The Tigers' power play
Blockbuster trade moves Detroit into AL's elite
Posted: Wednesday December 5, 2007 12:48PM; Updated: Wednesday December 5, 2007 12:48PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tigers owner Mike Ilitch showed again why he's one of the best owners in baseball when he gave GM Dave Dombrowski the go-ahead to make the deal of the winter -- the one that landed them Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis -- and push their payroll well past $100 million. And Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria showed again why he's one of the worst.
Detroit surpasses the Yankees and Red Sox for the American League's best lineup and left the Twins zero reason to think they could contend even if they kept Johan Santana (all indications were they were trading him anyway). Willis is a two-time All-Star who was beaten down pitching for the dreadful Marlins and trying to carry the burden. Characteristically, Willis took the blame for his 10-15 season in an interview with SI.com from Mexico, where he was vacationing. "We just didn't play the type of baseball last year that we played the year before,'' Willis said. "That was my fault. I shoulder the responsibility.''
The excitable Willis had only kind words about his former organization but was thrilled to go to baseball's new dynamo. "I'm excited,'' he said. "I just don't want to go in and mess anything up.''
The guess here is that Willis returns to form pitching for a winner and a club that can field a strong defense behind him. Cabrera had some conditioning issues playing for the also-ran Marlins, but he can only take things more seriously playing on a team with a stacked lineup and rotation.
The Tigers are already impressing the competition with their moves. "Wow. There's a lot of American League pitchers [and teams] that just got real nervous, and we're one of them,'' Red Sox manager Terry Francona said here. "That's quite a lineup.''
Same goes for Tigers players, who were celebrating. "Wow, that's unbelievable,'' closer Todd Jones told Michigan's Booth Newspapers. "I am just blown away. I thought it was a typo when I saw it. It's a great day in Detroit.''
Jones, who was a Marlin as recently as two years ago, is one who's counting on Cabrera improving as he matures. "We need him to be great, and he has the ability to be great,'' Jones said. "I look for a more mature Miguel Cabrera than the one I played with. I just think he had his spirits broken in Florida.''
The Marlins have few fans, and Loria has almost none among the league office. Baseball's bigwigs dislike Loria and his sidekick president David Samson, who also doubles as his former son-in-law, as reasons No. 1 and 1A why the Marlins have yet to get the new roofed stadium they desperately need. MLB people believe Loria and Samson have unintentionally destroyed several deals by annoying the authorities of Miami and Florida.
But the real reason not to like Loria is that he uses his team as his personal ATM machine. The Marlins rake in close to $30 million in revenue sharing monies annually yet he kept their payroll to about $25 million last year. Which means they are already $5 million ahead before they sell a ticket. Plus, the trade of Willis and Cabrera will line Loria's pockets to the tune of another $20 million saved. Florida's 2008 payroll could go below $20 million now, 10 percent that of the Yankees.