Willis and Cabrera putting on the stripes?


photo illustration by Samara Pearlstein

As of right now I don’t think the deal has been finalized, but the word on the digital street is that Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera are headed to Detroit for 6 players.

The Freep says that, so far as they know at the moment, the package of Tigers going to Florida consists of Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Mike Rabelo, Dallas Trahern, Eulogio De La Cruz, and Burke Badenhop.

Let me be the first to say: Dude. WOAH.

This is… unexpected, to say the least. I (and many of you, I assume) had got the impression that Cameron Maybin was Untradeable, and that Miller was in a similar boat. As early as YESTERDAY I had heard this. Now we find out that (probably) both have been traded. I’m wondering what caused the turn-around. Was the hardline stance Dombrowski had with regards to these guys just a front to drive up their value as potential trading chips, or was the hardline stance mitigated because Dombrowski honestly believes that a combination of Willis and Cabrera thoroughly trumped even the stars of the Tigers minor league system?

I tend to think it’s the latter. Maybin and Miller are both very very young and have the POTENTIAL to be excellent. Yes. Very true. But Dontrelle Willis is a 25 year old two-time All Star and Miguel Cabrera is a 24 year old murderer of the baseball. These are guys who are very young and have REALIZED their potential to be excellent. This is probably what Dombrowski was thinking.

Maybe he was also thinking about the age-related issues facing the Tigers for next season and beyond. We do have a lot of rapidly aging bats under contract for the coming season; we’re talking about guys who are good ballplayers, even great ballplayers, but who are starting to fall prey to the ravenous jaws of Time. The Tigers have been pawing at the edges of World Series success the past 2 seasons. So close. Sooooo close! (argh. also, sigh.) Maybe NOW is the time for them to take that final step.

By signing Cabrera the Tigers got the power bat (sadly a righty) that they declined to jump for in ARod, with 8 fewer years on his body. Maybe 7 or 6.5 if you say that the extra weight Cabrera’s put on in recent times is wearing him down. He’s still one hell of a hitter. He hasn’t batted under .300 in 3 seasons, his OBP has been over .400 the past 2 seasons, and his SLG percentage hasn’t dropped below .560 in 3 seasons. Please recall that HE IS 24 YEARS OLD.

Now, Cabrera has primarily played third base the past couple of seasons. Before that he spent most of his time in the outfield. Where do we play him? Obviously I am deeply concerned about the fate of Brandon Inge here. But maybe a more far-ranging outfield position would help whip him back into shape, or would at least give him further motivation on that front? This will be a trying time for Brandon Inge fans, and I encourage my brethren to keep their spirits up, as our scrap-tastic patron midget would want.

If our elderly players manage to spend most of the 2008 season in one piece each, just IMAGINE what our lineup will look like. Just look at the NAMES. Granderson. Polanco. Cabrera? Magglio. Sheffield. Guillen. Pudge. Who-the-heck-ever else. Drool. DROOOOOOOL.

And then we have Dontrelle Willis. Dontrelle Willis, a great pitcher who had a bad year, numbers-wise. Every AL fan is aware of our obvious superiority, and we generally believe that the NL is easier on pitchers’ ERAs. Willis had a 5.17 ERA for the Marlins last season, which is worse than Jeremy Bonderman, who spent every first inning last year curled up in a tiny ball on the mound being eaten by fire ants. Willis’ WHIP was 1.597 which is… pretty bad. This does not inspire confidence, but it is of course possible that he just had a down year.

One of my main concerns with Willis is his delivery. Oh, I know he’s been fairly durable thus far in his career, but that is one seriously whacked-out leg kick. Even more than the Injury Bug, I fear the Complexity Bug. The Complexity Bug attacks players who have batting routines or pitching deliveries that are unusually complex. The more complex a motion is, the more separate parts there are that have to go consistently right to make the entire motion successful. The more parts you have, the greater the likelihood that one will go wrong. You see what I mean here? It’s possible that, last season, there was some weeny thing in Willis’ delivery that was juuuust far enough off, and he just needs to get his ‘feel’ back to retain his glorious former skill.

At the least the Tigers have picked up a guy who can definitely start, and cat knows, after the rotating 5th starter bull dung this past season, we needed that.

Now, we did give up an AWFUL lot to get this deal done, but we just got 2 blockbuster players who are both relatively young. I would be a LOT more annoyed if we had given up all this young talent to get one or two older players, no matter how good. That said…

I know everyone is going to be talking about Maybin and Miller and the other young pitchers. But if it turns out to be true that this trade included Mike Rabelo, I am seriously kind of concerned about that. I know. I KNOW! Mike Rabelo! But think about it. What on earth is our catching situation right now? We have Pudge, whose bones have been slowly liquefying month by month for a couple years now. We have Vance Wilson, if he doesn’t show up for Spring Training with both his arms amputated at the elbow or something, and even if he’s fully recovered from his surgery come April, he’s not exactly a spring kitten himself. We have… uh….. Brandon Inge? (egads, no)

Pudge needs a backup. Period. Pudge needs a GOOD backup, because whoever backs him up is going to end up playing on a fairly regular basis even if Pudge somehow (magic? fairies???) makes it through the entire year without injury. Mike Rabelo was a shockingly good backup. I was always worried about our catching situation, but now I am near frantic over it.

Don’t tell me James Skelton is the answer. The kid is TINY and inexperienced (‘though both, of course, may and probably will change: he is also very young). Nobody above him in the system has much of anything that impresses me. We’ve already discussed the issues with catchers on the market this offseason.

I hope that Mr. Dombrowski has something in the works to address this problem as well. Right, Dave? Right?

Anyways. Wow. The Tigers are looking to contend next season, that much is clear. There is no looking to 2009 or beyond in the Tigers front office. They believe we can win now, and, lucky for us Tigers fans, they are apparently willing to do whatever they possibly can to make that happen.

UPDATE: Matt has the minor league angle covered for this move. Check it out to see what we really gave up to get this kitten done.

23 responses to “Willis and Cabrera putting on the stripes?

  1. Hey! I’m first! Haven’t commented here in a while, but this is Big. This is Huge. This is the biggest trade since Kapler-and-Catalanotto for Juan freakin’ Gonzales–which in retrospect was a farce. What are we gonna think?
    I was out eating dinner when I saw it on the TV hanging from the wall: Tigers to deal for Willis and Cabrera. Holy freaking cats, I thought. What did we give up? But the volume was down; I couldn’t tell. Then, finally, they showed a graphic listing everybody involved, and I gave an audible groan and slumped in my seat. People must have thought I was having a heart attack. Maybe I was.
    But it’s exciting. This is making a real run at it for NEXT YEAR. Going for broke. Because you know you can’t hope for more than another good year or two from Pudge and Sheff. (I’d be more worried about Maggs, but he magically just became Better at thirty-four or whatever, so who the hell knows?)
    But I’m sorry, Sam, really I am, but there’s no way they’re sending Inge back out there to play third. I love him too, but he was always marginal, and that was a unacceptable year for an AL third baseman. That’s why this deal got made. I don’t know what happens to him–what’s his contract status? He doesn’t have a lot of trade value right now, so maybe he gets to hang on. Maybe he’s the backup catcher! They swore up and down that it wouldn’t happen, but today kind of changes things, doesn’t it?
    What else are people saying around the Internets? I haven’t checked yet.

  2. //Holy freaking cats, I thought.//
    I’m so proud.
    //there

  3. Cabrera particularly makes a good tiger up there, and that’s the main thing.
    I’m also worried about Inge (natch!). You don’t think he’s trade bait for something else?

  4. ESPN is doing a good job of talking Inge up for us.
    My second favorite thing about your article, Sam, is the ad to the left for “Top 11 Mouthwatering Mashed Potato Recipes” complete with an elegantly crafted photo of a craterly-scultped “potato” ovoid sprinkled by shaves of greens-ley cradled ever so snugly into polished ice cream scoop (lit with two soft-boxes blatantly reflected in the silver.) Unprofessional.
    I could be the mashed potato photographer.
    PS. This is the first place I looked after reading the breaking story on ESPN.com.
    PS.ps. My first favorite thing: “by Samara Pearlstein”

  5. …and you have to love the vote of confidence for Granderson, after his monster season. You know, maybe we don’t need a centerfielder of the future. I’m one of about a zillion people hoping he makes them glad they did it.
    You rock, Curtis. Don’t strike out. You hear me?

  6. ivantopumpyouup

    I saw Inge/Thames/Durbin listed as trade bait.

  7. Wow, just wow… I read this rumor and didn’t think it would really happen, or at least not so fast. But cats damned this is awesome. We get two All-Stars that are still young and we just keep getting better.
    I think Dave has done a great job with this team in the offseason. He really is the best general manager I ever remember the Tigers having… he knows what he wants and goes out and gets it. I imagine it helped having his old Marlins ties.
    Go Tigers! Take that Yankees and Red Sox and your Santana trade. We’ll add an Ace and a superstar third baseman to see your ARod.

  8. PfP, I’m not sure. Everyone keeps saying he is and I just don’t see why we wouldn’t hang onto him at least as a superbencher. Then again. Total denial.
    Joey! Are you in town? What the hell, man! And oh jeeeeez, I have been hating on the dry craters of that mashed globule hardcore, but I didn’t even notice the soft boxes. Ha ha, yesss.
    Matt, that’s true, very true. No way do they move Maybin if Granderson isn’t as young and glorious as he is. Now. To keep him healthy. I guess we send him to the bubble wrap room with Kenny and Zoom.
    ivan, I just now saw that. Not our pimp! :(
    Paul, yeah, Dombrowski is definitely flexing his muscles this time around. The things he has done for this team… maybe we should erect a sculpture for him in the ballpark or somethin’.

  9. what a huge trade…wish my cubbies could spring for something like this someday…as far as your is Cabrera going to be in the outfield, I seriously doubt it. Jones is probably going to be your third outfielder – I’ve watched him for the past couple years for the cubs, and despite all the crap our fans gave him, he still played his heart out. Turns out his throwing problems from two seasons ago were due to the fact that he played half the season hurt. He went all out for at the end of last season, including many amazing catches (brick walls hurt). And he proved in the second half that he could still swing the bat and swing it well. So he will probably be in left, switching with Thames (he’s a right handed bat, right?), leaving Cabrera at third. That will give you real good range in the outfield, also. I know you love Inge, but I don’t think you’re going to get better play out of him then Jones.

  10. My head is spinning, but I think I should be able to slow it down enough tomorrow to give my thoughts on this trade and all the guys the Tigers gave up. Hell, the Tigers called me and asked if I’d move to Miami.
    Anyway, long story short, I love this deal. As long as a future task is sitting down with Cabrera and saying, “What’s it cost to keep you a Tiger, kid?”

  11. Oh, and I’m the biggest Skelton supporter I know and it’s silly to say he’s ready to be a major league backup. Two years from now, sure, but not this year.
    I’ll be curious to see how the Tigers address that issue, too. Not terribly concerned, but curious.

  12. tbrock, yeah, our outfield is pretty set. :/ And yeah, Thames is a righty, although people are saying he’s on the trading block now. Outfield range is definitely key in Comerica, what with the Great Plains we’ve got out there and all, and the Tigers to their credit have been addressing that actively. We’re lucky to have Granderson too.
    Matt, I am WICKED concerned about the catching situation. IF Vance comes back healthy I guess we’re OK for this year, but not much beyond it, and if Vance isn’t 110% there’s just no way we make it limping along with Pudge. Just no way.

  13. I hate giving up Maybin and Miller, both of whom will be stars. But Cabrera and Dontrelle are 24 and 25 respectively, and if Dontrelle can pitch as he did in 2006, this will be a very good deal. Hats off to Dombrowski! And can you believe that starting lineup.

  14. yea this is insane. But to teach me to finish sentences, I read “a 24 year old murderer” and starting screaming! Oh, “of the baseball.” that’s better then.
    I was never a Maybin fan, as much as they talked him up and promised he was the centerfielder of the future, because HELLO we already have our centerfielder of the future.
    I’m worried about Inge too. We was so frustrating, but I feel like if we are going for broke, the original 2003 losing team memebers (the good loyal ones) should be here to help.
    But that starting lineup is going to be ridiculous! And the pitching rotation? Verlander-Bonderman(with his mental and physical problems fixed)-Rogers-Willis-Robertson? Niiiiiice.

  15. Re your comment on Willis’ throwing motion. Steve Stone, whose opinion I respect, expressed a lot of concern about Miller’s motion. Said more or less he was several injuries waiting to happen. He used to say the same about Kerry Wood, and you know how that turned out. As for losing him and Maybin, yeah it hurts to lose that potential, but, really, you load up on prospects so that you can make trades like this.

  16. I just went and looked this up… Brandon Inge’s lifetime splits: 227/288/371 vRHP, 277/347/459 vLHP. No, that’s not a typo, that’s a very real 288 OBP vRHP. Do you suppose maybe we’re auctioning off Thames OR Inge, and whichever brings back a better reliever will be gone, and the other will be Jacque’s platoon partner in LF? Obviously, we’d rather move Thames, because I’d bet Brandon could adequately back up most any position on the field (yes, including C), but I’d bet Brandon could bring us back one hell of a drool-inducing relief pitcher (I know they probably wouldn’t do it because it’s the same division and all, but Pat Neshek might be a good example).

  17. Leshnock, I cannot believe the starting lineup. It is too good to be true, which means that, in my pessimistic world view, someone is going to herniate their entire body in Spring Training or something. But then again, I am insane.
    Ha ha ha, Tiff, reading comprehension! :P And, yeah, the starting rotation…. just imagine if Nate has a good year without the “oh jeez my own offense hates me and will not give me runs sob sob emo” issues… extra drool.
    Paavo, I had heard that about Miller too, a little. I guess he doesn’t have the most consistent of motions, which of course lends itself to injury. Like I said, though, even if Willis isn’t injury-prone, the kind of complex delivery he has can get out of whack so easily… I do like this trade overall, I’m just a worrier.
    Jeff, you think Inge would bring more in a trade than Thames would? I think Inge’s value is pretty low right now, between his contract and last season’s numbers, while someone will look at Thames’ power ability and think, “Oooo, shiny”….

  18. Well, yeah, there’s the money issue with Inge, but Thames is arbitration-eligible, and to 16 out of the other 29 teams (those in the NL), his uses are even more diminished… I’m thinking Inge will look real shiny to a mid-market team. The Giants would certainly look upon him as an improvement over Pedro Feliz (as just one example), and Brandon Inge money is bupkis to them, and maybe they’d return us Vinny Chulk? Brian Wilson? And, hey, they’re one of the few teams out there with extra catchers lying around…

  19. The Giants have so much they need to work on, I’m wondering if spending a lot of money on a Brandon Inge-esque player is really what they need to do. Blah.
    I do have a photo lying around in one of my folders somewhere on this computer of Brian Wilson dressed up to look like Billy Idol so, y’know, there’s that.
    I… don’t really think one of the Giants catchers is the answer for us. Or do you mean in their minor leagues?

  20. I love this trade. Even if it turns sour, I think you have to support the rationale. The Tigers have assembled one of the finest lineups of the last decade and I can’t wait for the season to start!

  21. Oh, I had thought that the Giants had a catcher or two hanging around in the minors that looked to be a bit juicy, if you will… I did some quick mini-research and found that to be none of the case whatsoever. However, I submit that the Giants making moves that are detrimental to their long-term plan is, indeed, par for the course.
    You know, I had heard about the Phillies being interested in Inge, and my first reaction was “yeah, but what would they give us”? And now that you mention it, I wouldn’t be interested in Chris Coste, but maybe Carlos Ruiz or a minor leaguer named Jason Jaramillo (was at AAA last year) would be tres tasty. Of course, I’d want to get a serviceable bullpen arm as well in return for a full-time guy like Inge, and I’m not sure that (a) the Phillies have one nor (b) the Phillies have one they’d be willing to part with in addition to one of the catchers mentioned. Maybe Brett Myers, but I doubt the Phightin’s would go for that.

  22. Note to members of the BIFC: Let’s see a show of hands of who knew that Inge batted 333/419/505 vs LHP in 2007. Yeah, didn’t think so.
    Meaning that, if we stand pat, maybe the outfield is J-Jones/Granderson/Ordonez v RHP and Thames/Inge/Ordonez v LHP? Would not suck, if you ask me.

  23. farlane, yeah, our lineup looks obscene right now. Of course, you have to remember that we had a great lineup this past season too, and it only got us so far. Not to spout platitudes or anything, but y’know what they say about pitching winning in October…
    Jeff, the Philly Inquirer was saying that Inge’s name had been ‘kicked around’…. of course, this time of year, that’s probably happening for practically every player, everywhere in the league. So I wouldn’t put that much stock in it at the moment.
    I did not know Inge was that good against lefties last year… it’s a little up from his average split, though, so I think it’s a bit of an exaggeration. Still, it gives us a good reason to hang onto him… among many good reasons, natch! :)

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