Miguel Cabrera last weekend got his 3,000th hit, joining a select club of iconic major leaguers to do this (Wade Boggs, Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, etc.). Cabrera is in his 15th season with the Detroit Tigers, but before we get there we should go back in time and review how the former Florida Marlin started his special career.
Miguel Cabrera was born on April 18, 1983 in Maracay, Venezuela. He signed with the Marlins on July 2, 1999 for $1.8 million (one of the largest bonuses given to anybody in his international free agent class). This was during a time when the Marlins were just losing and losing and losing games (1999 record: 64-98) and in the early stages of rebuilding after breaking up their 1997 World Series team.
The recruiting of Cabrera was not easy with the amount of teams that were interested in him. The assistant general manager at the time, Al Avila, described the young Miggy as a complete player who had knowledge of the game in an interview with Daniel Álvarez and Mari Montes of El Extrabase. Former Marlins general manager Dave Dombrowski (now the Phillies GM) also spoke to El Extrabase about the backstory. Cabrera’s family believed that Miami was the best fit for him.
Cabrera began his minor league career in the Gulf Coast League (rookie ball) where he only played 57 games and was a overall good player that season against much older competition having a batting line of .260/.344/.352. Cabrera hit 2 homers and drove in 22 runs. Later in 2001, Cabrera earned his spot on the Kane County Cougars (Low-A affiliate). He did not disappoint as he put up better stats in every possible category (.268/.328/.382, 7 HR, 66 RBI, 113 H). Cabrera’s promotion to High-A was the same story: he improved across the board statistically (.274/.333/.421, 9 HR, 75 RBI, 134 H).
Cabrera began his 2003 season with Double-A Carolina and dominated as their third baseman. The Marlins already had Mike Lowell playing well at that position in the Major Leagues, but they called Cabrera up anyway, mainly using the 20-year-old in left field.
On June 20, 2003, Miguel Cabrera made his debut against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Taking his 5th at-bat of the game in extra innings, Cabrera introduced himself to the baseball world with a walk-off home run.
Cabrera would go on to have an amazing rookie campaign. He finished 5th in the voting for NL Rookie of the Year and even earned down-ballot MVP votes. He slashed .268/.325/.468 (.793 OPS) with 12 HR, 62 RBI and 84 H.
The Marlins were playing well when Cabrera arrived and they continued their Cinderella run to the 2003 World Series. During that postseason, he led all Marlins players with 4 home runs. One of those came against an all-time great pitcher, Roger Clemens, to help the team upset the New York Yankees in 6 games.
The Marlins could not defend their title in 2004, posting a record of 83-79, falling short of a postseason berth. Cabrera had his first full go at the major leagues (.294 BA, .366 OBP, .512 SLG, 33 HR, 112 RBI, 177 H) and made the All-Star team and finished 22nd in the NL MVP race.
Miggy was a consistent star for the Marlins, but there wasn’t enough talent surrounding him on their roster.
2004 record: 83-79 (no playoffs)
2005 record: 83-79 (no playoffs)
2006 record: 78-84 (no playoffs)
2007 record: 71-91 (no playoffs)
The Marlins have long been known as a team that does not pay market value for top players. With Cabrera approaching free agency and just entering the prime of his career, they put him on the trade block.
The Los Angeles Angles and the Detroit Tigers emerged as the top suitors for Cabrera. Initially, the Angels looked like they would get the deal done by offering a package that combined young major leaguers and top prospects. According to Dave Dombrowski in his interview with Daniel Álvarez, the Tigers were able to step up their offer after getting the green light from team ownership.
On December 4, 2007, the Marlins traded away Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers in exchange for Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Frankie De La Cruz, Mike Rabelo, Burke Badenhop, and Dallas Trahern. At the time this seemed like a haul for Florida, but it doesn’t feel that way looking back at it now.
Cameron Maybin, arguably the most talented player in the package, did not live up to the hype. The athletic outfielder only batted .250 once in his original 3-season Marlins tenure. Maybin was dealt to the San Diego Padres in 2010 for Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb.
Maybin would make his return to the Marlins in 2018 when the team was in a big rebuild phase. He was shipped to the Seattle Mariners that same trade deadline for Bryson Brigman and international bonus slot money.
Fellow top prospect Andrew Miller performed even worse than Maybin. The Marlins developed him as a starting pitcher, but he never had a single season with 100 strikeouts for them, never finished with more wins than losses, and never totaled more than 107 1⁄3 innings pitched. Just like Maybin, Miller would be dealt in 2010 to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Justin Richardson.
Miller would go on to have an overall successful career after his time in Miami. He earned 2 All-Star selections, the Reliever of the Year award, and ALCS MVP.
Frankie De La Cruz only pitched 6 games for his new team and had a 18.00 ERA. He would be sold to the San Diego Padres in 2009 just a year after the trade was done.
Sadly, De La Cruz passed away on March 14, 2021 in the Dominican Republic due to a heart attack at 37 years old. My condolences to his family and friends who suffered from his passing this early in his life.
Mike Rabelo was another player who just did not work out for the Marlins in one season of work (.202 BA, .256 OBP, .294 SLG, .550 OPS, 34 G, 122 PA, 3 HR). He would later leave the Marlins in free agency.
Burke Badenhop can be considered the most valuable pitcher from the trade after it all played out. In his 4 seasons on the Marlins, he peaked in 2009 when he went 7-4 with a 3.75 ERA. Badenhop would be dealt in 2011 to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Jake Jefferies.
Finally, Dallas Trahern did not reach the Major League level.
Miguel Cabrera in Detroit
The Tigers immediately signed Cabrera to a massive 8-year, $152.3 million extension. It proved to be a good value.
Cabrera established himself as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. As if being a 2x AL MVP award winner (2012 and 2013), 4x AL batting champion, AL Triple Crown winner and 7x AL Silver Slugger wasn’t enough, he recently reached 500 home runs and 3,000 hits (842 from his Marlins seasons).
Led by Cabrera, the Tigers made 4 straight trips to the postseason from 2011-2014. Even today at age 39, he still bats in the middle of their lineup.
Although he won’t go into the Hall of Fame as a Marlin, he will be celebrated as the greatest player in the franchise’s history.