Few players have been as consistently excellent at the plate as Miguel Cabrera in his prime.
That seems like a long time ago now.
Cabrera hit only 12 home runs last season and has just 31 over the past three years. He'll turn 37 in April, and there are plenty of indications that the Detroit star is in the middle of a protracted decline. From 2005-13, Cabrera batted at least .320 eight times in nine seasons — and hit at least 30 home runs in all but one year.
At this point, the Tigers would probably settle for a 20-homer season and an average around .300. That would be a step up from last year, but it remains to be seen if Cabrera — whose big contract lasts until at least 2023 — is capable of halting this slide in production.
Cabrera is one of a handful of players around baseball with a lot to prove this year. Here are a few more:
CLAYTON KERSHAW, DODGERS
Kershaw's 2019 season ended in agonizing fashion, when his failed relief appearance cost Los Angeles dearly in the Division Series finale against Washington. Postseason problems still hang over Kershaw, but the more pressing question may be about the regular season: Does he have another Cy Young Award-winning campaign in him? At age 31 last year, he went 16-5 with a 3.03 ERA — impressive by any reasonable standard, but also his worst ERA since his rookie season. Kershaw also hasn't reached 180 innings in any of the past four seasons.
JOSE RAMIREZ, INDIANS
Ramirez belonged on any list of the game's top players and appeared to be in his prime. Then his offensive numbers took a hit last year, and Cleveland ceded AL Central supremacy to Minnesota. The good news for the Indians is that Ramirez looked like his old self after the All-Star break, when he hit .327 with 16 home runs and 48 RBIs in 44 games.
EDWIN DIAZ, METS
Diaz's first season with the Mets was a mess. He went 2-7 with a 5.59 ERA, blowing seven saves and allowing 15 homers. It was hard to believe it was the same guy who saved 57 games for Seattle the previous year. New York still won 86 games despite Diaz's problems, so the team has some upside if he can bring more stability to the bullpen.
KHRIS DAVIS, ATHLETICS
Finally, Davis finished a season with a batting average other than .247 after ending up on that mark for four straight years. Unfortunately for Davis, the streak ended because his average slipped to .220. He also hit only 23 home runs after slugging more than 40 for three straight seasons.
TREVOR BAUER, REDS
Bauer went 11-13 with a 4.48 ERA last year for the Indians and Reds. His stellar 2018 is still the only season of his career with an ERA under 4.00, but he did strike out a career-high 253 hitters last season, so he still has the potential to dominate.
ALEX BREGMAN, ASTROS
Really, the entire Houston team should be on this list. The sign-stealing scandal that left a cloud over the club's recent accomplishments also puts the Astros under a microscope in 2020. Bregman hit .296 with 41 home runs and 112 RBIs last year, finishing second in the American League MVP race. He turns 26 this month, and under normal circumstances, we'd be wondering what the rest of his prime would look like. Instead, it feels as though Bregman — and several other Astros — need a big year just to validate the numbers they've put up previously.
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