A former Marlins executive reveals that John Henry tried to bring Miguel Cabrera with him when he sold the team and purchased the Boston Red Sox.
John Henry has signed off on many transactions that brought talent to the organization over the years, leading to four World Series titles since he purchased the Boston Red Sox. Apparently, he was so eager to stock his new franchise with star players that he tried to bring some of them with him from Florida.
Before he bought the Red Sox, Henry owned the Florida Marlins. In an appearance on ‘The Local Hour Podcast’ with Mike Ryan, former Marlins team president David Samson explained a complicated scenario that involved top prospect Miguel Cabrera being sent to Boston as part of the sale.
Prior to the 2002 season, Major League Baseball was planning to contract the Montreal Expos and their ownership group was prepared to buy the Marlins. Henry aimed to make back his initial investment in the organization and use it toward buying another team in a larger market, with the Angels being his top choice. He was unable to come to terms on a deal for the Angels so he pivoted to buying the Red Sox for $700 million.
According to Samson, Henry floated the idea of including players in the sale of the Marlins so that he could bring talent with him to Boston. Cabrera was among the players Henry supposedly asked for. The new Marlins owners would then raid some of the top young talent from an Expos team that was thought to be heading toward contraction (the franchise relocated to Washington D.C. a few years later and re-branded themselves as the Nationals instead).
The Marlins were apparently agreeable to the idea of letting Henry steal their players on the way out the door as long as they were allowed to do the same to the crumbling Expos. It appeared that Henry would get his wish until then-commissioner Bud Selig stepped in.
"“We were going to take with us (Vladimir) Guerrero, (Javier) Vazquez, (Jose) Vidro. We had a few guys in our farm system we wanted,” said Samson. “We were going to give John Henry the right to take players from us. He would have taken Miguel Cabrera with him to where he was going in Boston. What happened was that we were negotiating with Florida with the Marlins and we were doing this franchise player swap. It would have come out like a big trade is what it would have been. And Bud Selig called us up at the same time and said, ‘There will be not one player moved. There will not be one trade made between you. You are buying the Red Sox. You are leaving the Marlins as is.’”"
That squashed any hopes of Henry loading up his new team by taking from his old one but the revelation that this was seriously being discussed at the time leads us to wonder what might have been.
Cabrera debuted with the Marlins in 2003 and played a significant role in a championship run that culminated with defeating the New York Yankees in the World Series. Florida probably doesn’t even make it to the Fall Classic without Cabrera. The Red Sox lost to the Yankees in a heartbreaking ALCS that season. Would they have overcome their bitter rival if they had Miggy on their side?
The next four seasons saw Cabrera develop into a perennial All-Star and fringe MVP-candidate. Florida traded him to the Detroit Tigers after the 2007 season and he went on to win consecutive MVP awards and a Triple Crown.
Boston won championships in 2004 and 2007 but imagine how many more they could have captured with Cabrera on board. He would have been easy to build around on a dirt cheap salary in his early years while providing a significant upgrade at either corner infield spot. Boston’s lineup could have featured Cabrera, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. Good luck, opposing pitching staffs!
While the small-market Marlins traded him away knowing they couldn’t afford to keep Cabrera long-term, the Red Sox had the financial resources to retain him. The $21 million average annual value of his first big contract with the Tigers was steep at the time but still manageable for Henry’s deep pockets.
The 10-year, $290 million extension that Cabrera signed with Detroit in 2014, the largest in major league history at the time when including the two years remaining on his previous contract, has become an albatross. The aging Cabrera has become a sunk cost for the Tigers but the Red Sox wouldn’t necessarily have made the same mistake.
Let’s assume Boston was wise enough to let go of Cabrera when his first big contract was set to expire in 2016. That was his age 33 season and the last time he was an All-Star or MVP candidate. Detroit was desperate to win a championship under the ownership of the late Mike Ilitch and he was willing to spend a fortune to keep his star player. The Red Sox wouldn’t have felt the same pressure to pay an over-30 star with at least three World Series titles already under Henry’s ownership.
I say “at least” because Boston would have had opportunities for more titles if they had Cabrera locked up through 2016. Cabrera wasn’t making big money until 2010, by which point the Red Sox would have won two of their titles.
If anything, with Cabrera making $20+ million from 2010-2016, Boston may have been reluctant to spend on their more lucrative free-agent signings during that span. With Cabrera in the lineup at the time, perhaps they see no need to chase Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez or Pablo Sandoval, all big-name free agents who backfired with disastrous results.
Cabrera won a batting title and finished fifth on the MVP ballot in 2011. Boston’s epic September collapse that season was primarily due to a rash of injuries devastating the pitching staff but maybe a lineup featuring Cabrera makes the offense so good it wouldn’t have mattered that the rotation wasn’t performing. If the Red Sox hadn’t blown their shot at the postseason, maybe Terry Francona doesn’t get fired and the dreadful Bobby Valentine season never becomes nightmare fuel for the fan base.
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The blockbuster deal with the Dodgers in 2012 allowed Boston to rebuild their roster with high-character veterans, leading to a championship the following year. None of the prospects they obtained in that trade ever panned out but they could have demanded a better package if they never signed the malcontent Crawford, whose inclusion in the trade made it a glorified salary dump.
Unloading the other high-salary veterans in that trade would still create the flexibility to acquire the role players who salvaged the clubhouse chemistry and played key roles in the 2013 title run. Plus, it’s difficult to argue that Boston’s championship chances would have been hindered by having Cabrera during one of his MVP seasons.
Assuming they let Cabrera walk after 2016, the ripple effects wouldn’t have had any negative consequences taking away from the historic 2018 season.
Boston would have been in a much better financial situation without the bloated contracts of Ramirez and/or Sandoval clogging the payroll. Maybe that gives them more freedom to make moves that would have improved last year’s roster.
Obviously, we’re making optimistic assumptions that Cabrera would have thrived in Boston and that having him on the team means the front office avoids catastrophic free-agent mistakes but doesn’t prohibit them from making the wise moves that led to recent championships.
We’ll never know how it would have panned out but that’s the beauty of “What If?” scenarios. We can imagine the possibilities of what might have been and there are realistic scenarios that would have greatly benefited the Red Sox if John Henry was allowed to bring a young Miguel Cabrera with him from Florida to Boston.