Instead of a Triple Crown winner, the Tigers acquired a switch-hitting catching prospect in their deal Wednesday afternoon, sending Andy Oliver to Pittsburgh for Ramon Cabrera. They'll take it.
In the process, the Tigers' first -- and perhaps only -- deal of these Winter Meetings closed Oliver's roller-coaster Tigers tenure and gives him what they hope is a fresh start in another organization.
"We thought that perhaps a change of scenery would not be a bad thing," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said.
The Tigers drafted Oliver with a second-round pick in 2009. A year later, he was pitching in Detroit's rotation, making a handful of starts as a replacement for Rick Porcello. He struggled before being sent to Triple-A Toledo after the All-Star break, but he showed the power-lefty potential that the Tigers saw in him.
He was on the doorstep of the big leagues, but after two more starts in a brief stint with the Tigers in 2011, his career seemingly turned. He had solid numbers at Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo in 2010, but went 13-22 with a 4.79 ERA over the next two years as a Mud Hen, walking 168 batters over 265 innings with 255 strikeouts.
And yet, with his talent, he put himself in a solid position to compete for the Tigers' open rotation spot last spring with an impressive opening stretch of camp. That bid fell apart in the second half of camp as his walk total rose, landing him back at Toledo for a third season.
"We couldn't get him to throw strikes on a consistent basis," Dombrowski said. "And if he does, with his arm, he has a chance to be a very fine pitcher."
By the end, Oliver was pitching out of the Mud Hens' bullpen. If he was going to compete for a job with the Tigers next spring, it would've been as a reliever.
Instead, he'll go to camp with the Pirates with a chance at a few different roles.
"He seems capable of doing a lot of roles for us," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "We like the arm, like the fastball, the breaking ball, like how he does things. And as tough as is to give up young switch-hitting catcher that we like, a lot, we felt Andrew was a good addition to our club."
Said Dombrowski: "I think it's a good gamble on their part, and I hope it works out."
The 23-year-old Cabrera was a Florida State League batting champion at Class A Bradenton in 2011 before batting .276 with three home runs and 50 RBIs between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis this past season. The 5-foot-8, 195-pounder owns a .292 batting average in his five-year minor league career, but just a .400 slugging percentage.
Cabrera will not compete for the Tigers' backup catcher role, even if Detroit doesn't add another backstop. He'll begin the season at either Erie or Toledo, depending on if fellow catching prospect Bryan Holaday wins the backup job in Detroit.