Lakeland, Fla. – We may never know exactly how much Miguel Cabrera weighs. The man detests scales. Major League Baseball, without a fresh measurement, listed his weight at 240 pounds every year from 2008 until last season, when they listed him at a most generous 249.
But when he walked into the clubhouse for the first time on Monday, you didn’t need a scale to know he had lost a significant amount of weight – conservatively at least 25 pounds.
“Yeah, when I hugged him I could actually reach around him,” joked manager Ron Gardenhire.
Cabrera’s fitness, though, became serious business last year when the excess weight put more stress on his chronically-ailing right knee that it could bear. It’s a testament to his toughness that he still played 136 games and posted 549 plate appearances.
But he had to drastically modify his swing to keep the weight off his back leg, almost completely eliminating all the torque and twist from his lower body. As a result, he hit a career-low (for a full season) 12 home runs, a .398 slugging percentage and a 96 OPS-plus.
“There’s always a reason to motivate yourself,” Cabrera said. “Last year I wasn’t happy with my numbers. I wasn’t happy with the way we played and all the losses we had. That’s another reason to try to come here in shape and compete and try to win more games.”
Cabrera said he weighs as much as he did in 2015. That was the year he came in noticeably trimmer, but he quickly regained the weight because he felt he’d lost some of his power. Losing the weight this offseason wasn’t a luxury, it was a necessity.
“Last year I think I was heavy,” he said. “I did a lot of work from last year to this year. … You’ve always got to have a goal. My goal was to get in shape, get ready for the season, try to be back 100 percent and play the whole season.”
He said he didn’t drastically change his diet – just added some more vegetables and deleted a lot of carbohydrates. Mostly, he said, he tried to eat less of everything. He also adopted a total-body workout system devised by trainer Adam Boily, who owns the System8 gym in Fort Lauderdale.
Boily’s program integrates eight human systems – digestive, endocrine, nervous, skeletal, muscle, cardiovascular, integumentary (hair, skin, nails) and respiratory. Cabrera, though, wasn't in the mood to break down all the science.
“Just my normal stuff I do in the offseason," he said.
Well, there was one new wrinkle, for sure. He trained with former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
“It was great working out next to him because he works hard,” Cabrera said. “He goes in there and works. He motivates you. He says if you want something you need to work hard to get it.”
Cabrera went through all the morning fundamentals drills at first base Monday and then took about five rounds of batting practice. He didn’t participate in live batting practice, though he was scheduled to face Tigers ace Matthew Boyd.
“Right now we’re just happy to get him back on the field and just let him get back into it,” Gardenhire said. “Let’s just get through these early workouts and see how he does.”
Cabrera hit the ball hard and almost exclusively to right field his turns in the batting cage. He was still quickly shifting his weight to his front foot like he did last year, but that’s something he hopes to get away from.
“I don’t want to change my swing anymore,” he said. “I want to be natural. The last three years I changed my swing a lot, to feel comfortable at home plate and to not feel like something is bothering me.
“But I want to go out there and feel natural and not think about anything. Just react.”
Cabrera, who turns 37 in April, is entering his 18th season. He’s 23 home runs away from 500 and 185 hits away from 3,000. In a normal Cabrera season, he would easily reach those milestones this season.
“I always feel like I have to prove myself,” he said. “Always feel like I have to do better. Hopefully I can do a better job than last year and put up good numbers.”
Cabrera would like to play some first base again this year, which is why he was out there doing all the defensive drills Monday. Like he said at the end of last season, he hopes he doesn't have to be a permanent designated hitter for the rest of his career.
But his priorities are in proper order.
“I am here for the manager,” he said. “I will do whatever he wants. Wherever he wants me to play, I’m there. I just want to play in a lot of games. I don’t care where.”
Gardenhire didn’t rule out Cabrera playing some first base, but the Tigers paid free agent C.J. Cron $6.1 million to be the primary first baseman.
“Miggy put in the effort this offseason,” Gardenhire said. “We talked about it before the season ended last year. He told us he was going to get himself in really good shape and lose weight because he wants to play some first base.
“Whether that happens or not, we’ll see. I just want him to play all season.”
It never fails, though. The entire atmosphere changes when Cabrera rolls into camp. The energy level picks up, there’s a buzz in the clubhouse. When he stepped into the cage Monday, a dozen or so young players from minor-league camp crowded around the screen to watch him hit.
“We are talking about one of the better players to ever play the game,” Gardenhire said. “The guy loves baseball and he wants to play. He went out this offseason and did what he needed to do. He lost weight. Now we just have to take it day by day and see how he does.
“But he’s our leader, no doubt about that. When he’s here, everything gets louder and guys look up to him.”