Hot Stove: Prince Fielder Signs With Detroit
Wednesday January 25th, 2012
After lots of speculation and links to several possible teams, Prince Fielder's free agency finally came to an end on Tuesday when the slugging first baseman agreed to a nine-year $214 million deal with the Detroit Tigers. Announcement of this transaction came just one week after the revelation that Tigers catcher, first baseman, and designated hitter Victor Martinez would miss significant time (possibly the entire 2012 season) due to a torn ACL in his left knee. Fielder's deal was first reported on Twitter by Yahoo! Sports columnist Tim Brown and details were circulated by Brown and CBS Sports writer Jon Heyman shortly thereafter.
Heyman and others also reported that Fielder will play first base and incumbent Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera will change roles, likely taking over as the team's primary designated hitter but possibly seeing time at third base as well.
Fielder was expected to sign a deal much earlier this winter after fellow first baseman Albert Pujols inked his contract with the Los Angeles Angels, thus setting the market, but Fielder and notorious sports agent Scott Boras insisted on a long-term deal and many teams shied away from getting locked into a nine or ten year contract. Up until the announcement out of Detroit this week, the frontrunners for Prince's services looked to be the Washington Nationals and the Texas Rangers, making the final move by the Tigers somewhat surprising.
A 27 year-old lefthanded hitter, Prince Fielder is the son of three-time major league all-star and former Detroit Tiger hitter Cecil Fielder (though the two are now estranged) and was the seventh overall pick in the 2002 MLB Amateur Draft. He was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers and spent his entire career with that organization until Tuesday. In that big league service time, Fielder compiled 230 home runs, a .282 batting average, and a .390 on-base mark, including a 50 homer season in 2007 and three all-star appearances. This past season, Fielder played in all 162 games for the Brewers and hit .299 with 38 homers, 120 RBI, and a career-best .415 on-base percentage while finishing third in the National League MVP race and earning the league's Silver Slugger Award.
As a Brewer, Fielder paired with outfielder Ryan Braun to form one of the most formidable two-man combinations in the Milwaukee batting order, and with Detroit he'll likely do the same with Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera, age 28, is a six-time all-star and the reigning American League MVP, and he has averaged 33 home runs since his first full big league season in 2004. Cabrera has also been with the Tigers since 2008 and has played almost exclusively at first base or designated hitter during that span, and baseball analysts are already heavily debating whether it would be viable for him to play third base for any extended amount of time during the 2012 season. According to tweets by Tigers beat writer Jason Beck, the Tigers checked that Cabrera was on-board with the Fielder acquisition before it was made official, so that certainly seems to confirm that he is content with the idea of shifting away from first base if they need him to do so.
For the Tigers, this is a smart and necessary move for a team looking to compete for another AL Central crown, particularly in the wake of the serious off-season injury to Victor Martinez. The club has a solid core with Cabrera, reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, all-star catcher Alex Avila, and 2011 MLB saves leader Jose Valverde, and adding an established big league slugger like Fielder to that bunch will only help provide more consistent offense and take some pressure off of the younger, less-consistent hitters. Prince will slot into the lineup either just ahead of or just behind Cabrera, creating a hitting duo even more feared than his previous combo with NL MVP Braun. Many writers have questioned the sense in giving a nine-year deal to Fielder, noting his heavyset physique and the fact that the contract will pay him nearly as much as Albert Pujols is making per season, well into his late-30s. Time will tell whether Prince earns that cash for the duration of the deal, as well as whether his production is comparable to Pujols'.
From a fantasy perspective, this is likely a lateral move for Fielder. His surrounding pieces are not a significant improvement or regression from the help he had in Milwaukee. The presence of a designated hitter spot could help him by sometimes alleviating the potential injury risks of playing the field, but he's been remarkably durable in his big league career and has averaged 160 games per year since becoming a full-time player. Fantasy owners should evaluate him much as they did last year, and he seems likely to post season numbers similar to those he's logged in prior years.
Overall, this somewhat surprising deal makes sense for the Tigers, though for some, Fielder will have to continue to build upon his stellar big league production for another nine years to truly earn the monumental funds he is being paid.
Comments are closed.