The lesson of the Tigers and the Miguel Cabrera trade

Christian Petersen

Five years ago, the Tigers traded away their two best prospects. They, uh, don't think about that part of the trade too often.

In December, 2007, the then Florida Marlins decided to trade Miguel Cabrera. He was 24, and in his three previous seasons combined, he missed a total of 13 games while hitting .327/.405/.564, mostly in a pitchers' park.

It seems insane to think about now, especially with the benefit of hindsight. Cabrera was going to get better, of course. We probably should have seen that coming because he was so good at such a young age. When a player hits like a Hall of Famer at an age when a lot of players are being shuttled between Triple-A and the majors, he can get even better.

But there wasn't a panicked frenzy when he went on the market. There wasn't a half-hour block of Miguel Cabrera rumors on every SportsCenter broadcast. Fans of 29 other teams heard the news and did the exact same thing: clutched their prospects and young players like strings of pearls in a bad neighborhood. Sure, everyone wanted Cabrera, but they didn't want to give up too much.

In retrospect, this was insane.

With the help of the awesome archives at MLB Trade Rumors, let's see if we can learn a lesson about the rumors surrounding a possible Miguel Cabrera trade.

The Rolen deal may hinge on Miguel Cabrera being traded first. The Cards poked their head in but wouldn't part with Colby Rasmus.

There's a good chance that your favorite team's prospects aren't very good. You think they're good, and that's adorable. One of the best part of prospects is the forecasting, the hoping, and the wild projections. Rasmus had all of the tools. He was going to be around for a while.

In a best-case scenario, though, was he going to be as good as Miguel Cabrera already was at 24?

Joe Girardi managed him with the Marlins and speaks highly of him. The Yanks have already touched base about Cabrera with the Fish. It sounds like the Yankees will trade Melky Cabrera, but are very reluctant to trade Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, or Ian Kennedy.

Ian Kennedy became something between a solid starter and perennial Cy Young candidate. The Yankees are still relying on Hughes in their regular-season and postseason rotation. Melky Cabrera trained really, really hard and became good. Four players of varying quality are mentioned in that rumor, but they're all legitimate big-leaguers.

And if the Yankees had packaged all four, it almost certainly would have been worth it. But the Marlins weren't asking for all four, most likely.

The two teams appear to have agreed that second baseman Howie Kendrick and catcher Jeff Mathis would be part of any deal. So if they can settle on which young pitcher or pitchers the Angels would add to that package, they could still wind up making the biggest trade of the winter meetings.

None of the young pitchers were Jered Weaver, who was already established in the majors. Kendrick, Mathis, and a pitching prospect. Maaaaaybe two.

Not only did this cost the Angels a few wins every year since then, it also cost them $100 million or so. Or, heck, maybe they'd have Cabrera and Pujols. Mark Trumbo could play second or something.

The White Sox are legitimately in the mix for Miguel Cabrera, but many stars would have to align for it to get done. Suitors with better prospects would have to balk, and the Sox would have to part with Josh Fields and Gio Gonzalez. Kenny Williams might even have to cash Jon Garland in and turn around and flip that prospect in a Cabrera deal. Regardless, it's clear that Williams is once again thinking big.

Gonzalez was eventually traded for a year of Nick Swisher, but pretend that he wasn't, and that he became a 20-game winner and All-Star with the White Sox instead. It still would have been worth it. The key part of this rumored proposal was a young pitcher who turned out to be as good as expected, if not better, and he still wasn't as valuable for his team as Cabrera was for the Tigers.

Also, back in 2007, it wasn't unusual to talk about flipping Jon Garland for a good prospect. Five years is an epoch in baseball time.

(According to the Detroit Free Press) Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller are considered untouchable, so don't look for the Tigers to make any big trades.

Just figured I'd throw that in to remind you that rumors are hilarious.

Silverman adds that the Red Sox won't go nuts trying to replace Lowell with a big name if things don't work out. They figure that if Kevin Youkilis can win a Gold Glove at first, he might be adequate at third base. They peeked their head in on Miguel Cabrera and balked at the price of Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz.

Buchholz has shown flashes of brilliance, and Ellsbury had a strong claim to the 2011 MVP. It still would have been worth it. The Red Sox were right to covet those players -- they were important cogs on contending Red Sox teams.

Cabrera's been better.

For Miguel Cabrera, the Marlins asked for Asdrubal Cabrera, Adam Miller, and then some. Obviously the Tribe said no thanks.

Asdrubal Cabrera became a valuable player, a two-time All-Star at short. This is the theme, the lesson. That part up there about your team's prospects not being good? They might be good. They might come up and become the player you were hoping they'd become. Asdrubal Cabrera became a really valuable player.

But he wasn't close to Miguel Cabrera.

So the next time a 24-year-old superstar comes up in trade talks, remember this. Everyone should go bananas. The Winter Meetings should look like the scene from Airplane when the flight attendant asks if anyone knows how to fly a plane. Give up anything to get that player. Anything.

It was even suggested a trade could be completed by Thanksgiving. But according to Ken Rosenthal, the Dodgers now have the lead. It may require Matt Kemp, Andy LaRoche, and Clayton Kershaw.

Whoa. Hold on, there, cowboy. Not anything. I mean, don't give up Andy LaRoche or nothing.

Dang, I guess this last rumor works to invalidate everything up there. But pretend the Dodgers did make that trade, sending a perennial MVP and Cy Young candidate away for a player. It wouldn't have been Sandberg for DeJesus, or Pedro for DeShields. The consolation prize for the overpayment would be one of the best hitters in baseball history in the prime of his career.

Young superstars like a 24-year-old Cabrera don't come along on the trade market more than once a decade, if that. The next time one of them does, you're allowed to freak out and hope that your team offers everything allowed by law. It's (almost) always a great buy.

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