The long, slender body was sprawled on one of the faux leather sofas in the middle of the Tigers clubhouse. The furniture couldn't contain the legs of Lincoln, which were awkwardly curled.
Andrew Miller was chilling before a game. It was September, 2006.
Three months prior, Miller was a member of the University of North Carolina baseball team. A left-hander, Miller unfurled his 6'6" frame and terrorized college hitters. The Tigers drafted Miller in the first round---sixth overall---in the 2006 free agent draft in June. He was 21 years old.
On August 4, 2006, the Tigers signed Miller to his first professional contract. The deal guaranteed Miller $5.45 million and, without having thrown a pitch as a pro, Miller also got a signing bonus of $3.55 million. So his haul was $9 million. Not bad for someone on a macaroni and cheese diet a few months prior.
Back in the day, they called guys like Miller "bonus babies."
In 2006, as now, they called them "prospects."
I sidled up to Miller, who was a Tiger for just over a week (he made his MLB debut on August 30). He looked up at the intruder and I pressed "record" on my Dictaphone.
"Do you feel like you've made it?" I asked.
His eyes widened and he looked at me as if I told him he had a no-hitter going.
"No way," he said. "You never feel comfortable in this game."
Miller was a "can't miss kid," an ancient term. He was lanky, a lefty, and tall as the day is long. He was going to be a Tiger for a long time and he had the nine million bucks to prove it.
But when I caught him on that September day in 2006, Andrew Miller spoke softly, had no air of cockiness about him, and he still had the baby face of a rookie. Still, he was a millionaire nine times over.
Miller told me that he was just happy to be in the big leagues. He didn't look at himself as a savior. He seemed to know to keep his mouth shut and his ears open.
Miller was no savior, that was for sure.
He threw 10.1 innings in 2006 and walked 10 batters. His ERA was 6.10
In 2007, the Tigers gave Miller 13 starts. The $9 Million Man had a WHIP of 1.75 in 64 innings and a 5.62 ERA.
That winter, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, somehow managing to keep a straight face, packaged Miller, still considered a prospect, and another "can't miss kid," outfielder Cameron Maybin, and swindled the Florida Marlins for lefty Dontrelle Willis and a 24 year-old third baseman who really was can't miss---Miguel Cabrera.
At the time, the court of baseball's public opinion felt that the Tigers gave up quite a lot, despite Miller's rocky start to his big league career.
Alas, Miller failed miserably as a starter for the Marlins and Maybin flailed away with the bat unsuccessfully with Florida before being relayed to the San Diego Padres, where he has yet to find himself. Miller turned reliever with the Boston Red Sox and the bullpen agreed with him somewhat. But he is still no savior and has never pitched like a $9 Million Man.
On Thursday, it was announced that Maybin was being suspended 25 games for violating MLB's drug policy. Amphetamine use was his poison.
Willis flamed out, but Cabrera has done OK for himself.
I have never been a fan of so-called prospects.
When it comes to trades in baseball, give me the established MLB player every time.
Don't come at me with John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander. Break the record already.
For every trade like Smoltz/Alexander, there are many more where the prospect is never heard from again, while the established big leaguer thrives. And what does it say, when the only example of such a deal the Tigers made occurred 27 years ago?
Tigers GM Dombrowski got his gun and mask out again and he held up Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels for the second time in eight months.
On Thursday, with the Prince Fielder-for-Ian Kinsler trade still fresh on the mind, the Tigers officially announced the acquisition of reliever Joakim Soria, who is established, from Texas for a pair of maybes---pitchers Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel, who are supposed to be pretty good big leaguers someday.
By the time Thompson and/or Knebel reach the potential that has been prescribed for them by the folks who stake out the kids on the farms, they will be a footnote in Tigers history.
Soria, meanwhile, might have helped the Tigers win the World Series.
Of course, getting Soria guarantees nothing. But Thompson and Knebel are useless to the Tigers now.
Give me the established big leaguer every time.
Prospects should mainly be used as bargaining chips, in order to acquire guys who have done it in the major leagues. At least, that should be the business plan for teams like the Tigers, whose eyes are rightfully on October.
I don't hear what a player could do. I only hear what he's done.
I'll go one step further. If Jake Thompson and/or Corey Knebel turn into All-Stars, that's fine by me, whether Soria proves to be the missing piece to the Tigers' bullpen puzzle or not.
It's still a trade that Dombrowski had to make.
Short-sightedness isn't always a character flaw.
If you're worried about the Tigers mortgaging the future, don't. There is plenty of talent in the farm system to stack on the poker table.
It's all about winning the ring now.
So go ahead and trade prospects with impunity, as far as I'm concerned.
I want guys who have done it before.