Miguel Cabrera was the easy comparison for Juan Soto when he was made available and then eventually shipped out of DC to San Diego. Miggy was the last historically good hitter to be traded at a still pre-peak age. He was 25 when he started in Detroit after coming up with Florida.
Cabrera went on to have the very Hall of Fame career the Tigers could have only hoped for when they traded for him. He will go down as one of the best right-handed hitters of all time, as it looks like this very well may be it for him. The Tigers won four straight division titles with Cabrera as the hammer in their lineup in the early 2010s.
The Marlins, of course, have done nothing since losing Cabrera, because their trade did not net them multiple plus players. Andrew Miller eventually became a prime reliever, but well after he left Florida. Cameron Maybin was a fine player but not much more. And that was it. Don’t completely nail a trade like this, you spend a decade or more wandering the wasteland of mediocrity, mumbling about how good you had it once while tasting nothing but sand. That very well could be the Nationals from here on out.
But it goes deeper than that. In recent years, or maybe longer, sports have become judged in a simple, binary fashion. Either you won the World Series, or you didn’t. It’s more prevalent in the NBA or NFL, but you see it everywhere now. Even though only one team gets to win every year, and there are a whole lot of factors that go into championships that no one can plan for or strategize against, it’s how we tend to see things. You cannot be a better run organization than the Dodgers, the only team that puts everything it can into fielding the best team it can every day, every season. And yet recently, they’ve only won one World Series, and that in the season-in-a-can of 2020, that some will never view as completely viable. They’re seen as failures by a lot of people because of that, even though just about every fan would swap places with those in blue in a heartbeat.
That singular chase has been an excuse for teams to be run in all sorts of ways, used as a shield to defend all kinds of moves and cost-cutting. It’s become so mutated now that we see through it, but every time a team lets a player approaching 30 walk, or trades them before free agency, every time a team moves along a fan favorite, they will tell you it’s the chase for the most efficient way to the World Series. Expanding the playoffs, while first and foremost about TV money, was about this as well.
By that measure, Miggy’s career in Detroit could be seen as something of a failure. The Tigers never won a World Series with him, only getting there once where they were undone by #EvenYear. There were two additional ALCS losses sandwiching that trip in both 2011 and 2013. On the day when the Tigers pulled the trigger to bring Miggy north, they told themselves and their fans that it was the most important step to bring a World Series winner to the Motor City for the first time since 1984. It didn’t work out that way, and yet tell Tigers fans they lost out on anything. Ask any one of them you can find and they’ll tell you Cabrera was the source of so many memories and fun that they honestly don’t care that there was no World Series win. If they do care, it’s almost certainly more sympathy for Cabrera than what they missed out on. Miggy deserved it, they’ll say.
Cabrera will be the defining player for so many Tigers fans, what they remember most during Detroit’s crushingly dark winters and what’ll make them giggle randomly during another pointless day in the office. That’s all memories of a World Series win are anyway. Cabrera will be the first thing a generation of Tigers fans think of when they think of what being a Tigers fan is.
This is what Nats fans will miss out on now. They’ll have 2019, sure, but whenever they think of Soto there will be a hole. Ten to 15 years of watching one of the best in the game do his job every day is a rare treat, one fans treasure as much as anything.
But I suppose it’s shouting at the rain that owners and GMs stopped caring about what deepens a connection between fan and team long ago. On the surface, there are plenty of reasons the Nats will lose that trade, even if Soto leaves San Diego as a free agent after 2024. The biggest one is nothing they got back will be Juan Soto. But below that surface is the depriving of Nats fans something that would have made being a Nats fan different than anywhere else. That they would have gotten to enjoy Juan Soto every day. That they won’t get to talk about him in 10 or 20 or 30 years in those hushed tones the way I talk about Ryne Sandberg or Andre Dawson or yes, even Sammy Sosa, even though Cubs ownership likes to pretend he never existed. That may be the biggest crime of it all.
– Let’s round it off with another new legend, that’s Vlad Guerrero Jr. hitting this screaming Mimi in Minnesota:
115 MPH. There have only been 15 homers in MLB all season hit at a 17-degree launch angle or lower. But the numbers aren’t needed to appreciate this seed that might have bored through someone’s intestines had everyone not just gotten out of the way and prayed it didn’t cause a crater in the Target Field bleachers. Hopefully, Jays fans get a full career’s worth of these kinds of moments.