Tigers Land Cabrera, Willis In Eight-Player Swap

The Deal
The trade is back and in a big way at the Winter Meetings. Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski made his second and third major acquisitions of the offseason Tuesday, sending center fielder Cameron Maybin, the organization’s top prospect, lefthander Andrew Miller, taken sixth overall in 2006, and four other players to Florida for the Marlins’ two most valuable and most talked about trading chips.

Third baseman Miguel Cabrera (who earned $7.4 million in 2007) and lefthander Dontrelle Willis ($6.45 million) head to Detroit in the eight-player swap, ending the seemingly endless speculation that they would be traded as they neared free agency. That the Marlins still have not secured funds for a new ballpark all but guaranteed the organization would not re-sign Cabrera or Willis, the two remaining members of the 2003 World Series winners. Both are arbitration eligible this offseason and can become free agents following the 2009 season.

The Marlins bounty of players consists of the aforementioned Maybin and Miller, as well as catcher Mike Rabelo and righthanders Eulogio de la Cruz, Dallas Trahern and Burke Badenhop.

The Big Leaguers
Cabrera is an offensive force, one of the game’s best young hitters and likely the best position player who will switch teams this offseason. He has plus power to all fields and a knack for hard contact. Cabrera turns 25 early next season and has hit at an elite level since his age-22 season in 2005. (Not that he was bad in his first two years.) Cabrera’s average season from 2005 to 2007 consisted of .327/.405/.564 averages with 31 homers, 44 doubles and 116 RBIs. Signed as a shortstop for a Venezuela-record $1.9 million in 1999, Cabrera moved quickly through the minors, playing in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2000 and spending a year each at low and high Class A. He played in just 69 games for Double-A Carolina in 2003 before being called to the Marlins on their run to the World Series. Cabrera hit .268/.325/.468 as a 20-year-old rookie, spending most of his time in left field. He capped a fine rookie campaign by homering off Roger Clemens in the Fall Classic. Cabrera returned to third base, his natural position, on a full-time basis in 2006, but he’s shown poor lateral movement and a below-average arm since making the switch. Listed at 240 pounds this season—which is up some 60 pounds from his rookie weight—Cabrera also draws knocks for his conditioning. He reportedly has shed 15 pounds this offseason.

The 2003 NL Rookie of the Year, Willis scuffled through the 2007 season, his command wavering as he struggled to repeat his release point in his complicated delivery. He went 10-15, 5.17 with 146-87 K-BB and a career-high 29 home runs allowed in 205 innings, numbers made worse by Florida’s atrocious defense—especially on the infield. The Tigers undoubtedly looked to Willis’ 2005 season, when he went 22-10, 2.63 and struck out a career-high 170 batters, as the heights of which he’s capable with average or better defensive support. Drafted by the Cubs in the eighth round of the 2000 draft and traded to the Marlins in March 2002 for Matt Clement, Willis has proven durable, averaging well over 200 innings per season since 2004. Deception brought about by a highly unorthodox delivery has been key to Willis’ success, as it allows his low-90s fastball, slider and changeup to play up. He’s gone 68-54, 3.78 with 757-344 K-BB in 1,023 big league innings.

Ranked as the top prospect in the 2006 draft when he was a junior at North Carolina, Miller fell to the Tigers at No. 6 because of large bonus demands. He got a guaranteed $5.45 million from Detroit and made his big league debut that August. He throws 93-95 mph and generates plus sink with little effort, and his mid-80s slider is a true out pitch. With a below-average changeup, though, Miller struggled to retire righthanded batters (.312/.414/.495) in 2007. He went 5-5, 5.63 with 56-39 K-BB in 64 innings overall. Because the Tigers have pushed him aggressively, Miller has thrown just 83 minor league innings.

Rabelo, 28, served as Detroit’s backup catcher while Vance Wilson missed the year with injury. The switch-hitter, whom the Tigers drafted from Tampa in the fourth round in 2001, batted .256/.300/.357 in 168 at-bats. Much of Rabelo’s value is derived from his fine game-calling, blocking and throwing ability, and he could fill a backup role in Florida, depending on the status of Miguel Olivo and Matt Treanor.

The Prospects
One of the most exciting prospects in the minors, Maybin, 21, remained remarkably composed throughout the year, a tribute to his makeup. Of course, it helps to have five-tool ability. The Tigers made Maybin the 10th overall pick in the 2005 draft and signed him for $2.65 million. He has plus-plus speed on the bases and was successful in all five of his steal attempts in the big leagues. He has a big frame and tremendous overall strength, which is evident in his incredible raw power to all fields. Still, he’s not afraid to hit the ball on the ground. With his speed, that will mean plenty of infield singles, and he’s comfortable taking pitches up the middle and into right field. He hit a combined .316/.409/.523 in the minors in 2007, spending most of his time with high Class A Lakeland. Maybin missed a month during the season with a partial dislocation of his right shoulder and again missed time during the Arizona Fall League with a left shoulder strain. See his scouting report for much more.

De la Cruz is most notable for his fastball that has reached 100 mph. Despite his outstanding velocity and hard curveball, de la Cruz struck out just 7.77 per nine innings in 66 innings as a starter at Double-A and 5.87 per nine in 38 1/3 innings as a reliever at Triple-A in 2007. The 23-year-old signed with the Tigers out of the Dominican Republic in 2001, made his pro debut in 2002 and has had issues with his command ever since. Though de la Cruz has a mid- to high-90s fastball, his 2.25 groundout-to-flyout ratio ranked third in the Eastern League and sixth in all of Double-A, albeit in only 66 innings. In 2006, he had a 1.63 groundout-to-flyout ratio in 105 Double-A innings, making him a groundball pitcher, but perhaps not to the extreme that his 2007 numbers might suggest.

Trahern, 22, was a 34th-round pick in 2004 out of high school in Oklahoma. Trahern’s best weapon is his low-90s sinker, which he keeps down in the zone. Trahern’s groundout-to-flyout ratio of 2.57 in 2007 ranked second in the Double-A Eastern League behind only Red Sox righthander Justin Masterson (3.52). Among all pitchers who pitched at Double-A or above, Trahern’s groundout percentage tied for sixth highest. The rest of Trahern’s repertoire, however, is average at best. His slider is an average pitch, and his changeup still needs work. He’s athletic and repeats his delivery, which helps his control (2.82 walks per nine innings in Double-A), but he doesn’t have strikeout stuff (5.09 strikeouts per nine). He also made one start in November at the World Cup in Taiwan, where Team USA won the gold medal.

Badenhop, 25, went 12-6, 2.92 in the pitcher-friendly Florida State and Eastern leagues. A 19th round pick from Bowling Green in 2005, Badenhop earned Tigers minor league pitcher of the year honors in 2006, though he’s more about polish than power. He’s 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, but relies on a high-80s sinker to induce ground balls, and uses a solid slider and changeup as complementary pitches.

Quick Take
This trade nearly empties the Tigers’ prospect cupboard, though it’s not difficult to envision the Tigers revamping through the draft given their history of going over slot for players who slid because of signability. Maybin, Miller, de la Cruz, Trahern, outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and righthander Jair Jurrjens all entered 2007 ranked as six of the organization’s top 10 prospects. But it’s hard to argue with the return: Cabrera, Willis and shortstop Edgar Renteria figure to improve the Tigers markedly for 2008 and 2009. Detroit also added outfielder Jacque Jones in a smaller-scale trade.

Because most of the players the Marlins received are major league ready, or nearly so, they’ll have a multitude of options as they break camp in 2008. With little center-field opposition, Maybin figures to get an extended trial, and Miller can slot into Willis’ vacated rotation spot.

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