NASHVILLE - Coming into the winter meetings, the climate seemed right for a blockbuster trade or two.
Last night, one of them was near completion, while another continued to percolate.
In their latest dump of talent and salary, the Florida Marlins agreed to send slugging third baseman Miguel Cabrera and lefthanded pitcher Dontrelle Willis to the Detroit Tigers for six players, including two of the best prospects in baseball, pitcher Andrew Miller and outfielder Cameron Maybin.
Meanwhile, the Johan Santana sweepstakes progressed with the Los Angeles Angels joining the pursuit of the Minnesota Twins' ace lefty. The Boston Red Sox remained in the hunt for Santana, while the New York Yankees were balking at the Twins' demand to add pitcher Ian Kennedy to a proposed package that includes pitcher Phil Hughes and centerfielder Melky Cabrera.
The Yankees had set a Monday deadline for getting a deal done with Minnesota. Even though that deadline passed, many baseball officials believe the Yankees are very much alive in the bidding for Santana.
"They won't just let him go to Boston," one executive said.
After a quiet first day of meetings Monday, the Marlins and Tigers shook things up with yesterday's eight-player deal, which will be officially announced once medical records of the players involved are reviewed.
In getting Cabrera, the Tigers are picking up one of the game's brightest young stars, a third baseman with a lethal bat. Cabrera, who will open next season at age 24, has averaged 31 homers and 115 RBIs the last four seasons and won't be a free agent until after 2009.
Cabrera made a record $7.4 million in salary arbitration last season. The low-budget Marlins, who had the lowest attendance in the majors in 2007, made him available for a trade because his salary could rise above $10 million in 2008. There were also concerns about his maturity and conditioning.
There are no concerns about his talent.
"He's a great player, a great player," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who managed the Marlins in 2006.
Cabrera will make a powerhouse Detroit lineup even more explosive. The Tigers, who already have Magglio Ordonez, Gary Sheffield, Placido Polanco and Curtis Granderson, were second in the American League in runs (887) and batting average (.287) last season. They went to the World Series in 2006 but missed the playoffs in 2007.
Willis, who will turn 26 in January, is 68-54 in his career. He struggled in 2007, going 10-15 with a 5.17 ERA. Some scouts have said Willis has lost velocity on his fastball. Others believe a change of scenery will help him regain the form he displayed when he won 22 games in 2005. Two years before that, Willis was the NL rookie of the year, winning 14 games for the team that won the World Series.
Willis will not be a free agent until after 2009. He made $6.45 million last season.
With Cabrera and Willis gone, the Marlins have no players left from their 2003 championship team. Much of that club was broken up for financial reasons, as was the Marlins' 1997 World Series championship team.
The Marlins usually have gotten good prospects in their fire sales, and this one is no exception. Maybin, 20, was the Tigers' first-round pick in 2005, and Miller, 22, was a first-rounder in 2006.
Entering last season, Maybin was rated as the sixth-best prospect in baseball by Baseball America magazine. Miller, a 6-foot-6 lefthander who pitched at North Carolina, was rated the 10th-best prospect in the game.
Detroit also will send catcher Mike Rabelo and pitcher Eulogio De La Cruz, as well as two other prospects, to Florida.
Cabrera had been the top position player on the trading block. He was coveted by the Angels and Dodgers. The Angels, who are looking for a third baseman, now could turn their attention to acquiring Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejada, who would move to third base.
Also yesterday, teams continued to pursue Japanese free-agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. The Phillies have an offer on the table for Kuroda, but he seems to prefer a West Coast club. Sources say Kuroda will be in the United States next week and visit Phoenix (Diamondbacks), Seattle (Mariners) and Los Angeles (Dodgers).