Authored by Andrew Perna - 25th January, 2012 - 9:10 pm
In a move that would not have happened had Victor Martinez not suffered a serious knee injury, the Detroit Tigers and Prince Fielder have agreed to a nine-year, $214 million contract.
Fielder landing with the Tigers is reminiscent of the 2004 offseason when Aaron Boone suffered a knee injury while playing pickup basketball, creating a hole for the New York Yankees on the left side of their infield. On Feb. 15, 2004, the Texas Rangers traded Alex Rodriguez, who moved from shortstop to third base, to the Yankees for Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later.
This acquisition comes via free agency and the Tigers are setting Fielder's salary, but the similarities are undeniable.
With Martinez out, Fielder will essentially be his replacement in the batting order. Martinez is a better contact hitter, but Fielder is more dangerous in virtually all other categories – power, on-base percentage and slugging. That bodes well for a Detroit team that won the American League Central comfortably in 2011.
Rodriguez joined New York and won a pair of MVPs in his first four seasons, but his first World Series title didn't come until Year 6. The Tigers, with Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander in their primes, are looking for Fielder to deliver October dominance sooner than Rodriguez did with the Yankees.
Not to take any of the thunder of the signing away from Fielder himself, but there is another inevitable comparison that has to be addressed. His father, Cecil, hit 51 home runs for the Tigers in 1990. As a young boy, Prince would take batting practice with Major League players at Tiger Stadium. Adding to the drama of playing on the same team as his father once did is the fact that Cecil and Prince famously have a poor relationship.
Prince will be a threat to crush 50-plus home runs at Comerica Park, which ranked right in the middle of the MLB in terms of homers hit last season. For a left-handed hitter like Fielder, Miller is the better fit but he will still hit plenty of dingers at Comerica. Of the balls he hit in play in 2011, 22% went to left field, 18% to center and 23% to right field.
The combination of Cabrera and Fielder will be a nightmare for opposing pitchers in the American League. Jim Leyland will have the luxury of sending a deadly lefty-righty attack up to bat in whatever order he chooses. Cabrera is just 13 months older than Fielder and has two more years of service. The duo could lead this team to the postseason on a yearly basis on their talent alone.
Fielder had a pretty good accomplice in reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun while with Milwaukee, but 99 out of 100 baseball people will tell you that Cabrera is even more talented. Fielder may go his entire career without nothing what it's like to hit without a stud next to him.
Grade for Fielder: A-
For his career, Fielder has hit .282 with a .390 OBP and an OPS of .929 in 998 games. Thanks to Interleague Play, the career National Leaguer as a decent sample size of 96 games played against AL clubs. In those games, he has hit .269/.353/.913. The first baseman has played six games at his new home, Comerica Park, as a visitor, going a dismal 4-for-23 with one home run and three RBIs. He reached base only 24% of the time in those six games, but there is a well-known culprit for those woes. He is 0-for-6 against Verlander in his career.
In his six-plus seasons, Fielder has hit 47-for-189 (.248) with 10 home runs and 31 RBIs in 52 games against his four new AL Central rivals (Cleveland, Chicago, Kansas City and Minnesota).
What he also brings to the Tigers, who have had an issue with injuries in recent seasons (Magglio Ordonez and now V-Mart), is a solid presence in the lineup. He has played in at least 157 games in six-straight seasons, including a full slate of 162 contests twice.
Unlike the probable saga in Miami with shortstops Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes, the Tigers have already solved their possible issue with their pair of slugging first baseman.
Cabrera says he'll move to third base, his natural position, so that Fielder can continue to call first base home. Cabrera was a regular third baseman for the Marlins before he arrived in Detroit four years ago. The Tigers have Brandon Inge under contract at third base for 2012, but he can play all over the field. Inge has played 962 games at third in his career, but has spent time at catcher (355), center field (101) and left field (27). He could prove to be a nice utilityman for Leyland.
With a rotation led by Verlander and a lineup anchored by Cabrera and Fielder, it's hard to envision the Tigers not repeating as champions of their division, but will they have enough firepower to complete with the Angels, Rangers, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees?
The answer to that question is a resounding ‘yes' especially when you consider that this Detroit team ousted New York in the first round of the playoffs without Fielder last October.
As well as he fits in with the Tigers, though, the question we will hear for the next nine years will be -- is he worth $214 million?
The contract is only the fourth $200 million deal in baseball history, but the second we have seen awarded this offseason. Rodriguez has two of those to his credit, one from the Rangers and another from the Yankees, while Albert Pujols got a 10-year, $240 million pact from the Angels last month. In terms of average salary, only Rodriguez, Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee and Pujols will earn more in 2012.
While this signing was a case of opportunity, handing out this type of contract for Fielder may prove to be a mistake down the line. There are holes in his swing, namely on the four outside corners, and he is susceptible to curveballs.
The other $200-million men were consistently 1.000 OPS hitters leading up to their big deals.
Grade for Tigers: B-
This is a tough grade for the Tigers because of the deal's length and the average annual price tag. While Fielder has been somewhat of an Iron Man-type in his career, will his body be able to hold his 275-plus pounds as he approaches his thirties? Also, as he gets older the troublesome edges of his swing will only get bigger and worse, making it easier for opposing pitchers to get him out. He is known for his elite on-base percentage, which will help him as he ages.
As with any acquisition of this ilk, winning can cure almost anything, including overspending.