Cabrera, Tigers discuss longterm deal
Four-time All-Star could fetch $20M-a-year contract
Posted: Friday February 29, 2008 10:28AM; Updated: Friday February 29, 2008 12:21PM
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LAKELAND, Fla. -- Miguel Cabrera couldn't have picked a more perfect team to be traded to than the Tigers. Here, he is part of a Murderers' Row of locker stalls. Edgar Renteria is to Cabrera's right, and Gary Sheffield, countryman Carlos Guillen and boyhood idol Magglio Ordonez are to his left. If Cabrera ever felt unprotected in the Marlins' lineup, that won't happen here, where he is like everyone's little brother.
Cabrera, the 24-year-old wunderkind, already has slimmed down considerably since switching teams in the winter's biggest blockbuster trade -- one Marlins person who saw him recently swears he's shed 20-25 pounds -- and the fun-loving kid is said to be showing real signs of maturity. He is even talking aloud how about how he needs to "settle down.''
If settling down means he will be more focused on baseball, then that is a scary thought since he's hit at least .320 in his past three seasons and knocked in at least 110 runs in all four of his major-league seasons. Settling down also may mean that he believes he's found a permanent home. And perhaps he has.
The best thing Cabrera could do is sign a deal to stay a decade in Detroit, where he'd benefit from the wisdom of stable, mature stars such as Ordonez and Guillen, the positive influence of legendary manager Jim Leyland and the love and admiration of their baseball officials, including GM Dave Dombrowski and top assistant Al Avila, who as Marlins executives nine years ago discovered the 15-year-old baseball genius in Venezuela and beat the Dodgers and Yankees to sign him to a then-record bonus for a foreign amateur player, $1.8 million.
Cabrera and his new team have begun to talk, and it's possible that a coming deal could be for close to 100 times that first signing bonus. Considering the perfect fit, he shouldn't quibble over nickels. "I'd like to stay here. I'd love to play for this team for a lot of years,'' Cabrera told SI.com. "I'll learn a lot of baseball here. They've got a lot of experience here and a great manager.''
Everyone agrees: All the ingredients are there for a lovely marriage. Cabrera's with the right team and in the right town, too, where the temptations for an impressionable kid won't match Miami. "Here, it's not like the Marlins, who are a little young. And he's not coming to a party town,'' Ordonez said. "Detroit's a great place to play. The fans are waiting to welcome us, and they'll support you, generation after generation.''
None of the specifics of Cabrera's negotiations have hit the papers yet. But considering the market, you'd have to figure Cabrera, who amicably agreed to an $11.3 million contract for 2008 not long after arriving, could receive at least eight years at $20 million a year -- or more. Asked him if he'd like a 10-year deal, he said that "sounded interesting'' to him. Asked if he thought $20 million a year would be right, he said, "That sounds good.''
Negotiations won't be quite that simple, but despite the megadollars involved, no one should be shocked if this goes reasonably quick, maybe not too long after his agent Fern Cuza gets to town next week (reached by phone, Cuza declined to characterize current talks). Cabrera's only been donning Detroit's uniform for a week or so, but the Tigers, who are usually loathe to discuss their dealings, already are making their desire clear in this case. "We've known him for a long time and we like him a great deal,'' Dombrowski said. "We think he's a great player and want him as part of our organization for years to come.''
Cabrera should want that even more. People who saw him bloat to maybe 270 pounds in Miami say he appears rededicated playing for a contender again. He's fitting in by being fit here. Said Leyland, "He's been absolutely fantastic.''
With the great Ordonez here to mentor Cabrera, to prod him and to calm him -- "he's probably going to be the best player ever from Venezuela,'' said Ordonez, who is in the running for that honor himself -- Cabrera could reach new heights, even well beyond the numbers of 34 home runs, 119 RBIs and .320 batting average he put up in Miami last year.
Cabrera did extensive winter weight work for the first time in his career, a friend said. The result is that he lost his excess girth and already looks like a new man after four years in Florida that featured big stats, and by some accounts coming out of Miami, a few late nights as well. According to one longtime Cabrera watcher, he's "being challenged for probably the first time.''