Tigers State of the Position: First Base

The Tigers are fortunate to have one of the game’s elite players manning first base, and they have been fortunate in this regard for many years now. Everyone expects Miguel Cabrera will continue to hold the fort over the long haul, but what happens if the unthinkable occurs?

MLB Grade: A
Players Considered: Miguel Cabrera
Miguel Cabrera is an elite hitter in every way imaginable, and though all players decline with age, his skill set is so advanced and of such high quality, that it is reasonable to expect him to continue to hit at an elite or near-elite level for several more years. Barring an unforeseen fire sale in Detroit, Cabrera is going to hold down first base for a long time, and that mitigates what you are about to witness with the rest of this analysis.

MLB-ready Depth Grade: F
Players Considered: Jefry Marte
There is much more than a non-zero chance Jefry Marte is not part of the Tigers organization in 2016, and that would make this section look even worse. The Tigers have no reliable backup plans should Miguel Cabrera be forced from the lineup. With the always tenuous health of Victor Martinez, the club is forced to look to guys like Marte, Alex Avila, and even Andrew Romine in short stints, to fill the void. That is far from an ideal scenario and one that should be of concern to Tiger fans everywhere as Cabrera ages.

Pipeline Grade: F
Players Considered: Corey Baptist, Dominic Ficociello, Dean Green
While it is hard to identify many truly top notch first base prospects in the game, the Tigers current prospect situation at the position is direr than most organizations. Dean Green should not handle a glove on a regular basis, making his consideration here generous, at best. Corey Baptist is several years away, if his raw power and the hints of hitting ability continue to translate. That leaves Dominic Ficociello, a player that doesn’t look the part of a slugging first baseman, though he does have some pop in his bat. Ficociello’s game lacks consistency and he needs developmental time, meaning if he were called on in 2016, it is unlikely he would be up to the challenge that early, and there are very legitimate questions whether his ceiling is anything more than an org player. All told, the Tigers have little on the horizon should Cabrera slide to DH when Martinez departs, or if Cabrera leaves the organization.

Risk Assessment
Short-Term Risk: Low
Long-Term Risk: Moderate

It is very likely the Tigers won’t have to worry about filling first base with anyone but Cabrera over the short and long-term. If that’s the case, then the Tigers are in good shape with only the inevitable decline of Cabrera’s skills presenting some level of risk to the organization at this position.

The Path Forward

The Tigers don’t need to do much here. It would be nice if they could find a way to protect Cabrera and keep him healthy, even if that means figuring out a way to move Victor Martinez so he can get more at-bats at DH over the course of the next few seasons.

In addition, given the dearth of talent in the system, it would make sense to try and either keep Jefry Marte in the organization, or find a suitable first base bat to stash in Toledo. The former is a simple maneuver where the club retains control of Marte by keeping him on the 40-man roster. The latter could be much more difficult, as minor league free agents (or even MLB veterans looking to hang on) worth their salt are going to be reluctant to sign in Detroit where opportunities to find time in the big leagues will be extremely limited. The Tigers will have little urgency at the position this off-season, but they do need to continue to consider the very real possibility that another part-time solution must be discovered.

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