Tigers, Marlins finish blockbuster deal
NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Dontrelle Willis was on vacation in Mexico when the blockbuster deal was completed, and Miguel Cabrera was home in Venezuela.
Their next stop is Detroit, where the busy Tigers are building an awfully powerful team.
The Tigers finalized their big trade with the Marlins on Wednesday, an eight-player swap that sent both coveted All-Stars from cash-strapped Florida to go-for-broke Detroit.
"I was caught off-guard," Willis said on a conference call. "When I heard where I was going, I was eager and excited."
The Marlins received a package of six players, including two highly rated prospects: left-hander Andrew Miller and outfielder Cameron Maybin. The teams reached a preliminary agreement Tuesday, with the deal subject to both sides being satisfied after exchanging medical records.
The Tigers also sent catcher Mike Rabelo and right-handers Burke Badenhop, Eulogio De La Cruz and Dallas Trahern to Florida in a huge trade that developed quickly and took the spotlight away from the Johan Santana sweepstakes at baseball's winter meetings.
"The inclusion of Dontrelle was not something at the outset that we had considered," Florida president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. "We recognize the market value for both players."
Detroit president Dave Dombrowski didn't intend to pursue the pair until he received a surprise phone call at home two days before Thanksgiving from owner Mike Ilitch, who read in a newspaper that Cabrera was available.
"I just wanted to kind of mention his name, that he seems like he'd be a great player for us," Ilitch said, according to Dombrowski.
"Well, he would be," Dombrowski remembered replying.
The clubs touched base a little bit Monday night, then Florida approached Detroit on Tuesday morning. The Marlins told the Tigers they could have both stars for those six players, then Detroit called back later in the day and agreed.
"We made this trade to win now. It's obvious," Dombrowski said.
Tigers closer Todd Jones was more emphatic.
"Wow. Those moves put us over the top," he wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
The Tigers reached the World Series in 2006, then went 88-74 this season and finished eight games behind Cleveland in the AL Central.
Cabrera and Willis can become free agents after the 2009 season, but the Tigers hope to keep them long term.
"I have been on the trading block for so long," Willis said. "It'd be mentally draining."
Cabrera, one of the game's top sluggers, joins an imposing lineup that includes Magglio Ordonez, Gary Sheffield, Carlos Guillen, Ivan Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco. The Tigers also acquired shortstop Edgar Renteria, a five-time All-Star, in a trade with Atlanta this offseason.
The 24-year-old Cabrera made 23 errors at third base this season and has been criticized for his conditioning. He's said he's been working out this fall in Miami and Venezuela.
"I want to be in the best shape of my life," Cabrera said.
To make room for him, it appears Detroit could trade third baseman Brandon Inge or left fielder Marcus Thames. Cabrera played the outfield in 2004 and 2005.
"We didn't talk yet about that. I will play left field, third base, whatever they want. I can't wait to go to spring training to see what they want to do," Cabrera said.
Willis, the 2003 NL Rookie of the Year, is coming off a down year in which he went 10-15 with a 5.17 ERA.
"I had to battle through some injuries. I had to still pitch," the effervescent left-hander said. "It was a combination of a lot of things. Toward the end, I started to feel a little better to get my command back."
Willis will be part of a solid rotation with Justin Verlander, Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman as Detroit loads up for another run at the World Series after losing to St. Louis in five games in 2006.
The Tigers' last title came in 1984, when they opened with a remarkable surge.
"The 35-5 start might be in trouble from '84," Jones wrote in his e-mail.
Also Wednesday, the Tigers traded first baseman Chris Shelton to the Texas Rangers for outfielder Freddy Guzman.
Shelton hit .326 with a team-record 19 extra-base hits in April of 2006, including 10 homers, to help Detroit to a 16-9 record. But he hit only six homers after April 30 and his average slid to .277 by the time he was sent down at the trading deadline.
He spent all of '07 in the minors, batting .269 with 14 homers and 65 RBIs.
Guzman hit .269 with 92 runs in Triple-A Oklahoma, leading the Pacific Coast League with 56 stolen bases.
Cabrera and Willis were the last players left from Florida's 2003 championship team, both called up from the minors during the season.
Unable to secure a new ballpark, the Marlins keep shedding players when they are due to earn huge salaries. Cabrera made $7.4 million this year and Willis $6.45 million. Both were eligible for arbitration and likely to receive raises.
"We received some terrific players in this trade, and we're confident they will make a positive impact," Florida owner Jeffrey Loria said in a statement. "Although we cannot ignore the economic realities we face, which will change the moment we are in a new facility, our determination to win on the field remains as steadfast as ever."
The Marlins had been shopping Cabrera since the general managers' meetings last month. The Los Angeles Angels pursued him, but Angels owner Arte Moreno expressed frustration about the negotiations, saying he twice thought the teams reached a deal before they fell through.
"To talk about it publicly I think is unprofessional and unnecessary," Beinfest said. "If people thought we were kicking the tires, I think we kicked the tires today sufficiently."
At $1,325,000 next year, Miller immediately became the highest-paid player on the Marlins.
"This is not woe is the Marlins," Beinfest said, mentioning Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla and others still on the roster. "We have really good players."
Beinfest sounded happy with the package of prospects his team received.
"We've built some pitching depth," he said. "These guys are all legitimate."
It was Dombrowski who was running the Marlins when they jettisoned many of their high-priced stars after winning the 1997 World Series. Now, Beinfest is in a similar situation.
"I did have some flashbacks to those time periods," Dombrowski said Wednesday.
"Nightmares or flashbacks?" Beinfest chimed in.
AP Sports Writers Larry Lage in Detroit and Steven Wine in Miami contributed to this report.