Cabrera played through a Grade 2-3 groin strain, according to Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski. The decision regarding surgery was made after Cabrera got a second opinion from Philadelphia specialist William C. Meyers.
The slugger, speaking Sunday at the World Series in St. Louis, said resting down the stretch would not have affected the need for the operation.
"We checked with doctors," he said. "We got a lot of different opinions. If somebody had told me that if I rested 15 days, I'd be OK, I'd have rested 15 days. They didn't tell me that."
Cabrera, 30, hit a league-leading .348 in the regular season, and he finished second in the American League in home runs (44) and RBIs (137), making him a strong candidate to repeat as the AL MVP.
In 11 postseason games, Cabrera hit .262 with two home runs and nine strikeouts, and he appeared to be inhibited by the groin ailment.
On Sunday, Cabrera was announced as the AL recipient of the Hank Aaron Award, given to the top hitter in each league. Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt was the NL winner.