Tigers have mastered art of decisive dealmaking
Originally Published: December 5, 2007By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com
NASHVILLE -- Out there in the rest of the baseball universe, it seems as if nobody can make a trade. Then there are the Detroit Tigers.Give them a few hours, and they're sure capable of doing more than just ordering room service. They can pull off one of the epic trades in winter meetings history. Oh, they needed the help of the Florida Marlins, of course. Without them, the Tigers' staggering acquisition of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis wouldn't have been possible.
Not without avoiding federal kidnapping charges, at least. But of all the stunning ingredients that went into this extravaganza, none is more shocking than how little time it took. A few hours. That's it. Half of Tuesday morning. Part of the afternoon. Done deal. How can it be that easy? How can anything this complicated possibly have happened that fast? Heck, Manny Ramirez can barely make it down the first-base line that swiftly. And if it's that simple, how come nobody else can do it? "Maybe we give up too many players," laughed Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, after finally announcing this blockbuster Wednesday. "I don't know." Yeah, it's true the Tigers did indeed give up a minivan full of players in this deal -- headlined by the two centerpieces, center fielder Cameron Maybin and pitcher Andrew Miller. But Dombrowski says he can't understand why anybody would think he should have done anything less. "I know there's a thought process in today's game -- and I agree to an extent -- that you can't give up prospects," the GM said. "But I don't necessarily agree with that. If you don't give players up, you aren't going to get players. I don't know where this thing started, where you're going to get players who are good players and not give anything up. It doesn't happen." Boy, what a concept. You want good players, so you actually trade away good players? Amazing. What are the odds a goofy idea like that can ever catch on?
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonTigers GM Dave Dombrowski, left, has provided manager Jim Leyland with all the pieces to succeed.
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To his great surprise, Illitch replied: "Well, maybe we could come up with some way to see if we could make this work." Which the GM thought was a terrific sentiment, obviously. But even then, in the back of his mind, "I didn't think it was realistic." By Monday night, however, as the Tigers' brass began kicking ideas around, they were starting to wonder if it was growing more realistic by the minute. Dombrowski said to his group that even if they had already done everything they'd set out to do, he was going to throw some new ideas out there -- and "they might sound crazy, but let's see if we can get better." And it was in that session that Cabrera's name came up again. They knew the Marlins' deal with the Angels had blown up. So one of Dombrowski's most trusted assistants, Al Avila, called one of his counterparts with Florida, Mike Hill, to ask what it would take to trade for Cabrera. Hill mentioned the names of Miller or Maybin. Avila said the Tigers didn't particularly want to trade them, let alone both of them. But the dish was simmering by then. So the next morning, the Marlins -- another team that has mastered the art of making decisions (and deals) -- called back and proposed an eight-player trade: Which turned out to be the exact deal -- miracle of miracles -- that these teams would wind up agreeing to a few hours later. And when the Tigers got back to them in the afternoon, they didn't maneuver. They didn't play games. They didn't try to substitute some name from the Florida State League for some other name from the Eastern League. They just said yes. They'd do it. Pardon us while we get out the smelling salts. Can it really be that easy? OK, not always. "You know, my son is 7 years old," Dombrowski said. "And he said to me last year, 'Hey, daddy, I wish the Tigers would get Albert Pujols.' And I said, 'Oh, that's great.' And he said, 'I think you should trade Ramon Santiago for him.'
Kyle Terada/US PresswireVenezuelan natives Carlos Guillen and Miguel Cabrera are old friends -- and new teammates.
Jim [Leyland] says all the time that there's good pressure and bad pressure. Well, this is good pressure.
--GM Dave Dombrowski
"However, I don't buy the thing that you're in a position where you're only going to win for a couple of years. You might only win with the makeup of this club for a couple of years. But it doesn't mean that this piece can't lead to that piece. And once you're successful and you have a revenue source, you can replace players. People are open-minded to sign with your club. ... So it's a year-to-year situation." And ohbytheway, Dombrowski added, "We made this trade and got younger." Oh, right. Cabrera is just 24. Willis is only 25. They're not exactly senior citizens. So now that they're around, are the Tigers guaranteed to win it all? Well, no. Are they guaranteed to win their division? Well, no. Are they guaranteed to do anything other than show up and see where it all leads? Well, no again. But think about where Illitch, Dombrowski, Leyland and their cohorts have already taken this franchise. A year and a half ago, the Tigers hadn't had a winning season since 1993. Now they're the Yankees of the great Midwest. And they have no fear of all that entails, either -- just as they had no fear of making an eight-player megadeal in a few crazy hours. "Jim says all the time that there's good pressure and bad pressure," Dombrowski said. "Well, this is good pressure." Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and now is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonExpect to see Magglio Ordonez and Co. doing a lot of celebrating in 2008.