12/05/07 8:45 PM ET
Teams give up a bunch in blockbuster
Marlins trade established stars, while Tigers deal prospects
Welcome to the deal between the Detroit Tigers and the Florida Marlins, a marriage of opposites. The Tigers had the need to win now and the resources to support that need. The Marlins did not have the resources to keep the valuable help they had, but had the need to gather talent for the longer-term future.
It could turn out to be the classic trade that helped both teams; in this case, Detroit no later than next season, and Florida over the long haul. Time will tell about that. But there is no doubting the magnitude of the deal.
Combine the quality and quantity of talent involved with the willingness of both clubs to include value in the trade, and you have the blockbuster deal of this winter. Detroit gets third baseman Miguel Cabrera and starting pitcher Dontrelle Willis, two major talents, while Florida gets the promise of future improvement, with two of Detroit's leading young talents, outfielder Cameron Maybin and lefty starter Andrew Miller, along with a backup catcher and three more valuable prospects.
"We gave up a lot, and we got a lot," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said on Wednesday. "That, to me, is the beauty of this trade.
"I like the fact that we got young players, young Major League stars, and they got young Minor League star prospects."
Given the scope of the trade, Leyland indicated, it took some courage to take this major step.
"I can pull some strings in the dugout, but I don't know that I could have pulled the trigger on this deal," Leyland said. "[General manager] Dave Dombrowski really showed me something."
Leyland went on to give credit to Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest for holding up his end of the bargain, and to Tigers owner Michael Ilitch for giving Detroit the financial maneuvering room to take on Cabrera and Willis. There eventually will be considerable addition to the Tigers' payroll if both players are retained for the long term.
The Marlins did not have this sort of luxury, which was why this trade was made possible in the first place.
"It is a function of our situation," Beinfest said.
That situation, Beinfest indicated, was that the club would not be able to afford to retain Cabrera and Willis through two more years of arbitration eligibility each, not to mention free agency.
The Marlins have been down this road before. Beinfest has been forced to trade such notables as Derrek Lee, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Juan Pierre. Ironically, in the first trade Beinfest made for the Marlins, he got Willis in a very good deal with the Chicago Cubs.
If the Marlins have a record of trading away talented but potentially pricey players, they also have a record of getting value in return. That seems to be the case here, particularly with Miller and Maybin. The Marlins project Miller as a front-of-the-rotation starter, and they see Maybin as an above-average center fielder with 30-homer potential. The Tigers felt the same way, which was why parting with the prospects was not a snap decision.
"I think Maybin is going to be a star," Leyland said. "I don't think there is any question about it. And I think Miller is going to be, too."
So the Marlins had to surrender the two highest-profile players, but they don't want this to be seen as waving the white flag of surrender. They already had a load of young talent on their roster. Now they will have even more. They expect to be no worse than competitive, while getting better over time.
"We have very good players," Beinfest said. "We have strong, young starting pitching; some of it already here and some of it coming. Our expectations have not changed."
The quantity and quality of the young talent the Tigers parted with made this trade a two-way street and also made it something tougher than a snap decision for the Detroit organization.
"This is a big deal. This was really something," Leyland said. "I heard somebody out in the lobby say that this was a no-brainer. I don't buy that. This was a brainer. This wasn't easy."
The Tigers clearly were a contending team before this trade. As Leyland said, he liked his club before this week. Now he likes his club even better.
What is the appropriate category above contender? You now would make the Tigers the favorites in the American League Central, although the Cleveland Indians, the defending division champions, will not be easily brushed aside. The same thing holds true in the larger arena, the potential AL pennant. The Boston Red Sox won the 2007 World Series on merit, and they don't seem to be getting any worse. The Tigers now appear, at the very least, to be one of the best two teams in baseball.
Their 2007 lineup was second in the AL in runs scored. Now, with the addition of Cabrera, a genuine top-shelf run producer, it will be even better.
"The offensive lineup that we have now is the best offensive lineup I've had," Leyland said. "I don't think there's any question about that."
There will be additional pressure on the Tigers. They will not be merely expected to contend. They will be expected to win. This, Leyland figures, is not a bad thing.
"It's good pressure," the manager said. "I've managed a lot of years going to Spring Training knowing you didn't have a chance to win. Who the hell wants that?
"I like the fact that we're going to have people saying: 'You'd better win.' That's better than having people saying: 'Maybe he can keep his job if he finishes 10 games under (.500).'"
For the Tigers, the importance of this deal should become apparent just about the time the 2008 season opens. For the Marlins, the success of this deal will be calculated in a more extended period, well beyond the '08 season. But the quality of this deal suggests the concept of their long-term improvement is not a pipedream.
This deal was a blockbuster for the amount of talent sent in both directions. If it works out the way both clubs hope, with the Tigers getting better very soon and the Marlins getting better later, it will be one of the rare classics -- the very big trade that helped both teams.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.