As reports come swarming in about Prince Fielder reportedly agreeing to a nine-year, $214 million dollar deal, I can’t help but think about what this means for the Detroit Tigers, not for 2012, but for 2013. There was no doubt the Tigers needed to make a move to replace Victor Martinez after learning he would miss most of the 2012 season due to an ACL tear. What nobody thought was the acquisition would be Fielder.
The problem that Fielder to the Tigers poses isn’t something that will be evident in the short term, but it’s a problem for the long term. The problem? The Tigers now have two power-hitting first basemen that any team with the money would love to get their hands on in Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. For 2012, this won’t be a problem, more of a blessing, due to Martinez’s abscence at the DH position. Fielder and Cabrera can each platoon at both first base and at DH, while providing an unbelievable punch in the middle of the order. Yes, for the short term, let’s all rejoice that the Tiger’s found someone to replace Martinez in the middle of the order.
For the long term, however, I’m as stunned as the next guy. Wasn’t it Dave Dombrowski who recently told reporters that Fielder was not someone they were going after, due to his wanting a long-term contract? What about when Martinez returns? How do we work out what will happen to the lineup once the $50 million DH returns from his injury?
Immediate reaction is to think that, upon Martinez’s return to the lineup, Cabrera will move to third base. Cabrera came into the league as a third basemen with the Florida Marlins, and in his first year with the Tigers, played third base before moving to first. That was a much younger and slimmer Cabrera, though. The Cabrera of 2012 is older and noticeably plumper, not that any of that has diminished his power numbers, but he is a perfect fit at first base. While his fielding has improved over the last few years at first base, one has to think about whether or not Cabrera can lose the necessary weight to gain the agility needed at third, while also keeping the power we fans have become accustomed to seeing at the plate. Unfortunately, my immediate reaction is no.
I also look a few years down the road to when Cabrera becomes a free agent in 2016. What if this experiment doesn’t work out? What the Tigers have done is essentially guaranteed themselves someone at first base until 2020. If Cabrera wants out in 2016 or before then, the Tigers can trade him for very valuable pieces while keeping a first basemen who essentially puts up the same numbers. If the acquisition of Fielder does work out, will the Tigers have enough money to hold onto a player like Cabrera in 2016 when its time for a new contract? At that point in time the $50 million contract for Martinez will be off the books, and even if re-signed, Martinez will be nearing the end of his career and will be offered substantially less, due to age and recurring injuries to his lower body. Cabrera, who makes more than $20 million now, will want another substantial contract, and the fact is, he may deserve it. Even if they want to, Detroit may not be able to keep him.
But let’s take a step back and think of the possibility of all this working out. What if a move to third base, which the Tigers are in need of, pays off and Cabrera is good? Think of the middle of that order with Fielder, Cabrera and Martinez. Add Brennan Boesch, Alex Avila and Delmon Young to the mix and, suddenly, this line-up is scary. Then, throw in the fact that the pitching rotation includes 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister. Can anyone say World Series possibilities?
With all the problems people can see with this acquisition, the payoff could be great for the city of Detroit and Tiger fans. Of course, it could all backfire and Cabrera hates the move to third base and Martinez never fully recovers from the ACL tear, and everything suddenly goes into the dumps.
But won’t it be nice to see a heavy-set man standing in the batters box, in a jersey with the Old-English D stitched into the left breast of the uniform, with the name Fielder on the back, once again, in Detroit? The memories of Cecil come flooding back into the minds of the Detroit Tigers fans, and despite the rumors over the years of a broken relationship between father and son, Prince is choosing to be in Motown. Perhaps the love the city has for the man named Cecil will be transferred to his son Prince as he is inserted into, what could be, a power-packed lineup for years to come.
So let’s sit back, relax and enjoy what could be a great 2012. The Tigers have found the replacement needed for Martinez.
The 2013 season can wait.
Let the Prince Fielder Experiment begin.