Winter Meetings: Music City blockbuster
Tigers' deal for Cabrera, Willis highlights busy second day
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Somewhere in the Gaylord Opryland Hotel & Convention Center, probably under a cloud of cigar smoke, Trader Jack is smiling.Jack McKeon earned that nickname by the way he used to turn baseball's Winter Meetings into a bazaar, and on Tuesday the Florida Marlins and Detroit Tigers jazzed up the 2007 edition by pulling a big retro string. Solving one of the offseason's biggest mysteries, the Marlins not only agreed to deal third baseman Miguel Cabrera to Motown, but included in the deal last winter's top attraction, left-hander Dontrelle Willis. In return, the Tigers will ship south no fewer than six of their top young players, headlined by Andrew Miller, a 22-year-old left-hander who already established himself in Detroit's rotation last season. According to MLB.com sources, outfielder Cameron Maybin (20 years old), catcher Mike Rabelo (27) and right-handers Burke Badenhop (24), Eulogio de la Cruz (23) and Dallas Trahern (22) are also parts of the package. David Ortiz's fifth consecutive Outstanding Designated Hitter Award and the Royals' agreement with free-agent outfielder Jose Guillen were quickly reclassified from the day's big news to sidebars when the Fish and Bengals detonated their blockbuster. Also shoved briefly aside was the Johan Santana Stakes -- which proceeded with the Red Sox in the late-evening lead, the Angels on the outside, and the Yankees apparently a scratch. Official announcement of the Marlins-Tigers deal was not expected until Wednesday morning, with the clubs exchanging medical files on all the players involved. Eight-player deals simply are not the norm any more. So everyone was content to wait it out. Besides, it might take until Wednesday for some people to resume normal breathing. Such as representatives of the other teams who had been hoping to acquire Cabrera, the 24-year-old four-time All-Star: the two Los Angeles clubs, the Giants, the White Sox. And the Cleveland Indians, whose climb to a repeat American League Central title just became a glassy cliff. New Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who at least will only have to look at them in a few interdivisional games, essentially congratulated the Tigers for beefing up with two of the Marlins who helped earn him the 2006 National League Manager of the Year Award. "If it does happen," Girardi said of the deal, "obviously they're getting two very good players. Miguel Cabrera is one of the finest hitters in the game. He can do so many things with a bat, whether you want him to hit a home run, you want to hit and run, work the count, get on base. And Dontrelle Willis has been one of the premier lefties in the National League." Willis had an off 2007 season, going 10-15 with an ERA of 5.17 and an opponents' average of .294 (.320 by right-handed hitters). Those numbers were dramatically off his previously established norms -- one reason that the Marlins hadn't openly shopped him, hoping that a turnaround 2008 season would jack his trade value. But when Detroit president/general manager Dave Dombrowski came calling, the pieces swiftly fell into place. Falling out of the Santana chase were the Yankees, sticking to Hank Steinbrenner's Monday night deadline for a deal. Tuesday afternoon, an unnamed Yankees official told the Newark Star-Ledger with a tone of finality, "[Hank Steinbrenner] closed the door on the Santana thing. The Santana thing's over." The Red Sox remained in Minnesota GM Bill Smith's ear, offering a package still built around either left-hander Jon Lester or outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Angels GM Tony Reagins also characterized his club as no longer in Santana talks with the Twins -- but that presumably changed later in the day, when the pending Cabrera trade freed Reagins to channel his surplus of starting pitchers and outfielders elsewhere.
While the Florida-Detroit blockbuster dominated the day with the force of Vince Gill belting out a tune in the Opryland Hotel's Crescent Lobby, it was hardly the only development on a busy day.Guillen was the biggest name struck off the list of available free agents. Once he passes the physical to confirm the deal, he will officially join his ninth Major League club of an 11-year career. Yet he is still a relatively young (31) outfielder with a tool-chest of talents, having hit .290 last season with 23 homers and 99 RBIs for the Mariners. In Day 2's early trade activity: Not liking his chances of re-signing Ron Mahay, Braves GM Frank Wren dealt for a replacement left-hander, acquiring Will Ohman, along with infielder Omar Infante, from the Cubs in return for right-hander Jose Ascanio. Ohman, 30, appeared in 56 games for the Cubs, mostly as a matchup lefty who struck out 20 of the 82 left-handed hitters he faced. Infante, 25, is a six-year versatile MLB veteran who, last season, helped out at six different positions for the Tigers, who a month ago had sent him to the Cubs in the Jacque Jones deal. Ascanio, 22, made his big league debut last season, picking up 13 strikeouts in 16 innings for the Braves. In a swap of right-handed starters, the Tigers sent Denny Bautista to Colorado for Jose Capellan. Bautista, 27, appeared in nine games for the Rockies, showing a 12.46 ERA in 8 2/3 innings. Capellan, 26, has appeared sporadically with three big league clubs during an eight-year pro career, compiling a 5-7 record with a 4.90 ERA. The Nationals dealt for Tyler Clippard, one of the nine rookie pitchers to make at least one start for the Yankees last season, in exchange for Jonathan Albaledejo. Also ... the Bucs and free-agent infielder Chris Gomez reached preliminary agreement on a $1 million contract for 2008. Ortiz's fifth Outstanding Designated Award means he has now earned the honor as often as the man after whom the award is named -- Edgar Martinez, the former Seattle hitting machine. Even Martinez never won more than two straight DH awards -- although he did have a nice four-out-of-five run 1997 to 2001. If anything, Ortiz was more important than ever in the World Series champions' lineup. Although his overall power numbers (35 homers, 117 RBIs) were down from the daunting personal standards he has set, Ortiz hit a career-high .332 with 52 doubles and an on-base percentage of .445, also career bests. As a DH during his five Boston seasons, Ortiz, also an occasional first baseman, has batted .307 in 615 games, with 183 homers and 559 RBIs.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.