NASHVILLE, Tenn. The Detroit Tigers reached a preliminary agreement Tuesday to acquire All-Stars Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from the Florida Marlins for a package of six players, an unexpected blockbuster trade that developed quickly at the winter meetings.
In a huge deal that took the spotlight away from Boston's pursuit of Johan Santana, Florida gets lefty Andrew Miller, outfielder Cameron Maybin and four other prospects from the Tigers, a baseball official with knowledge of the talks said on condition of anonymity because the trade had not yet been finalized.
Willis was on vacation when he heard the news.
"I'm in Mexico right now with my family. I'm kind of busy," he told The Associated Press.
The Marlins also receive catcher Mike Rabelo and right-handers Burke Badenhop, Eulogio De La Cruz and Dallas Trahern. The players involved must pass physicals for the deal to be completed.
"It's very serious, but nothing is finalized yet because some issues need to get worked out," Tigers manager Jim Leyland told the AP.
Florida didn't even approach the Tigers until Tuesday morning. The Marlins told the Tigers they could have both stars for those six players, then Detroit called back about two hours later and agreed, the baseball official said.
"If it does happen, obviously they're getting two very good players," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who managed the Marlins in 2006. "Miguel Cabrera is one of the finest hitters in the game. He can do so many things with a bat, whether you want him to hit a home run for you, you want to hit and run, work the count, get on base. And Dontrelle Willis has been one of the premier lefties in the National League."
Detroit had not been considered a contender for Cabrera or Willis, who both can become free agents after the 2009 season.
Cabrera, an All-Star in each of the last four seasons, would join an imposing lineup that already includes Magglio Ordonez, Gary Sheffield, Ivan Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco. The Tigers also acquired shortstop Edgar Renteria, a five-time All-Star, in a trade with Atlanta this offseason.
"I'm glad we're in the other division," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "That lineup just got scary."
Willis, the 2003 NL Rookie of the Year and a two-time All-Star, is coming off a down year in which he went 10-15 with a 5.17 ERA. He will be part of a solid rotation with Justin Verlander, Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman as Detroit tries to reach the World Series for the second time in three seasons.
Cabrera and Willis were the last players left from Florida's 2003 championship team. Unable to secure a new ballpark, the Marlins keep shedding players when they are due to earn huge salaries. Cabrera made $7.4 million this year and Willis $6.45 million. Both were eligible for arbitration and likely to receive raises.
"It was kind of like, wow, when I heard. I halfway expected one of them to get traded, but not both in the same deal. So it's a little bit of a shock," Marlins left fielder Josh Willingham said.
"It's deflating because they're great teammates and good friends. It's going to be hard not seeing them around. I know we got some good players in the deal, but Miguel and Dontrelle are proven big league players, and it's going to be tough to fill those roles. Miguel brings you more than 100 RBIs, 30 home runs and a .300 batting average, and while Dontrelle had a disappointing year last year, he's a workhorse. He's going to eat up 200 innings and he's always healthy. It will be tough to replace those guys."
In return, the Marlins get a pair of highly rated prospects: Maybin was the 10th pick in the 2005 amateur draft and Miller was selected sixth overall the following year.
To make room, it appears Detroit would likely have to trade third baseman Brandon Inge or left fielder Marcus Thames. Cabrera played the outfield in 2004 and 2005.
The Los Angeles Angels had pursued Cabrera for weeks. The Marlins didn't give the Angels one last chance.
"The deal they appear to have reached, they felt was a better fit for them," Angels general manager Tony Reagins told a pool reporter.
In other news:
• Power-hitting outfielder Jose Guillen and the Kansas City Royals reached a preliminary agreement on a $36 million, three-year contract, a deal subject to him passing a physical.
• NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy and the San Diego Padres reached a preliminary agreement on a $52 million, three-year extension through 2012, a deal subject to a physical.
• Reliever Will Ohman and infielder Omar Infante were dealt to the Atlanta Braves from the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Jose Ascanio.
• Denny Bautista was acquired by the Tigers from the Colorado Rockies for Jose Capellan in a swap of right-handed pitchers.
• The Yankees reached a tentative agreement to trade Tyler Clippard to the Washington Nationals for Jonathan Albaladejo in an exchange of young pitchers.