Tigers pry Cabrera, Willis from Marlins
Blockbuster involves eight players, pending medical reviews
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tigers began Tuesday as the team conceivably built to contend for the next several years. They ended the day as the team many expect to win now, not just contend.
Though neither the Tigers nor Marlins officials were commenting on the record about their agreement on an eight-player mega-trade, expected to be announced Wednesday pending review of medical records, the aftershocks were already shaking the rest of the league and officials at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. By acquiring Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from the Marlins for Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Mike Rabelo and Minor Leaguers Dallas Trahern, Eulogio De La Cruz and Burke Badenhop, the Tigers will give up what might be an unprecedented amount of future talent in recent memory for an infusion of present power that instantly makes Detroit a team for opponents to fear in 2008.
"The Tigers are a very aggressive organization and they're very astute," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters Tuesday evening. "Dave Dombrowski is as good as they come. They're going to put forth a great team, which they've done since they've gotten there. He's put them in championship caliber form and they've become a team that sets the tone."
A day earlier, there was no tone from the Tigers, just some exploring with other teams. But somewhere along the line, Dombrowski and others decided to find out what interest they could attract if Maybin and Miller were no longer untouchable. Exploration soon turned into something more concrete. Then, by Tuesday evening, they turned into the framework for a deal.
All that remains now is for the teams to review medical records and finalizing the minute details on the swap. No contract extensions are expected to be included on Willis and Cabrera, both of whom have two more seasons remaining before they become eligible for free agency.
That means that for at least the next two seasons, the Tigers have one of the most talented lineups in the American League, not to mention a pitching staff that uniquely combines youth with experience. What happens beyond that -- not just in terms of Cabrera and Willis, but in terms of the prospects lost -- is anybody's guess, but it's clear from Detroit's dealings this offseason that the focus has become the more immediate future.
"Obviously there is a lot of mixed emotion that goes along with a trade of this magnitude as I am sure the Tigers fans are also feeling," Curtis Granderson, a close friend of Maybin, wrote in an e-mail. "Most of the players we are trading away I have developed strong relationships with, and you hate to lose them.
"However, we are bringing in some incredibly talented players as well, and from all accounts, good teammates. Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera have won World Series titles [in 2003], which is the main goal for this organization. They have experience and great leadership abilities. Plus they have proven they can perform at a high level on a big stage."
Cabrera had been the most prominent offensive player on baseball's trading block this winter, a 24-year-old slugger with four seasons of production under his belt. He batted .320 this past season with career highs of 34 home runs and 119 RBIs in a Marlins lineup that didn't have a whole lot of support around him. He has batted .328 over his last three seasons.
He joins a Detroit lineup that already boasts All-Stars Placido Polanco, Gary Sheffield, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen and Edgar Renteria around the middle of the order, as well as blossoming hitter Curtis Granderson at the top.
"We don't think 24-year-old superstars come along very often," manager Jim Leyland told the Detroit Free Press. "You can wait a lifetime to get a player like Cabrera. We gave up a lot, but you're supposed to give up a lot to get a superstar."
The Marlins put Cabrera on the block for salary concerns. He made $7.4 million this past season and is eligible for salary arbitration this winter.
"It's great to have him," Ordonez told LasMayores.com in Spanish. "At this moment, he is the best Venezuelan player in baseball. He is a fighter, a competitor. He knows how to win.
"This makes our team much better. Last year we lost because we had too many injuries. With Miguel and Dontrelle, we are going to be the favorites to win the division."
The same financial motivations and potential returns pushed the Marlins to deal Willis, a two-time All-Star who has won 68 games over five years in the big leagues, including 22 in 2005. He struggled last season to a 10-15 record and 5.17 ERA, including a 3-8 record and 5.74 ERA over the second half.
The Tigers are banking that the 2007 season was an exception rather than a trend. He was 12-12 in 2006, but his ERA that year was 3.87 while he battled a dearth of run support. Detroit is also counting on a change of scenery to make a difference.
Willis had not been contacted by the Tigers as of early Tuesday evening. He is vacationing in Mexico.
"Like I said the whole time it's all a business," Willis told MLB.com. "I mean, I have been on the trading block for kind of a world record for the last three years. They found a deal suitable for both sides, so I'm happy to go over there and try to do my thing."
"I was very proud and happy about my time in Florida. [Team owner Jeffrey] Loria was wonderful to me and the opportunity was great, but at the same time, I understand it's a business. I'm also happy I'm wanted somewhere other than Florida. I'm going to go out there and do the best I can for the team I'm with now."
Willis joins a rotation where he's now another strong member rather than someone who has to be an ace amongst a group that includes Justin Verlander, Kenny Rogers, Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson.
The pitching ranks in the Minors, of course, is drastically thinner now. Miller, the team's first-round selection in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, was expected to compete for the final spot in the rotation in just his second full pro season. The lanky 22-year-old left-hander had his moments upon a midseason call to the rotation before finishing with a 5-5 record and 5.63 ERA.
"He just needs to throw more strikes with his fastball, pretty much just getting a chance to pitch more and getting more experience," said Matt Walbeck, Miller's former manager at Double-A Erie and now the third-base coach of the Texas Rangers. "But he certainly has the physical and mental makeup to be a successful pitcher for a long time."
De La Cruz had a brief callup last summer to help Detroit's depleted bullpen, but most of his success came at Erie and Triple-A Toledo. He went 7-5 between the two levels with an ERA under 3.50 as he tried to hone his control on an impressive fastball that has hit as high as 100 mph on the radar gun.
Trahern, whose hard sinkerball is his calling card in pro ball, had a stellar start at Erie before finishing with a 13-6 record and 3.83 ERA, including one start at Toledo. Badenhop climbed the ranks of Detroit's pitching prospects by going 12-6 with a 2.92 ERA between Erie and Class A Lakeland.
"I love the Tigers organization, but this a new door opening for me," Trahern told MLB.com. "But I haven't heard anything yet. I'm a little surprised by this. I wasn't aware of this. I wasn't aware that we were in the Cabrera/Willis talks."
Then, of course, there's Maybin, the No. 3 prospect in MLB.com's recent top 50 rankings around baseball and one of the best pure athletes in the game. He reached the big leagues last August at age 20 after batting a combined .316 with 14 home runs, 53 RBIs and 25 stolen bases at three different levels. Though he was clearly not ready for the Majors upon his arrival in August, he wasn't far off, and the Tigers had intentionally kept their plans short term in left field in anticipation he'd be ready by 2009.
"He's going to put up tremendous power numbers," Walbeck said. "I think he's going to have a tremendous on-base percentage. He's going to have a lot of steals, and he's going to make the players around him better. The players that are around him are going to be able to feed off his intensity."
The Tigers likely would've had to give up Maybin and Miller to get Cabrera alone, leaving some long-term questions in the rotation as a result. By adding prospects and getting Willis in the mix, the Tigers have come up with a deal that could well affect how the rest of the AL Central deals this offseason. The White Sox were reportedly involved heavily in talks for Cabrera, and the Twins are still weighing potential deals for Johan Santana as they debate whether to reload for future years.
For the Tigers, the future clearly is now.
"It is exciting to see the organization continue to put us in a position to contend for a World Series title," Granderson said.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.