This deal isn't that the Tigers got a solid bat for the middle of the order, and a good left-hander to add to the rotation. The Tigers are acquiring a stud bat who has averaged 32 home runs and 115 RBI's over his four full seasons of work, and is just 24 years of age.
In addition, the Tigers also answered the question to who would be the team's fifth starter when they also received lefty Dontrelle Willis. Willis, just 25, has over 1,000 innings of big league experience, and a 20-win season under his belt.
There were certainly some questions about the acquisition of Willis, specifically concerning the health of his arm and his lack of effectiveness in 2007. Willis' posted a 10-15 record (not a huge concern, given the team he was playing for) with a 5.17 ERA (larger concern, given he was facing National League competition and played in one of the most pitcher friendly parks in baseball).
The Marlins wanted to move him not necessarily because they didn't think he was an effective pitcher, but rather, because his arbitration deal this offseason will leave him making in upwards of $7 million. That's a lot to pay for a cash strapped team, especially when they're likely to lose him in two seasons anyway when he becomes a free agent in 2009.
There is certainly concern about Willis and if he can have a bounce back season. However, belief among many around baseball is that Willis was hurting and trying to pitch through it as the season wore on (which might explain his post-All Star break ERA approaching six last year). Willis won't admit to anything, but the Tigers will make certain he has a clean bill of health.
Willis gives the Tigers their five starting pitchers even before spring training starts. One advantage that Willis will also have is that the Tigers other four starters have established themselves, both in Detroit and in baseball. Willis can join the rotation without the pressures of being looked upon as the guy. And it's hard to imagine Willis not being happy about being able to join a contending team with arguably the most potent offense in baseball behind him.
Willis could be valuable to the Tigers, but make no mistake about it, this deal was about Cabrera. At only 24, Cabrera has already established himself as one of the premier hitters in the game, and a potential future Hall-of-Famer. Did I mention he's 24?
The biggest concern about Cabrera might well be what has gone on away from the field in year's past. When he came up at age 20, Cabrera weighed in at 185 pounds. Last season, he was playing at 255 pounds. He was still hitting, which is a plus, but if the Tigers hope to have him hit at 34 like he is at 24, he can't be carrying that much excess weight.
There have also been attitude concerns about Cabrera. Few will acknowledge the fact that Cabrera was the same age as a young man fresh out of college, only being looked to as the leader and savior of a baseball team, with millions of dollars, and South Beach his hometown. That's not to say his attitude at times should be accepted, but it's safe to say he wouldn't be alone if you put 100 other young men in the same spot.
The advantage now (besides downtown Detroit not quite being South Beach), is that Cabrera will no longer be looked to as the guy, or the man. The clubhouse leader? No, that's Pudge Rodriguez. The offensive go-to guy? No, that's Magglio Ordonez. The impressive, young outfielder? No, that's Curtis Granderson.
Instead of being 'the man', Cabrera can now just be 'a man'. An All Star in his own right, he now joins a lineup full of All Stars. Rodriguez, Ordonez, Gary Sheffield, Carlos Guillen, Placido Polanco and Edgar Renteria are already All Stars, and Curtis Granderson likely should have been one in '07 when he led all of baseball for much of the season in extra base hits, finishing third in the American League behind Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz.
Where Cabrera plays seems to still be up in the air, but regardless of his offseason conditioning, the Tigers would likely be better off moving him to left field, leaving Brandon Inge entrenched at third base. Cabrera would be a clear offensive upgrade at either position, but would be a clear defensive downgrade vs. Inge at the Hot Corner.
That also leaves the Tigers open to possibly moving someone like Marcus Thames, who doesn't have the big contract that Inge does, to acquire a much needed reliever for a bullpen that despite its struggles in '07, has received little attention thus far in the offseason.
This blockbuster, coupled with the acquisition of Renteria, clearly spells out the Tigers being in a win now mentality. With the addition of another dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup, the Tigers are ready to make a statement and take on the powers of the American League to re-claim their American League crown, and make another run at the World Series.