NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski was sitting at home on the eve of Thanksgiving when his telephone rang. On the line was owner Mike Ilitch, who had just heard that the Florida Marlins might be willing to part with third baseman Miguel Cabrera.
"It's a good name," he said to Dombrowski.
"You bet it's a good name," the general manager replied.
One thing led to another. And yesterday the Tigers formally announced that they had gotten not just Cabrera, but lefthander Dontrelle Willis from the Fish for six prospects, including two blue-chippers, outfielder Cameron Maybin and lefthander Andrew Miller, in a deal that had the winter meetings buzzing.
Given the implicit go-ahead by his owner to increase the payroll by about $20 million to add Cabrera and Willis, Dombowski made a go-for-broke deal for a Tigers team that made it to the World Series in 2006 but finished out of the money last year.
That trade, along with earlier deals that brought Gary Sheffield and Edgar Renteria to Detroit, have left the Tigers' minor-league cupboard bare. Florida also got catcher Mike Rabelo and pitchers Burke Badenhop, Eulogio De La Cruz and Dallas Trahern.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said he liked what the Tigers have done. "You can talk about prospects," he said. "But I can remember running an instructional league team for the Twins. We had eight or nine guys, big prospects, and none of them ever really panned out at the big-league level."
Besides, by being one of a handful of teams that has been willing to pay above the recommended slot to sign draft picks, the Tigers have a chance to replenish their farm system relatively quickly.
Cabrera and Willis were the Marlins' two most marketable - but also their two most expensive - players. Cabrera is just 24 years old, but is a four-time National League All-Star. Last year he batted .320 with 34 homers and 19 RBI while making $7.4 million.
Willis, 25, led the league with 35 starts. While he was 10-15 with a 5.17 ERA, the Tigers are betting he'll bounce back playing for a competitive team in a pitcher's park. He earned $6.45 million.
Both players are eligible for salary arbitration and 2 years away from free agency.
Marlins general manager Larry Beinfest acknowledged that he had given up a lot, but remained upbeat.
"This is not, 'Woe to the Marlins.' We still have real good players," he said. "We had a meeting with ownership. It was not a fun meeting. Those guys will be missed, no doubt about it. Let's face what it is. We have rotation challenges. We have lineup challenges.
"But . . . We got pretty good players in return. Our expectations have not changed. We want to go out and compete."
The Brewers, who lost relievers
to the Reds and
to the White Sox, signed free agent
to a 3-year, $13 million contract. Riske, 31, was 1-4 with a 2.45 ERA in 65 appearances for the Royals last year . . . The Yankees acquired righthander
from the Nationals for righthander
. . . The Toronto Blue Jays got outfielder-infielder
from the Reds for cash considerations or a player to be named later . . .
, one of the first African-American baseball beat writers for a major newspaper, was elected as the 2008 winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Whiteside, who passed away in June, covered the Braves and Brewers for the
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
and the Red Sox for the
. Whiteside will be honored for "meritorious contributions to baseball writing" during the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 27. *