Tigers Capable Of Move

Nashville, Tenn. — In this city five years ago today, during the 2007 winter meetings, the Detroit Tigers agreed to the deal for Miguel Cabrera.

In doing so, they stamped themselves as one of baseball’s biggest movers and spenders. They showed above all when they reacted to the one-year loss of Victor Martinez by signing Prince Fielder for nine years at $214 million.

This past season, the Tigers’ payroll was $132 million, according to USA Today. That ranked fifth in the majors, behind the Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox and Angels. Now the Tigers have signed Torii Hunter for $26 million over two years. Yesterday, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski described his team’s payroll as “very hefty.”

At this week’s winter meetings in Nashville, the Tigers don’t claim to have a glaring frontline need that will require another big payroll increase. It might seem they can’t afford to keep free-agent starter Anibal Sanchez if he really is seeking $15 million per year. But here are three things to remember — three things to remind us it won’t be a surprise if the Tigers make a big move this week or any week:

— There is no salary cap in baseball.

— Ilitch is 83 years old and wants to win the World Series for the first time as owner.

— Ilitch is willing to run the Tigers as a break-even business at best in order to win. He’ll take the high payroll over making a profit on the team.

“Our owner has been as generous as any owner in baseball,” Dombrowski said yesterday. “He has stretched our limits to the utmost like (few) people would do. He wants to win very bad.

“Our owner is more generous in payroll than anybody could ever ask. There’s a point where you still have to remember that even though we’re trying to win, there are still some business decisions you’re making.”

Ilitch wanted Dombrowski to pursue Cabrera at a time when it was obvious that it would take a huge contract to keep him with the Tigers long-term. Ilitch authorized the pursuit of Cabrera in fall 2007, immediately after the season in which the Tigers drew 3 million fans for the first time but finished second to Cleveland in the AL Central.

To obtain Cabrera from the Marlins, the Tigers gave up several young players, including two top prospects: outfielder Cameron Maybin and left-handed pitcher Andrew Miller.

The Tigers also received pitcher Dontrelle Willis, who posted a 2-8 record for them.

Despite Willis’ woe, the Cabrera deal ranks as perhaps the best in team history.

In five seasons as a Tiger, Cabrera has won two AL home-run titles, two AL RBI titles and two batting titles (including one of each this past season). In those five seasons, he has hit .323 and averaged 37 homers and 120 RBIs per season.

None of the players the Tigers gave up for Cabrera did anything substantial for the Marlins. Only Maybin, now with San Diego, has established himself in the majors. He’s far below star level.

Cabrera was two years short of free agency when the Tigers obtained him. Before he had played a regular-season game for them, they signed him to an eight-year, $152-million contract.

Cabrera helped propel the Tigers into the land of baseball’s big spenders: those clubs with player payrolls of at least $100 million.

In 2007, their final season without Cabrera, the Tigers’ payroll was $95 million, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, found on BaseballProspectus.com. That was the highest payroll in club history.

In 2008, the first year with Cabrera, the Tigers’ payroll leapt by more than $40 million, to $137 million. That remains the club record, perhaps to be surpassed this coming season.