NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Detroit Tigers had enough to pull off the biggest heist of the winter after all.
The Tigers have long coveted Cabrera, their management's love affair with him dating back nearly 10 years. Detroit assistant GM Al Avila, then the Marlins' scouting director, frothed over Cabrera as a 15-year-old in Venezuela. A year later, Marlins GM Dave Dombrowski – now in Detroit – plunked down a record $1.8 million to sign Cabrera, and three years after that, he was in the major leagues.
Detroit planted the seed for trades earlier in the day, when manager Jim Leyland approached a Marlins executive Tuesday morning and said, "We want Cabrera." The 24-year-old third baseman, who could be shifted to outfield, was rumored to be headed to the Los Angeles Angels until Detroit jumped into the fray.
As the day progressed, the scope of the trade grew to include the 25-year-old Willis, who finished second in the 2005 NL Cy Young voting.
The Marlins, looking to shed payroll, picked up the 20-year-old Maybin, universally regarded as one of the five best prospects in baseball, and the 22-year-old Miller, a left-handed pitcher who was considered the best player in the 2006 draft. Also included were catcher Mike Rabelo, reliever Eulogio de la Cruz and starters Dallas Trahern and Blake Badenhop.
A knock on Cabrera has been that he is overweight. It's possible that a rival of the Tigers, Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, inadvertently helped his American League Central foes become more aggressive about acquiring the third baseman when he was quoted Monday night as saying, "He eats the right things. He works out every day. He's in the best shape I've ever seen him in.
"Whoever gets this kid is gonna have a heck of a ballplayer with a different mentality."
Detroit considered adding Willis after the 2005 season, though his stock had soared so high the previous season that the price was prohibitive. The Tigers advanced to the 2006 World Series anyway, while Willis struggled that year and was even worse in '07.
His value dropped enough that the Tigers struck the deal even after trading their other top two prospects, outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and starter Jair Jurrjens, to acquire shortstop Edgar Renteria earlier this offseason.
Now the Tigers boast the scariest lineup in baseball, with Curtis Granderson leading off, Placido Polanco hitting second, Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Gary Sheffield, Carlos Guillen, Renteria, Ivan Rodriguez and a platoon or Jacque Jones and Marcus Thames.