"I've got to appreciate this," Cabrera told MLB.com before the Tigers' 6-5 topsy-turvy win over the Red Sox. "We've [kept] the team together one more year. We know a lot of guys are going to be free agents next year. But we have to take this shot."
Cabrera turns 34 later this month. He has won a World Series, an American League Triple Crown and two AL Most Valuable Player Awards over nearly 14 years in the Major Leagues. Cabrera has the longest active tenure in Detroit of any player other than ace Justin Verlander. And he used the phrase "one more year" because he knows that is all these Tigers are promised.
The offseason began with general manager Al Avila offering indications the payroll would be right-sized after, he said, the franchise had worked "way above its means for some time." Owner Mike Ilitch, the man whose yearning for a World Series title willed the Tigers into the upper echelon of the sport, died in February. And when Cabrera looks around the clubhouse now, he sees All-Stars under club control for only one or two more seasons: J.D. Martinez, Francisco Rodriguez, Ian Kinsler and Victor Martinez.
Avila: "We want to stay competitive, but at the same time, this organization has been working way above its means for some time."
In sheer talent, the 2017 Tigers don't equal the forebears that won the AL Central from '11-14. But there's a credible postseason narrative to be crafted in Detroit this year, and Friday's white-knuckle win was a useful thumbnail: Starter Michael Fulmer pitched superbly, and the lineup was resourceful enough to overcome a wobbly bullpen.
Aside from James McCann's two-run homer, the Tigers scored on a sacrifice fly, a ground-ball single (through a drawn-in infield), a pinch-hit double (by platoon outfielder Mikie Mahtook), and a bases-loaded walk (by rookie JaCoby Jones).
No one would confuse these Tigers with the speedy Cardinals of Vince Coleman and Willie McGee, but Cabrera has taken note of the greater offensive adaptability over the past several weeks.
"We're taking the extra base," he said. "We're having better at-bats. I think we're doing a better job of that. This spring, that's what I've seen."
Manager Brad Ausmus acknowledged a line of demarcation in Friday's batting order, between the top five hitters (Kinsler, Nicholas Castellanos, Cabrera, Martinez, Justin Upton) and bottom four (Tyler Collins, McCann, Jones, Jose Iglesias). The top five, he said, are mostly going to swing away. The creativity -- a bunt, a steal, a hit-and-run -- comes into play after that.
That will change, perhaps significantly, once J.D. Martinez returns from the right midfoot sprain that forced him to the disabled list to begin the season.
"We're built to slug," Ausmus said, matter-of-factly, after Friday's victory. "We've got to slug."
The Tigers' lineup has had that identity for nearly every game of Cabrera's tenure, beginning with his first home opener in 2008. He homered that afternoon against the Royals, in a game the Tigers led early but lost when the bullpen buckled -- which nearly happened Friday.
"I noticed it would be totally different in Detroit," Cabrera said, reflecting on the atmosphere surrounding his 2008 Detroit debut. "I liked it. I'm still here. Hopefully I can play at a high level the last seven years here, so we can get a chance to go to the playoffs. We've got to be patient here in Detroit and try to [get] back to the playoffs."
Cabrera alluded to those "seven years" for a reason: When this season began, he had seven years and $220 million remaining on his contract.
The average annual value of Cabrera's current deal -- $31 million -- is the largest for a position player in Major League Baseball history, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. And for those who may doubt the Tigers' seriousness about trying to win in 2017, consider that their payroll of $200.3 million this season trails only the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox, by the data compiled at spotrac.com.
Cabrera has earned about $200 million in his career, according to Baseball-Reference.com, and is guaranteed to double that. He earned his first World Series ring as a rookie, with the 2003 Marlins, and could earn entry to Cooperstown with his resume.
On Friday, Cabrera was asked what still motivates him. He answered quickly.
"Win here in Detroit, man," Cabrera said. "We still need to look for a way to win a championship here."
The way in 2017 would be different than in previous years. But Cabrera is grateful for the chance he wasn't certain he'd have.
Jon Paul Morosi is a reporter for MLB.com and MLB Network. He has also covered baseball for FOX Sports, the Detroit Free Press and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.