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Kieth Law on the deal


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After finishing second in the league in 2007 with 887 runs scored -- in a pitchers' park, no less -- the Tigers have kicked Sean Casey to the curb and replaced him with Edgar Renteria, and now they are adding Miguel Cabrera's bat to, in effect, replace Brandon Inge's. It's a 70-80 run swing, and if you're going to give up half your farm system, that's the kind of impact you want to get in return.

 

Cabrera is a complete hitter: He hits for average, has outstanding plate discipline and outstanding power, something that may even be helped by getting him away from Florida's ballpark, which kills right-handed power. (Cabrera's not a dead-pull hitter, but like any right-handed power hitter, he hits his fair share out to left.) He turns 25 in April, so there's even a chance he'll take his power up another level, which would make him a 40-plus home run hitter.

 

The main concern with him is his defense. He's a butcher at third base, and only part of that is due to his weight gain. The Tigers could field a better defensive club if they pushed Cabrera into left field and let Inge -- who is a better hitter than he showed in 2007 -- play third every day, or if they pushed Cabrera to first base and put Carlos Guillen at third.

 

Dontrelle Willis, on the other hand, won't fare as well in the transition. Willis' stuff hasn't been that overpowering in about two years, and his fastball command was poor for all of 2007. The same aspects of his delivery that give him so much deception also make his delivery hard to repeat and put more stress on his arm. As a result, he's not the same animal that he was in 2003-05. He's been good for 200-plus innings for the last three years and may just be a guy who can soak up those innings at a below-average level, which has value but not something that matches his reputation. In the tougher league, he might just be a fifth starter.

 

Was the return package enough for the Marlins? It's a good mix of quantity and quality, and they weren't likely to get two prospects the caliber of Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin -- both top-10 overall selections who were considerations for the No. 1 overall pick -- if they unbundled Willis and Cabrera. Miller is the biggest prize in the deal, a 6-6 lefty who pitches at 93-94 mph and touches 97 with plus sink on his fastball. He comes from a low ? arm slot, which provides the sink but has left him struggling to throw a slider with enough tilt, because it tends to flatten out. He'll also need to work on his changeup, another pitch adversely affected by the low arm slot, since it's tough to turn the ball over from a slot that low. He's a project, but the raw material is outstanding for a team that's willing to develop him, and he's going to the easier league and can work on some of these flaws at the big-league level.

 

Maybin is, in a lot of ways, the pitching equivalent of Miller. Maybin is a classic five-tool player -- with good bat speed, plus raw power, plus running speed, good range in center and a very strong arm. But he's raw and carries a fair amount of risk. At the plate, he glides through his swing, and tries to make up for it by trying to rush the bat through, getting very long and leading to a lot of swings and misses. His baseball instincts aren't great, and the game often seems to be a bit fast for him.

 

Eulogio De la Cruz had to be a key target for the Marlins in any talks with the Tigers. The Marlins live and die by the radar gun, and De la Cruz can light it up with the best of them, reportedly reaching 100 mph in the past and sitting 94-96 now. His best secondary pitch, a curveball, is only average, and he has a hard time getting good depth on the pitch. His fastball is true, allowing hitters to sit on it and make too much contact. The Marlins have had some success with this type of pitcher before, and De la Cruz is young enough to improve one of his offspeed pitches.

 

Here are the other guys: Mike Rabelo, a solid backup catcher, is a dead-fastball hitter with solid receiving skills and an average arm. Dallas Trahern is a one-pitch guy. He sports an average fastball with plus sink and generates a lot of ground balls. But he lacks a solid second pitch and has a significant platoon split. While the ground balls are good, the Marlins have the worst defensive shortstop in baseball right now. Burke Badenhop is an organizational arm with a straight, average fastball (88-91 mph), a sweepy slider and a changeup where he slows his arm visibly.

 

It's a good haul for the Marlins. They get two potential impact players who both carry some risk, a flamethrower for their bullpen, a catcher who could probably be a cheap starter for them and a sinkerballer who might be a fifth starter in the NL. The Tigers' farm system is weakened, but not totally depleted, and they add the best hitter not named "Alex" to change teams this winter. If Willis recaptures a little bit of his 2003-05 mojo, it's a steal, but even if he's just a fifth starter, they have to be early favorites to win their division.

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