Low Rollers: Why the Marlins Dealt Cabrera and Willis For Limited Return

Will NortonCorrespondent IDecember 6, 2007

IconBurke Badenhop, Eulogio De La Cruz, Dallas Trahern...

Who are these no-names, you ask?

They comprise the "three minor leaguers" scrolling across the bottom of everyone's TV in the wake of Florida and Detroit's eight player swap at the Winter Meetings in Nashville.

The biggest deal of the off-season is one that accurately, and somberly, paints a picture of baseball's financial imbalance.

On the one end, you have Florida desperately trying to get some return for their all-world Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera before he splits for free agency.

At the age of 24, Cabrera is arguably the best young player in the game, especially when you look at what he's accomplished—a three year average of .318 BA, 31 HR, 114 RBI, and 106 R—and where he's been—a World Series at the age of 18. Maybe only ARod can boast better figures at such a young age.

Coupled with "Miggy" on Florida's side of the deal is charismatic, herky-jerky southpaw Dontrelle Willis. Despite having his troubles over the last two years, Willis was a 22 game winner in 2005 and still has a lot of promise at the age of 25.

From my estimation, the Marlins gave up a young superstar with unlimited upside in Cabrera, and a serviceable, middle-of-the-rotation left handed starter in Willis.

Those are two pretty nice pieces to acquire simultaneously, especially for a Detroit team looking to rebound from last year's disappointment in a tough division.

And on the other side of the deal?

Detroit gave up undoubtedly their best prospect in center fielder Cameron Maybin, as well as young lefty Andrew Miller (a first round pick in 2006), veteran backstop Mike Rabelo, and those three hard-to-pronounce question marks listed at the top of this article.

Maybin is certainly a premier prospect and a kid who has been pegged for superstardom. But beyond that, what did Detroit really give up?

Miller could be more overpowering in the National League and his collegiate accomplishments while at North Carolina certainly deserve notice.

But coming off a shaky 2007 season, I personally wonder how durable and effective Miller will be down the road. Chief among my concerns is the fact that he relies heavily on his slider, which he uses as his out pitch almost exclusively. With a skinny frame and unorthodox delivery, Miller wreaks of injury risk.

And the other prospects? Who knows what to expect. The fun part about these blockbusters is that we don't know how those question marks will turn out.

Did the Mariners know that two kids named Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe would turn out they way they did when the two were shipped off to Boston for Heathcliff Slocumb in 1997? Of course not.

But more often than not, prospects get derailed by injury, confidence issues, or positional roadblocks...or they're just not good enough.

And this is why I believe Detroit got away with armed robbery, acquiring one of the best young bats in the league for one potential star and a bunch of unknowns.

Yet this brings us back to the financial imbalance I spoke of earlier. In a free agent landscape dominated by money and the big markets, what choice did Florida really have? Getting 70 cents on the dollar for Miguel Cabrera now was a better alternative than letting him walk for nothing in return next winter.

In this deal, the Marlins must have used logic founded on two organizational tenets:

1. Cameron Maybin is the best prospect they were going to get for Cabrera.

2. Losing Cabrera and Willis and their corresponding salaries would actually be good for the fiscally frugal Marlins upper management.

It is abundantly clear that Florida's only real motive in this trade was to acquire at least one guy they could build around for the future, while seamlessly shaving their payroll for next year and beyond. That's it. They weren’t trying to become a better baseball team, they were trying to become a less expensive business entity. 

And this is what stinks about major league baseball. You have certain teams, like Florida, who have no real intention of building winners year in and year out. They would much rather have a young, cheap group of budding young stars—like Cabrera back in 2003—carry them to a World Series on rookie salaries. Then when those prospects become stars, the 'Phish will cast them off into the sea of free agency and see what kind of future star they can net, like a Hanley Ramirez or Cameron Maybin.

And while you can respect Florida's two WS rings, the last of which was acquired using this method of prospect-oriented roster space, you still have to shake your head at the relatively low return they got for one of the best young stars in the game, as well as the approach the Florida Marlins management uses year in and year out.

Throughout all of this, Detroit must be feeling like Christmas came early. They just acquired a franchise player and a promising young starter for Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller.

Yup, that's it.

Oh yea, and Burke Badenhop, Eulogio De La Cruz, and Dallas Trahern.

Don't sleep on those question marks Marlins fans.