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Myopic Hindsight: Revisiting The Miguel Cabrera Trade

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At the time it was a high stakes game of baccarat. The Florida Marlins traded Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Detroit Tigers for Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin, Mike Rabelo, Eulogio De La Cruz, Burke Badenhop, and Dallas Trahern. Six players (including two “untouchable” prospects) for a superstar and a reliable pitcher. A win-win.

Perhaps a year and a half after the fact is too soon to declare a victor in the trade. Nevertheless, let us pine:

Miguel CabreraMiguel Cabrera — I’m looking at the all-time Tigers career home runs list. They’ve never had someone hit 400 with the team. Sure, they’ve had Juan Gonzalez and Gary Sheffield (who now has 500), but those were brief moments in their careers I’m sure most Tigers fans would rather soon forget with the right amount of blunt force trauma. Al Kaline retired with 399 home runs. He would have had 400 except he missed two months of a season with a broken collarbone suffered while diving for the final out in a 2-1 victory over the Yankees. So let’s just say he has 400 homers for his career. He earned it.

That would make Miguel Cabrera the second (and first non-honorary) member of the Tigers’ 400 Dingers Club. Every year he’s an MVP candidate, and he may even pick up a few Gold Gloves along the way. I think when he was traded as a 24-year-old, everybody saw many more years like this to come. However, they didn’t expect the downfall of…

Dontrelle Willis — The 2003 Rookie of the Year. A Cy Young-type year in 2005 (22-10, 2.63 ERA, five shutouts). There was a noticeable decline leading up to his trade, but who expected a 1-6 record and an 8.27 ERA in 15 games over two years? No two ways about it, this was a disaster acquisition, and when we’re talking about the worst trades Detroit ever made (Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz, Luis Gonzalez (and cash!) for Karim Garcia, Juan Gonzalez for half of Hamtramck), if we could isolate the Willis component, it would probably take the cake, the icing, and even those little plastic flowers. (Are they plastic? Are they edible? I’ve always just avoided them.)

So if half of the Tigers’ satchel of goodies included magic beans, did they in turn give away snake oil?

Cameron Maybin — How young was this guy when he got called up to the bigs? He was still wearing braces. The first round pick of 2005 is in Triple-A New Orleans, but the 22-year-old is all but the future centerfielder for the Marlins. By this I mean the Marlins will flip him to a big market team for four more prospects in three years.

Andrew Miller — The Cameron Maybin of former Tigers pitchers, if you will. He was brought up early, everyone caught a glimpse, and then he was traded away. I have to wonder if Maybin and Miller made it to Detroit so quickly so as to increase their tantalizing trade value. It’s a flawless plan. Even if he sports an ERA around 5.00 his rookie season, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski can just tell other GMs, “What do you want? He’s just 22!” And while Miller’s only 24 today, younger pitchers with less hype have accomplished more than him, who’s 9-15 with a 5.43 in two years since the trade.

Burke Badenhop — The Bowling Green, Ohio native and BGSU graduate is shaping up to be a very dependable spot starter/long reliever. What this means is in three years, he’ll be shipped to another team for only two prospects.

Dallas Trahern — Technically with Triple-A New Orleans, but he’s been hurt pretty much all year. I’d say the jury is out on him, but that’s a hell of a long time to sequester them.

Eulogio De la Cruz — The funeral on a ship has already set sail to another team, the Padres. He was exchanged for a player to be named later, and although it’s much later, they have not yet named a player. Must be because the Padres are out of them.

Mike Rabelo — Now this is what you call a throw-in. Calling Mike Rabelo a career backup catcher might be generous. But with an arm injury this year, the 29-year-old’s only playing time has been playing DH in the Gulf Coast League. “Hey, who’s the old dude?” “I don’t know, but let’s see if he’ll buy us beer.”

Conclusion: In hindsight, Willis was flotsam waiting to happen, while De La Cruz and Rabelo were inevitable jetsam. The best case scenario is that Maybin becomes an All-Star center fielder, while Miller, Trahern and Badenhop end up in the starting rotation. Giving up Miguel Cabrera for that is a pretty solid maneuver for Florida. For Detroit, considering the talent that came up this year for them, it looks like their farm system had prospects to burn, so Cabrera was a great pickup. But given what the Marlins set out to accomplish, this trade benefited them more.

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