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03/25/08 4:34 PM EST

Tigers lock up Cabrera for eight years

Contract is biggest awarded in Detroit team history

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Miguel Cabrera could have ended up being one of the most coveted free agents in recent memory had he waited two years. Instead the Tigers now have him signed for the next eight.

It was Cabrera's decision. His agent, Fernando Cuza, had prepared a year-by-year list of projected salaries to compare what the Tigers were offering with what Cabrera might be able to earn in free agency. What the list didn't measure was Cabrera's comfort level.

"I feel good here," Cabrera said on Tuesday afternoon. "I feel like it's my home. I have a lot of friends here. It's a great team. I want to stay with a winning team, and it's going to be a winning team."

With that, the Tigers were able to accomplish what they wanted -- and arguably needed -- to do since last December's blockbuster trade: They signed Cabrera to a long-term deal. The eight-year, $152.3 million contract vaults the slugging third baseman into the company of baseball's highest-paid players with the biggest contract ever given to a Detroit player.

The deal includes the $11.3 million salary for 2008 that Cabrera agreed to this winter to avoid arbitration, and adds $141 million over the seven seasons that follow. The inclusion of 2008 makes the total contract value the fourth-largest in baseball history, behind Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Manny Ramirez.

"It's hard for me to fathom those dollars," president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "But I'll also say, when we made the trade in December, you discuss those things [internally] at that time. That's the time when you're really looking at yourself in the mirror. Because if you're not prepared to do it at that point, then don't make the trade. You're not making the deal to only get him for two years. You want him to be part of your organization for a long time."

The Tigers didn't know that Cabrera would be receptive, but they were hopeful. Assistant GM Al Avila had signed Cabrera to the Marlins organization as a teenager out of Venezuela in 1999. More important, they were bringing Cabrera into a Detroit clubhouse that is heavily populated with prominent Venezuelan players.

Yorman Bazardo grew up with Cabrera in the same hometown of Maracay. Carlos Guillen lived in the same town, albeit several years apart. Cabrera idolized Magglio Ordonez, who was born in Caracas, growing up.

Ivan Rodriguez didn't grow up in Venezuela, but he was a Marlins teammate on the 2003 World Series champion. So was Dontrelle Willis, who came over in the same trade. Denny Bautista was a teammate of Cabrera's in the Marlins' farm system.

The comfort level was there, and the Tigers were clearly conscious of the financial commitment it would take. Turning that into a contract agreement was essentially the key to getting a return in December's trade, which sent six players -- including top prospects Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin -- to Florida for Cabrera and Willis.

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"People say, 'You traded all these guys to win now,' " Avila said. "Well, that's not true. We traded all these guys to win now and in the future. Our intentions were all along to sign him to a long-term deal. You have a player like him, [Curtis] Granderson, [Justin] Verlander, [Jeremy] Bonderman, all these young guys, you're looking at the future."

The goal is for Cabrera, along with the others, to form the core of the team as years go by and some of Detroit's more veteran players retire.

"We're very, very thrilled to have a player like Miguel be part of our organization for many years," Dombrowski said, "a young player who, in our minds, will only continue to get better."

Cabrera owns a .313 average with 138 home runs and 523 RBIs in 720 games over the course of his five-year career. He has driven in at least 112 runs in each of his four full Major League seasons, and he has batted at least .320 in each of the last three years.

He had talked this winter about comfort level more than free agency. That comfort, he said, was evident when he arrived.

"I felt that from the first day I got here," he said.

In the end, that and the length of the contract proved to be major factors.

"Miguel saw both sides of the ledger," Cuza said. "He saw what the [salary] numbers were going to be projectable. And he also saw what the Tigers were offering. And ultimately, he was the one who made the decision, to go ahead and stay here with this organization.

"Did he leave money on the table? I don't have a crystal ball. He was willing to [say], 'I'm comfortable here. I don't have to go for the almighty last dollar.' That was his position."

The bulk of the negotiations took place in Florida during Spring Training over what Cuza and Tigers legal counsel John Westhoff estimated were as many as 30 conversations and six or seven in-person meetings in and around Lakeland.

Through the final workings of the deal, Cabrera will be paid an average of just over $20 million a season from 2009 to 2015. He'll have a limited no-trade clause, and the length of the contract will allow him to become a free agent at the age of 32. The final forms were signed on Tuesday in the Tigers' offices in Lakeland, after which they had a hastily scheduled press conference.

Cuza, ironically, was the agent for Miguel Tejada when the Tigers tried unsuccessfully to woo the All-Star shortstop as a free agent following the 2003 season.

"It was a gutsy move by the Tigers," Cuza said. "You trade a lot of players for Miguel [Cabrera], and you have the possibility of renting him for two years, and then lose him. But it paid off, because if they were trying to compete for this guy on the free-agent market, would they be on top of the list right now? It would be very difficult for them to compete for him on the free-agent market when other teams are throwing out more years and dollars."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.