With the stunning deal announced Tuesday that will bring former Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder to Detroit for a cool $214 million over nine years, the Tigers no doubt solidified their status as the “Mashers of the Midwest.”
Fielder, at age 27, is in the middle of his prime as a MVP-level power hitter. He has smashed 230 home runs and over 640 RBIs in six full seasons with the Brewers, which should fit well in a Tigers’ lineup that often lives and dies by the long ball. Shoot, with that production, Fielder would fit well in any lineup.
There was an ESPN commercial a few years back that proclaimed “chicks love the long ball.” I guess the Tigers will be full-fledged chick magnets this summer.
Big homer numbers are fun, but this is reality, not a fantasy baseball league. Sure, it’s fun to make an off-season splash that creates a tizzy among your fan base, but this deal surely seems like a panic move by Tigers’ general manager Dave Dombrowski after designated hitter Victor Martinez revealed his ACL injury last week and was lost for the season. It’s even more of a signal that it’s a last-gasp request from 82-year-old owner Mike Illich to try to produce a World Series champion in Detroit.
But after the initial glow of this mega-deal wears off, the Tigers really aren’t in a different situation than they were three days ago, or after the final out was recorded by Texas in the American League Championship Series in mid-October. Fielder’s deal doesn’t address any of the weaknesses the Tigers’ possess, such as a lack of speed in the lineup, full-time solutions at second and third base, and a fifth starter in the rotation.
If anything, Fielder’s new contract — which is the fourth largest in Major League Baseball history — creates more issues with the Tigers going forward. No. 1 has to be defense, especially since Fielder is now expected to take over first base for Detroit and will push the incumbent at the position, Miguel Cabrera, over to third base.
The last time that experiment took place in 2008, it was generally considered a disaster and set bad vibes from the beginning in what turned out to be a last-place season. Since then, Cabrera hasn’t exactly been a spokesman for Weight Watchers and an ideal defensive third baseman needs to be nimble on his feet. They don’t call it “the hot corner” for nothing.
The fact that Detroit is even considering the move could push its defense to the level of the last-place Chicago Cubs, who had 134 errors last year, the worst of any franchise.
The next issue is speed in the lineup, which, with the addition of the 275-pound Fielder, isn’t going to get a shot in the arm anytime soon. They’ll be even poorer manufacturing runs on days when the homers dry up, an assumption aided by the fact they ranked last in the Majors last year with just 49 stolen bases.
If Detroit implies more of an all-or-nothing strategy at the plate — either homer or strikeout — it won’t be a winning formula. It’s especially risky come October in the playoffs, when the weather usually makes home run hitting more difficult and the pitching is locked in. It just barely worked against the Yankees in the ALDS, because Detroit fortunately had a bullpen that didn’t surrender a lead in a do-or-die Game 5.
Asking for that type of consistent dominance from the bullpen throughout next season may be asking too much.
Finally, an area that is often overlooked but is tremendously vital to a team’s success, is chemistry. How will Fielder mesh with new teammates? How will veterans such as Brandon Inge accept being confined to the bench or waived all together? How will they welcome another big ego who is now commanding over $20 million per season?
Without a doubt, it’s tremendously exciting to see that Detroit is dead serious on producing a World Series champion. As fans, that’s all you can ask for.
But the way the Tigers are attempting to do so — tying up the financial future of the franchise on three primary stars, and creating more questions about the intangibles that are so critical to championship clubs — is what casts a cautionary shadow on that excitement.