Statistically, it'll be Cabrera's least productive season since he broke into the Majors in 2003. But his frustrations go well beyond that. His back has bothered him off and on since Spring Training. He has gone from the cornerstone of a perennial contender to the veteran mentor of a rebuilding team. By the time the Tigers have a foundation to contend again, Cabrera could well be an elder statesman on the club, chasing milestones.
Wednesday marked the first time in weeks he has talked at length about his situation. At the same time, much as he wants to forget this year, he knows he can't.
"You have to learn from this," he said.
He has to change his offseason workouts, moving away from heavy lifting and putting in more time for core work and flexibility. He has to shift his presence somewhat in the clubhouse, following the quiet leadership of mentors he had coming up with the Marlins, like Ivan Rodriguez. He has to stay positive, but competitive through what are going to be trying times in the standings ahead.
"We have to show these guys the way we have to play to win games," he said, "show these guys how you go out there and play hard and how to take care of your business and how to go out there and be a professional and try to win the most games we can. We have to go out there and show up and try to be the best team we can be and try to be the best players we can be in the field."
But first and foremost, he needs to get healthy and stay healthy.
"This has bothered me since Spring Training," he said of his back. "It's been bothering me all year. At some points I was feeling good, and at some points I feel I can't go anymore. I need to change a lot of things this season so I can come in better shape."
He has an appointment scheduled for Monday with a specialist in Miami for a second opinion on his back, which has been diagnosed with two herniated disks. But unless he hears differently, the plan is for six weeks of physical therapy, treatment and core muscle exercises designed to stretch the back and strengthen the muscles around the disks.
Once he's done with that, he can move on to normal offseason workouts, but he wants to change those, too.
"I lifted too heavy," he said. "That's why I got my injury in Spring Training. But I didn't think it was a big deal. I kept playing with that, because that's the way I am. I never want to stop playing. But I have to learn from this and try to take care of myself better."
If he can treat his back, he believes he can regain the explosiveness in his swing, not to mention the plate coverage that made him such a tough strikeout. He developed a bad habit of arching his back at the plate, leaning back to stretch, which left him vulnerable to pitches outside and took away some of his trademark opposite-field hitting.
"I'm leaning back. There's no way you're going to hit like that," he said. "I think this year I struck out with a lot of bad swings on a lot of pitches out of the strike zone. But the good thing is I know what I'm doing wrong."