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Published: Sunday, 5/18/2008

Tigers' megadeal yet to pay off

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Miguel Cabrera, who was brought to Detroit for his hitting prowess, started at third base, but was switched with Carlos Guillen, who began the season at first base. Miguel Cabrera, who was brought to Detroit for his hitting prowess, started at third base, but was switched with Carlos Guillen, who began the season at first base.
PAUL SANCYA / AP Enlarge

The morning of the trade, when the Tigers and Marlins pulled off an eight-player blockbuster, then-Detroit super prospect Andrew Miller received a call from his agent.

"He said, 'You're going to hear rumors about a trade today. Don't believe them,' " Miller said. "Later in the day the trade went down."

On Dec. 5, the Tigers parted with Miller, another big-time prospect in outfielder Cameron Maybin, catcher Mike Rabelo, and pitchers Eulogio De La Cruz, Dallas Trahern, and Perrysburg's Burke Badenhop. In return, the Marlins sent over Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.

This was supposed to be the deal that put the Tigers over the top. It's entirely too early to judge the trade, but we can all see the standings.

Detroit is at the bottom, slumping disastrously in a wildly disappointing season.

The Tigers' current place in the baseball world - last in the American League Central - is not solely the fault of Cabrera or Willis, not by a long shot. Then again, neither player has made much of an impact.

Cabrera, who the Tigers sought because of his status as one of baseball's best hitters, is batting .263 with just 7 homers and 26 RBIs entering play yesterday. Before his two RBIs Friday, he hadn't driven in a run in 12 games.

Willis has only pitched five innings this year because of a knee injury.

It's entirely possible both players will help Detroit this year, but both are also facing significant challenges.

Cabrera, signed for eight years and $152 million, is seeing AL pitching for the first time - a fact manager Jim Leyland says should not be taken lightly. Leyland also switched Cabrera from third base to first base, creating another transition for Cabrera to make.

Willis is close to returning from his injury, but when he comes back he has to throw more strikes. He's already walked nine batters in his two major league starts - a trend Leyland says can't continue.

Meanwhile the Marlins are one of the surprise teams in baseball with a 23-18 record, and currently sit in first place in the National League East. Not only are they doing it without Cabrera and Willis, but Miller and Badenhop are both in Florida's starting rotation, and Rabelo is one of the Marlins' two catchers.

Maybin, 22, is off to a slow start at Double-A Carolina (.236 entering play Friday), but is still considered a top prospect with a huge upside.

Asked to assess the trade last week, Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez said: "I think it's a good trade for both clubs. They got two good players we got six good players."

The Marlins didn't get the better players in the trade. But did they get the better deal?

EVEN BETTER: As if Indians pitcher Cliff Lee isn't already having the season of a lifetime, he's in line to really enjoy himself in his start today in Cincinnati.

Lee, 6-0 with a major league-best 0.67 ERA, owns a career record of 10-1 in interleague play. His .909 winning percentage is the best in the history of AL and NL teams playing one another during the regular season, which began in 1996.

Lee is riding a 16-inning scoreless streak and went 27 innings without allowing a run earlier this year.

NOW THAT'S FAST: The Indians' pitching achievements recently were well documented - consecutive shutouts, five shutouts in eight games, and a 44 1/3-inning scoreless streak by their starters, among others.

But Progressive Field was not the only ballpark featuring fine pitching.

Adam Miller and Tom Mastny, pitching for Triple-A Buffalo on Thursday, combined on a two-hitter and lost, 2-0, to Pawtucket. Bartolo Colon, pitching for the opposition, allowed a hit in six innings. The game, only seven-innings long because it was part of a doubleheader, took 1:27 to complete.

WONDERIN' ABOUT SHEFF: For those of you waiting for the Tigers to pull the plug on Gary Sheffield, remember this:

Unless Sheffield retires, Detroit owes him the rest of his $14 million salary this year and another $14 million next year.

At 39, Sheffield appears to be nearing the end of his 20-year major league career. He was batting .196 with two homers and eight RBIs heading into the weekend, and his surgically repaired right shoulder was too sore for him to play the outfield regularly.

So now it appears the Tigers are stuck with a designated hitter who can't hit.

Fans are clamoring for a change, something like summoning Mike Hessman or Jeff Larish from Toledo.

Hey, Hessman was leading all of baseball with 18 homers before this weekend's games, and Larish (12 homers) is a left-handed hitter in an organization that could use a few left-handed power hitters in the big leagues.

But with the financial considerations involved, it's hard to imagine the Tigers not giving Sheffield more time to see if he can't revive his swing.

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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