Miguel Cabrera completed the first triple crown season in baseball in 45 years Wednesday night, when he finished the year leading the American League in home runs (44), batting average (.330) and runs batted in (139). It is a historic achievement, even in the new world of baseball sabermetrics, which have diminished the importance of batting average and RBI stats and proclaimed Mike Trout to be the best player in the AL in 2012. Cabrera's feat warranted a front page story in Thursday's New York Times. Not front page of the sports section, but on A1 amidst the coverage of the Obama versus Romney debate.
A feat this remarkable should be worth millions of dollars for Cabrera, right? Not exactly.
Cabrera is already well-compensated thanks to the eight-year, $152 million contract he signed with the Detroit Tigers in 2008. He earned $21 million this season and is owed $65 million for the last three years of his deal. Cabrera turns 33 in April, 2016 when his next contract kicks off and he'll have 13 seasons under his belt. Cabrera could still be the best hitter in the game then, but free agent suitors will judge him much more on his 2014 and 2015 stats, instead of his magical 2012 season.
Cabrera ranked No. 59 in our look at the world's 100 highest-paid athletes in June. The reason he does not rank higher is a lack of endorsement income. Cabrera earns $150,000 annually off the field through memorabilia and small endorsement deals with Wilson Sporting Goods, Franklin Sports and New Balance. Few baseball players earn seven-figures off the field and a triple crown is not about to turn Cabrera into Derek Jeter, who is baseball's most marketable star and top endorser at $9 million annually.
Cabrera has a couple of strikes against him that are not going to disappear. The Spanish-speaking Cabrera is difficult to understand when speaking English. He has two alcohol incidents involving the police on his record. He ended up in police custody after a night of drinking and an argument with his wife in 2009. He went through three months of rehab before the 2010 season, but he was arrested on a drunk driving charge in 2011 and pled no contest.
Another strike: Detroit is far from a big market and Cabrera must compete for local endorsement deals with celebrated teammates Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander, in addition to stars from the Lions, Red Wings and Pistons. American companies might not be banging down the door of Cabrera's agents at SFX, but he can prosper in his native Venezuela, which is baseball crazed. Fellow Venezuelan Johan Santana of the New York Mets makes roughly $500,000 annually thanks in large part to deals at home.
Experts think the memorabilia market could be the area that Cabrera cashes in on. It could be worth more than $1 million. Although, the memorabilia market has dried up over the past decade and Cabrera's feat is not likely to provide an ongoing seven figure annuity.
One area that Cabrera will definitely cash in on is award bonuses. He has been locked in a tight MVP race with Trout and the Triple Crown could sway voters his way. His Tigers contract calls for a $200,000 bonus if he wins the MVP. Second place is worth $100,000.