Miguel Cabrera was the easy comparison for Juan Soto when he was made available and eventually shipped to San Diego from DC. Miggy was the last historically good hitter to be traded before the peak. He was 25 when he started in Detroit after imagining Florida.
Cabrera continued the Hall of Fame career the Tigers could only have hoped for when they traded for him. He goes down as one of the best right-handed hitters of all time, the way it looks very good maybe it’s for him. The Tigers won four consecutive division titles in early 2010 with Cabrera as the hammer in their lineup.
The Marlins, of course, haven’t done anything since they lost Cabrera, because their trade didn’t bring them multiple plus players. Andrew Miller ended up being a great reliever, but well after he left Florida. Cameron Maybin was a great player, but not much more. And that was it. Don’t quite finish a trade like this, you’ll spend a decade or more roaming the wasteland of mediocrity, muttering about how good you once had while tasting nothing but sand. That could very well be the Nationals from now on.
But it goes deeper than that. In recent years, or perhaps longer, sports have been judged in a simple, binary way. Either you won the World Series or you didn’t. It’s more common in the NBA or NFL, but you’re seeing it everywhere now. Even though only one team wins every year and there are a lot of factors that go into championships that nobody can plan for or strategy against, that’s how we usually see things. You can’t be a better run organization than the Dodgers, the only team that is committed to building the best team every day, every season. And yet they’ve only recently won one World Series, and that in the 2020 season-in-a-can, that some will never consider fully viable. They are therefore seen as failures by many people, even though just about any fan would swap places with the one in blue in the blink of an eye.
That unique chase was an excuse for teams to be run in all sorts of ways, used as a shield to defend all sorts of moves and to cut costs. It’s now mutated so we can see through it, but every time a team runs a player approaching 30, or trades it before being free, every time a team follows a fan favorite, they’ll tell you it’s the pursuit of the most efficient path to the World Series. Expanding the playoffs, when it was primarily about TV money, was about that too.
In that sense, Miggy’s career in Detroit could be considered a failure. The Tigers never won a World Series with him, but only came once where they were undone by #EvenYear. There were two additional ALCS losses on that trip in both 2011 and 2013. On the day the Tigers pulled the trigger to bring Miggy north, they told themselves and their fans that it was the most important step to get a World Series winner to the game. Motor City for the first time since 1984. It didn’t work out that way, and yet Tigers fans are telling them they’ve lost something. Ask any of those you can find and they’ll tell you that Cabrera was the source of so many memories and fun that they honestly don’t care that there wasn’t a World Series win. If they care, it’s almost certainly more sympathetic to Cabrera than what they missed. Miggy deserved it, they’ll say.
Cabrera will be the defining player for so many Tigers fans, what they most remember during Detroit’s crushingly dark winters and what will make them giggle randomly during another pointless day at the office. At least those are all the memories of a World Series win. Cabrera will be the first thing a generation of Tigers fans think of when they think of what it’s like to be a Tigers fan.
Here’s what Nats fans will miss right now. They will definitely have 2019, but when they think of Soto, there will be a gap. Ten to 15 years of watching one of the best in the game do its job every day is a rare treat, a fan cherishes as much as anything.
But I suppose it begs the rain that owners and GMs long ago stopped caring what deepens a fan-team bond. On the face of it, there are plenty of reasons why the Nats will lose that trade, even if Soto leaves San Diego as a free agent after 2024. The biggest is that they get nothing in return, Juan Soto. But beneath that surface, depriving Nats fans is something that would have made a Nats fan unlike anywhere else. That they should have enjoyed Juan Soto every day. That in 10 or 20 or 30 years they won’t talk about him in that hushed tone like I talk about Ryne Sandberg or Andre Dawson or yes, even Sammy Sosa, though Cubs ownership likes to pretend he never existed. That is perhaps the greatest crime of all.
– Let’s wrap it up with another new legend, namely Vlad Guerrero Jr. hitting this screaming Mimi in Minnesota:
115 MPH. Only 15 home runs have been hit in MLB all season at launch angles of 17 degrees or below. But the numbers aren’t necessary to appreciate this seed that might have pierced someone’s guts if everyone hadn’t just gone out of their way and prayed it didn’t create a crater in the stands at Target Field. Hopefully Jays fans get a full career of moments like this.