Andrew Miller remembers driving down from his home in Gainesville, Fla., to the Tigers’ Spring Training facility in Lakeland in early December 2007 to work out with some Tigers teammates, including Justin Verlander. Miller had moments of promise that summer as a rookie, but not the season he’d wanted, and he wanted to get a head start on getting better.
So, it turned out, did the Tigers.
“I hadn’t been looking at my phone,” Miller recalled. “Back then, we weren’t as attached to our cell phones, and I had a whole bunch of missed calls.”
Burke Badenhop hadn’t checked his phone, either. The fellow Tigers pitching prospect had traveled to see his girlfriend in Charlotte, N.C., and they had just gotten out of a yoga class.
“Probably one of the last times I’ve been to a hot yoga class,” Badenhop said. “I think I had one of those Razr phones at the time. I’ve got 28 text messages and eight voicemails. And I’m like, ‘I think I just got traded.’”
Mike Rabelo, a rookie backup catcher with the Tigers that summer, was at home in Tampa watching coverage of baseball’s Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn.
“I had the TV on and it said Miguel Cabrera, Tigers, Marlins involved in big trade,” Rabelo recalled. “I said, ‘Oh, wow. That’s interesting. I wonder who that could be for.’
“And then they said who it was. And then five minutes later, my phone started ringing. It was wild. I remember calling Andrew like, ‘Dude, where do we go next?’”
Cameron Maybin, who had debuted with the Tigers at age 20 that August, was at home.
“I remember playing X-Box Live,” Maybin told Bally Sports Detroit for their Miggy retrospective. “All of a sudden, I’m playing with one of my boys and he’s like, ‘Did you just see that?’ And I’m like, ‘What?’ And he’s like, ‘Bro, it just said Cameron Maybin got traded to the Marlins.’”
Cabrera wraps up his career this weekend at Comerica Park as one of three players in Major League history with 3,000 hits, 500 home runs and 600 doubles. Six people can say they were traded for him — but they usually don’t.
“I didn’t get traded for Miguel Cabrera. Half of the organization did,” Miller joked.
Rabelo laughs. As the Pirates’ third-base coach, he hears it from players all the time.
“I get this: ‘Hey, man, I didn’t know you were traded for Miguel Cabrera,’” Rabelo said. “And I’m like, ‘No, I was thrown into the trade for Miguel Cabrera.’”
“I like to say I got traded for Dontrelle Willis,” Badenhop said, “but I’m forever going to be tied to one of the best players of our generation.”
It was a 6-for-2 swap, with Miller, Maybin, Badenhop, Rabelo and pitchers Dallas Trahern and Frankie De La Cruz going to the Marlins for Cabrera and Willis. Miller and Maybin were former first-round Draft picks and Detroit’s top prospects, while Badenhop, Trahern and De La Cruz were up-and-coming, mid-range prospects.
Cabrera is the last of them still playing. None of the returning players could make up for Cabrera, of course, but half went on to have long, productive careers, and several crossed paths with Cabrera along the way.
“I was in [Tigers] camp in 2010 as a player,” said Rabelo, who managed for several years in Detroit’s farm system. “I would always joke with him that the Tigers got the best of the players. He’s been great to me ever since.”
While Cabrera settled into Detroit, Miller, who made 13 starts for the Tigers in 2007, stepped into the Marlins rotation at age 22. He went 6-10 with a 5.87 ERA in 29 games, 20 starts, then made just 21 starts over the next two seasons.
“It was a good opportunity to get Major League innings quicker,” Miller said. “But for me, I felt like I had just started to set roots down in Detroit. The organization as a whole was good to me. To kind of have that ripped away and have to go to a new organization and learn a hundred new faces [was tough].
“The idea that you’re not trying to prove anything all makes sense. I felt like I was doing a good job of that, but in hindsight I think it was hard on all of us. I don’t necessarily think I handled it really well, and it all went sideways because of it.”
Maybin spent most of 2008 at Double-A Carolina before getting a September call-up. He never spent a full season in the Majors until he was traded in 2011 to the Padres, where his career took off.
The one player who blossomed in Miami was Badenhop, a former 19th-round Draft pick who caught the Marlins’ attention in the Arizona Fall League. He made one Double-A start, then was called up. He struggled to a 6.08 ERA in 2008 but found his niche as a reliever.
The 2009 Marlins won 87 games and finished second in the NL East. Badenhop won seven, forging his path to an eight-year Major League career.
“If they don’t add me to the trade, do [the Marlins] say no? Probably not,” Badenhop said. “At the same time, you were [traded] nonetheless, and I’m happy that [Cabrera] brought a lot of joy to Tigers fans, but that it gave me the opportunity to go to Florida to carve out a good career for myself, too.
Miller, too, found his calling in the bullpen, but after a trade to the Red Sox. And as he forged a setup role in Boston, he soon ended up facing Cabrera. They never talked about the trade.
“It was always fun facing him,” Miller said. “I don’t think I put anything into it about validating a trade. It was more my opportunity to face somebody who’s one of the best hitters ever.”
Cabrera got him for a ground-rule double in their first meeting on May 29, 2012, well before any Triple Crown conversation that year. Another meeting the following season ended in a rare Miggy infield single. Then Miller figured out his pitch mix, and the battles were on.
Tigers president/GM Dave Dombrowski tried to get Miller back at the 2014 Trade Deadline, until Baltimore stepped in and offered then-prospect Eduardo Rodriguez. That put Miller and Cabrera on course to meet in the 2014 AL Division Series.
They battled for nine pitches in Game 1 before Cabrera drew a seventh-inning walk, putting a leadoff runner on in a one-run game. Miller stranded him before the O’s pulled away. They met again at Comerica Park in Game 3, when Miller induced an eighth-inning groundout en route to an O’s series sweep. That was Cabrera’s final postseason at-bat.
Two years later, with Miller in Cleveland, they met again in September in the ninth inning of a scoreless game, battling for eight pitches before Miller struck him out. Final tally: 4-for-8 regular season, 0-for-1 postseason.
“Probably one of the 10 batters I’ll remember being really fun to face,” Miller said, “When I was successful, I think I threw him a ton of fastballs. I was known for my slider; my fastball is not my best pitch. I’ve gotta be one step ahead, I’ve got to get out of my comfort zone to get him. Those were fun.”
Miggy went 2-for-4 with a walk against Badenhop. But in their final meeting in 2015, Badenhop retired him on a deep fly ball that somehow stayed in Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park to preserve a tie game in the 13th inning. The Reds scored, and Badenhop got the win, his next-to-last in the Majors.
“I’ll always revere the guy,” Badenhop said. “But did he have any idea who he was facing? Probably not, and rightly so.”
Maybin later became teammates with Cabrera, joining the Tigers in a trade in 2016 and again as a free agent in 2020. He retired in 2021, went into broadcasting and linked up again with the Tigers this year for Cabrera’s final season.
“To forever be attached to that [trade] is special,” Maybin told Bally Sports Detroit. “Dave Dombrowski, great job. You got that one right.”
Miller pitched 16 years before retiring in 2021, and still does some work with the MLB Players Association. He’s a stay-at-home dad while studying online for his MBA from North Carolina, where he played collegiately.
“It’s part of my history,” Miller said of the trade. “I’m very proud of my career and very proud of what I accomplished. If you ask people five bullet points about my career, my name’s probably going to pop up because of the trade.”
De La Cruz pitched in 26 games over parts of four Major League seasons, then kept pitching overseas and in winter ball for another decade before suffering a fatal heart attack in 2021, two days after his 37th birthday.
Badenhop is a special assistant with the Diamondbacks, which has given him an appreciation for how difficult big trades are to put together. His wife’s family lives in suburban Detroit, and he was at Comerica Park when Arizona visited in June.
“I’m sitting in the stands, and [Miggy] scored from first on a double,” he said, “Someone else that our GM had given tickets to had just sat down. Her mom was there and was a Tigers fan. She’s like, ‘He’s such a good player.’
“And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I was traded for him.’”