On the eve of the Winter Meetings beginning in Nashville, multiple sources said the Marlins are leaning towards retaining the D-Train, at least until the July 31, 2008 trade deadline.
The subject of trade speculation for years, Willis has two more seasons left in the arbitration process before he was to qualify for free agency. He earned $6.45 million this past season, and is in line to increase that figure to more than $7 million in 2008. Despite coming off a down year, the left-hander is still regarded as a bargain when you factor in how expensive free agent starting pitchers are. And the price to obtain young arms through trades is difficult.
In Willis, the Marlins understand they have a workhorse and clubhouse leader.
The Marlins are looking to bolster their rotation and return to the blueprint of building around pitching and defense.
Willis is coming off his worst season of his career, going 10-15 with a 5.17 ERA. And in the last two years, he is a combined 22-27 with a 4.49 ERA. Compare that to his 2005 season, when he posted a 22-10 record (2.63 ERA), and paced the league in victories.
With a 68-54 career mark, Willis already is Florida's all-time leader in wins.
Willis' value, however, is more than just wins and losses. What he does is eat up innings while giving the team more than 30 starts. In fact, in '07, he became the first Marlin ever to make 35 starts, as he compiled 205 1/3 innings.
While Willis is likely to return, the Marlins still are expected to entertain feeler offers for teams interested in the left-hander.
Over the past few weeks, the Marlins have had some preliminary talks regarding Willis. The Tigers and Astros expressed interest, but Florida's asking price is high.
Willis, who turns 26 in January, is a two-time All-Star and in 2003 he was the NL Rookie of the Year.
The Marlins are hopeful that Willis will recapture his old form now that he is once again united with pitching coach Mark Wiley. In 2005, Wiley was the pitching coach the year Willis finished second to St. Louis' Chris Carpenter in the Cy Young Award voting.
One source on Sunday said if Willis rediscovers his lost touch, it would increase his trade value down the line, perhaps by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, depending on how Florida's season is shaping up.
Willis is one of the most popular all-time Marlins, and he offers leadership in a young clubhouse.
As for Cabrera, multiple sources say the Marlins are committed to trading the 24-year-old slugger because they simply can't afford him. After making $7.4 million this past season, the Venezuelan native is in line to earn more than $10 million. Cabrera, like Willis, isn't eligible for free agency until after the 2009 season.
It is doubtful the Marlins will attempt to sign Cabrera for '08 and deal him during the upcoming season.
Florida is hoping to fill several needs in any deal involving Cabrera, especially catcher and center field. The Marlins also are looking for pitching in a Cabrera trade. The Angels and Dodgers have been the most active teams vying for the four-time All-Star third baseman. The Giants also are in the mix.
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.