him hit homers and said he could hit," Hunter said. "But to see what he does behind the scenes, that's what shows the success on the field. I mean, he's up at 6:30 in the morning in Spring Training, lifting weights and trying to get bigger, because now he's at first base. Last year, he was trying to lose weight so he could be a little quicker at third base.
"He does a lot of different things to prepare himself to be successful on the field. That's something I really admire, and I wasn't able to see that. He's in the cage, working on his swing. He's in the weight room, lifting weights. If anybody deserves it, a guy that truly represents baseball well, represents his organization like Miguel Cabrera deserves what he's got. That's impressive."
It's that work ethic, they say, that gives Cabrera the chance to play up to the contract -- not just the value, but the years as he ages. They get the emphasis on paying for future production, not past.
Hunter, at age 38, has an appreciation for it. He has had to not only work hard, but adjust his game as he has grown older. Asked what advice he'd have for Cabrera, his relayed something he was told as a teenager.
"Don't get too bulky, and don't get overweight," Hunter said. "Once you get that tire around your waist, you're done. You can't rotate, you can't move, you slow down. Somebody told me that a long time ago, when I was 16."
Asked how Cabrera's game will evolve, Hunter said, "A guy like that, he can hit. Of course, his running and athleticism might diminish a little bit, but as far as hitting, this guy's going to hit, no doubt about it. Just give him a bat. …
"And he can DH. This is the American League. He can DH at least five of those years if he wanted to. If he plays first base, you don't have to do much at first either. I think he'll be fine."
Cabrera, for his part, wasn't guaranteeing anything about being a designated hitter. When asked if he expects to be a DH at age 40, his final year, he shrugged.
"I don't know yet," he said. "Let's wait 10 more years. Let's talk about right now. I'm going to play first. Let's wait until I get to 40 and ask me that."
The power could eventually tail off, as could some other facets of hitting. The coordination, the pitch recognition, the approach should not, in Hunter's eyes.
"Your reflexes might, but I don't think your hand-eye coordination diminishes that much," Hunter said.
Said Verlander: "You look at his swing, you look at his body type -- he's a big, strong guy, so I think he's going to be able to hit for as long as he wants to hit. I don't think it's any question."
If he does, Verlander said, he has the chance for a historic career.
"He's already on the cusp of being a Hall of Famer," Verlander said. "I mean, if he quit today, he might be a Hall of Famer. I mean, it's crazy to say, but I talked about that. Triple Crown, two MVPs, the numbers that he's put up are just sick. And if you look at a lot of times the Hall of Fame, it's like player by decade, and he's been head-and-shoulders the best player in this decade, and he probably will be in the next.
"It's incredible. If he stays healthy, I don't see any reason why he can't be the best hitter of all time."