NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Florida Marlins revisited that very familiar path Wednesday afternoon, at the trailhead of which they'd already left the likes of Derrek Lee, Juan Pierre, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and years of contention, one blazed by the very man – Dave Dombrowski – seated beside their president of baseball operations when they announced the offloading of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Detroit Tigers, a deal widely report a day earlier.
Yes, the Tigers are better today, because Cabrera, who will still be 24 on Opening Day, is one of the capable hitters in the game, so much so that it matters little if Willis resumes his career as an ace or continues his slide toward the back of the rotation. Cabrera will hit in the middle of the Tigers' lineup – Jim Leyland hasn't decided where – and the Tigers will open the season as favorites in the American League Central and quite possibly in the entire league.
Leaving the Marlins to start over in the middle of starting over.
In return, they received six players who are huge in Baseball America circles but whose combined big-league resume amounts to 218 at-bats and 70 2/3 innings pitched. For the Marlins, it's about a bad ballpark and inconsistent revenue and, apparently, another economy-class seat on the game's $6 billion gravy train.
Left-hander Andrew Miller and center fielder Cameron Maybin could be great. If they are, maybe Marlins' honcho Larry Beinfest will return to a hotel ballroom in three or four winters to announce their names as part of a deal for the next generation of Millers and Maybins, pushing somebody else's payroll to $135 million and making somebody else's winter.
Dombrowski did the heavy lifting after the 1997 World Series, when the names were Gary Sheffield, Moises Alou and Kevin Brown, Beinfest stripped it all down after the 2003 World Series, and now here they were together on a podium in which everything has changed for the better for Dombrowski, and Beinfest keeps waking up in 2004.
"I did have to admit I had some flashbacks," Dombrowski said.
"Nightmares or flashbacks?" Beinfest countered.
The Marlins will be more youthful still, with a rotation of youngsters and third base to sort out. They'll also have to find 34 home runs and 119 RBI if they intend to replace Cabrera's bat. But, they have plenty of talent, and only two seasons ago made a nice run at wild-card contention in the very vulnerable National League.
Moreno accused the Marlins of leading the Angels to believe they had a deal, only to change the players involved. Sabean wondered why the Marlins felt they, "absolutely, positively have to win a deal in such a one-sided fashion."
"They’re doing it to everybody," Moreno had said. "I read that the Dodgers’ Ned Colletti had a deal, and they changed [players] on him."
Without prompting, Beinfest called such observations, "unprofessional and unnecessary."
Maybe as unprofessional as defaming the Seattle Mariners' contract with Ichiro Suzuki, a five-year, $90-million deal Marlins president David Samson called, "a joke" and "inexcusable," then accused the Mariners of "complete mismanagement."
Nevertheless, Beinfest continued.
"There were no deals," he said. "Our track record is we deal straight up. We know what we want. … We never got to that point with anybody. We knew what our bottom line was."
On that, they are fixated.