Do you recognize the names Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller? Prior to the 2007 season they were ranked the 6th and 10th best prospects, respectively, in all of major league baseball. A Tigers team that had just promoted it’s top prospect — a young pitcher named Justin Verlander — were looking forward to adding them to a team that had just had it’s first winning season since 1993 and its first World Series appearance since 1984.
Fans were excited, too. The now defunct Mowtown Sports Revival blog had this to say on them:
[Cameron] Maybin is the most promising position prospect the Tigers have had in decades. I know there hasn’t been a more hyped prospect in my life-time. He gets the nod over Andrew Miller at #1 because of how fragile the Tigers’ position depth is in the minors. He is slightly more important to the future of the Tigers than Miller. As far as I can tell, Maybin is every bit as good as his press-clippings. Maybin’s line for the season is .306/.422/.478. Those numbers are better across the board than his 2006 totals at West Michigan (A-). The only knocks on Maybin thus far are his strikeout rate and lower-than-anticipated power numbers. Maybin is 3rd in the Florida State League (FSL) in walks so he definitely has pitch recognition skills despite his strikeout rate. He is an untouchable commodity for the Tigers. GM Dave Dombrowski said last season that he wouldn’t trade Maybin straight up for Alfonso Soriano and that was in the middle of a pennant race. It’s important not to expect too much from Maybin too soon. I think he will be very good in time. Right now, he’s just touching the surface of his ability.
Miller is the most promising left-handed pitching prospect the Tigers have had in decades. Notice a trend here? He has wicked off-speed stuff to go with a 96 MPH fastball. He excelled in his first start in AA with eight innings of one-run ball. He currently has a .59 ERA (!!!) in four starts at Erie. He made his MLB debut for the Tigers last month in a spot-start in which he pitched six shutout innings picking up the victory. Miller will likely become a full-time starter in Detroit by next season. I can’t imagine the Tigers sticking with Mike Maroth over Miller beyond this season. Miller is better than half of MLB starters right now. Don’t be surprised to see Miller called-up to be the ’07 version of Joel Zumaya especially with the Tigers recent bullpen struggles.
A case of a fan overrating them? Perhaps. But here is Baseball America on the pair:
The Tigers were elated to add Andrew Miller with the sixth pick in last June’s draft. A power lefthander, Miller was the draft’s consensus top talent but fell because of signability concerns. He signed with Detroit by early August, joined the big league bullpen later that month and finished the regular season in the majors. He’ll return to the minors to begin 2007 and could progress almost as quickly as Verlander.
But the long-term forecast for the system’s position players appears somewhat less certain–except, of course, for outfielder Cameron Maybin. He’s among the best prospects in all of baseball and could be Detroit’s regular center fielder by 2008.
As it turned out, Maybin wasn’t quite so untouchable. Less than a year later, Maybin and Miller were the headliners in a six player package to the Florida Marlins for a young third baseman named Miguel Cabrera. Also included were #6 organizational prospect Frankie de la Cruz, Burke Badenhop, Mike Rabelo, and Dallas Trahern.
History, of course, records what happened next. Buoyed by the foolishly high prospect payment, the Marlins stayed near the top of the heap in the NL East in the years since the trade and inconsistent play by Miguel Cabrera has relegated the Tigers to an also ran.
Or something like that.
The truth is this is one of the most one-sided trades in major league history. In the six and a half years since the trade, Cabrera has been baseball’s best hitter, winning a triple crown, putting up a staggering 38.8 bWAR on his own, and the Tigers are working on their fourth straight playoff appearance.
The six players the Marlins got have combined for a lifetime bWAR of 11.5. Most of that is Maybin’s 9.1, put up after the Marlins traded him to the Padres.
With this as prologue, let’s consider the Cubs situation. The plan is starting to come together, with Anthony Rizzo emerging as an elite offensive player and Starlin Castro an above average shortstop. The Cubs have the minor leagues’ top offensive performer in third baseman Kris Bryant. He appears to be on the verge of the majors. The latest draft added another advanced college bat, Kyle Schwarber, to the mix.
What can be added to this? What if the Cubs traded for one of the best offensive players in the game, RF Giancarlo Stanton? Among active players, only Pujols and Stanton put up a slugging percentage north of .600 in a season by a player 22 or younger. (I’m considering ARod as inactive.) Only turning 25 in November, his age fits perfectly with players like Rizzo and Castro. A 3-4-5 of Stanton-Bryant-Rizzo would be the stuff of nightmares for National League pitchers.
The cost of this lineup? I asked an industry insider, and he said SS Javier Baez, RF Jorge Soler, CF Albert Almora, 1B Dan Vogelbach, and RHP Pierce Johnson. To Cubs fans who have spent the rebuild falling in love with our prospects, this looks like an insane overpay. Aren’t these the guys we’ve been putting into theoretical lineups for two years? But the truth is, if one of the four hitters turns into Giancarlo Stanton and the rest of them don’t make the majors, it is still a huge win for the Cubs. We can guarantee that return by making this trade.
I understand the fear that all of them will reach their ceilings but the experience of the Tigers should convince us that not all top prospects reach their ceilings. In addition, there is real reason to worry about all four of them being impact players for the Cubs. Javier Baez still has eye-popping power, but he’s working on approach in AAA. As a young player, it’s far too soon to say he won’t. But there are also no guarantees he will. Almora is struggling to hit in high A ball and his lack of walks has been much discussed. Jorge Soler and Pierce Johnson haven’t been able to get on the field this year. Dan Vogelbach is a first baseman only on a team with Anthony Rizzo and his numbers since short season ball have been good but not good enough to compensate for his glove.
Again, this isn’t to say they’re doomed, just to say there is significant risk in all of them, much like existed in Maybin and Miller. If we can de-risk by turning them into the game’s premiere young power hitter, I think it’s a good idea to do so.
The down side? The obvious one is that the Marlins ride those 5 players to multiple World Series titles. And while it’s certainly a danger, the history of prospects suggests that it is unlikely.
Perhaps the bigger danger is that young offensive players haven’t been a problem but we could use an elite young pitcher. Throwing our best prospects for another hitter — who may also be restricted to first base as he ages — would leave us unable to trade for a pitcher.
That’s fair but, right now, pitching has not been a problem for this team. Offense has. Getting a bat like Stanton to match up with Rizzo solves that issue for a decade and gives us a solid frame to add the prospects to. Our depth means we still have prospects coming. If Almora isn’t our center fielder of the future, Jacob Hannemann can take that role. Baez won’t be supplanting Castro at short, but Marco Hernandez could. In that sense, we’re in even better shape than the Tigers were when they made their trade.
So what do you guys think? Is it worth it to trade the farm for Stanton? Would you rather trade for someone else? Or do you think our prospects should have their future in Chicago?
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