On December 5, 2007, the Detroit Tigers and (then) Florida Marlins made one of the biggest trades of the decade. Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, one of the best hitters and one of the best hitters in baseball were traded to Detroit for six top prospects. Cabrera has become a bona fide star in Detroit and the best hitter in baseball and one must ponder what he could do in Fenway Park for the Red Sox. While many of the prospects in the deal, and Willis, fizzled out before long, through taking a look at the 2007 top prospect lists for the Tigers and Red Sox, let’s figure out just what a potential Cabrera to Boston deal would have looked like and how it would have changed the fate of the franchise for the foreseeable future.
The Tigers sent Cameron Maybin, a toolsy center fielder; Andrew Miller and Eulogio de la Cruz, two hard-throwing, high-ceiling pitchers; Dallas Trahern and Burke Badenhop, two sinkerballers who knew how to pitch effectively; and Mike Rabelo, a young catcher. Breaking the trade down bit by bit, let’s see what the Red Sox’ offer would have looked like.
Toolsy Outfielders: Red Sox send Jacoby Ellsbury to Florida. This one is easy. Maybin and Ellsbury had too much in common at the time, both were young but essentially major league ready center fielders with blazing speed and good contact skills with the potential to grow into some power. However, while Maybin fizzled out (.248/.311/.370 in his career), Ellsbury has developed into a star with the Red Sox (.296/.350/.437 in his career) and this would have been a big loss to the future Red Sox.
Hard-Throwing, High-Ceiling Pitchers: Red Sox send Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard. The Tigers sent Andrew Miller and Eulogia de la Cruz to Florida, and while Miller has rekindled his career as a reliever (ironically with the Red Sox), de la Cruz never really amounted to anything (8.16 career ERA). The Red Sox equivalents of those two would be Buchholz and Bard, both of whom were highly-regarded pitchers with great stuff at the time. Buchholz has developed into a great, if fragile, starter for the Red Sox in recent seasons as he is 55-32 with a 3.66 ERA for his career. Bard was sent to relief and his great stuff played well there for a few years, though mental issues and tampering the past two years may have ruined him. However, the Marlins would have gotten a top-of-the-rotation starter and quality set up man in these two.
Ground ball Pitchers That Can Pitch Effectively: Red Sox send Justin Masterson and Edgar Martinez (not that one!). For this part of the deal, the Tigers sent a couple of lower ceiling pitchers that may be destined for relief, but could be quality arms. Looking at the 2007 Red Sox farm system, Masterson and Martinez fit the bill. Masterson put up solid numbers over parts of 2008 and 2009 with the Red Sox, a 3.76 ERA in 67 games (15 starts), and has anchored the Indians’ rotation the past few years since being traded in 2009. For his career, he has a 4.05 ERA and was an All-Star with his 3.50 ERA this year. Edgar Martinez could never live up to his name, fizzling out before leaving the Red Sox organization in 2009. However, the Marlins would receive a mid-rotation starter in this part of the deal.
Young Catcher: Red Sox send George Kottaras. Mike Rabelo put up solid numbers as a rookie for Detroit in 2007, slashing .256/.300/.357 with good defense but could never do it again. He hit only .202/.256/.294 in 2008 with the Marlins and never resurfaced in the majors. George Kottaras was a young catcher in the Red Sox system at the time. He made his MLB debut in 2008, and was the primary backup catcher in 2009, slashing .235/.304/.388 over his two partial seasons in Boston. He has moved on to other backup catching roles with the Brewers, A’s, and Royals in recent years and is a career .214/.326/.411 hitter in his 287 game career.
Needless to say, this trade would have been quite a bit more fruitful for the Marlins than the actual trade. The Red Sox would have acquired a franchise third baseman in Miguel Cabrera, but the Marlins would have received a large part of their team for the next several years. In Ellsbury, Buchholz, Bard, Masterson, and Kottaras they would have respectively gotten a top-of-the-order hitter and excellent center fielder, a top-of-the-rotation starter, an upper-echelon set up man, a middle-of-the-rotation starter, and a backup catcher. This would have greatly changed not only the Marlins teams of recent years, but also the Red Sox teams and not necessarily for the better. Since there’s no way to change the past, the only real conclusion one can draw is that the Red Sox had (and have) a much better minor league system than the Tigers.