Another Fielder for Detroitby THT Staff
January 25, 2012
The other superslugger free agent first baseman, Prince Fielder, is going to Detroit, where he spent his preteen years while his dad, Cecil, played first base for the Tigers. He joins future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols in jumping to the American League.
Fielder's signing, courtesy of Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, who wants a championship, and agent Scott Boros, who wants, dropped jaws around the baseball world and here at The Hardball Times. There are questions:
- He's apparently signing for nine years. He'll be 28 years old this year and, as a Mlwaukee Brewer last year, was listed officially at 285 pounds. In nine years, he'll be 37 and presumably no lighter.
- The Tigers already have a first baseman named Miguel Cabrera, generally regarded as one of the top handful of hitters in baseball. And they already have a fine hitter in Victor Martinez, out with an injury this year but expected back in 2013 as a first baseman/designated hitter.
- And then there's the matter of money: An average of almost $24 million a year—a little less that Pujols, a little more than Mitt Romney. All told, Detroit has agreed to pay Fielder $214 million between now and the end of his contract. Foresight is 2020.
Here's what some of our writers had to say:
Full disclosure here: I am a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan. I also write about baseball and often criticize bad contracts that hamstring some teams.
So, while I think signing a big first baseman to a nine-year deal for over $200 million is crazy, it gets crazier when you already have a big first baseman in Miguel Cabrera, who is signed for several more years. And it gets even crazier when you have yet another player—a high-priced catcher—who will likely need to play a great deal of designated hitter or first base starting in 2013. And it gets even crazier when you look at the Tigers' need for an upgrade at third base, for instance.
For crying out loud, everyone knew the Yankees were out of the bidding for many of the same reasons we thought Detroit was.
But it seems Detroit's ownership and management just doesn't give a damn. They have an impact bat from the left side, something they've coveted for years. And while Alex Avila and Victor Martinez helped add punch to the lineup last year, the former will have to catch a bunch of games in 2012 and the latter will miss the entire year.
Plus, Prince is a better hitter than both of them.
So, when switching out my baseball writer hat for my Detroit hat, I find myself very excited about this signing. After all, it's not my money. The only negative that the money can have on me as a fan at all is if it keeps ownership from spending on good players in the future.
While what we've seen in the past does not guarantee what we'll see in the future, it's comforting for the Tigers fan in me to remember that the team's owner, Mike Ilitch, carried Magglio Ordonez' god-awful contract for years and his general manager still found a way to bring elite talent to the roster. Whether it was in trades with quick and expensive contract extensions, free agent signings, or spending over slot on the draft, Detroit has kept bringing in talent for the past few years.
It'll be harder to spend over slot on the draft, given changes to baseball's collective bargaining agreement. But, as long as Ilitch keeps spending his money to make my team better, what do I care if the last five years of Fielder's contract are not a good deal?
As surely some others will point out, Fielder will be only 28 next year. For the next few years he'll probably even be worth the money.
Comerica is a more friendly home park for Prince—the walls in right-center and right field are shorter than those at Miller Park—despite clocking in behind Miller Park in home run rate two years running. He sprays his homers around the field a good amount (this is evidence of that: http://www.hittrackeronline.com/detail.php?id=2011_678&type=hitter), and whoever is providing him lineup protection will likely be better than the 2011 version of Casey McGehee (perhaps it'll be Jhonny Peralta). He should see more bean balls as a result.
McGehee's struggles must have contributed to Fielder's career-high 32 intentional bases on balls, higher than his previous range of 17-21. Sure, that's not a huge factor, as he might see a boost of only 10 plate appearances in the statistics, but in actuality, pitchers were probably playing it safe with Fielder more often that not last season. Take the following stats as an example of the conservative pitching and resulting aggression at the dish from Fielder: He swung at 31.1 percent of pitches outside the zone (up nearly 3 percent from his career average) and made contact on nearly 10 percent more pitches outside the strike zone last year. Perhaps the luck involved in this equation is another discussion, but his change in approach is certainly noteworthy.
More on lineup: Per my imprecise calculations, the Milwaukee 1-2-3 of Rickie Weeks, Nyjer Morgan and Ryan Braun—who were featured in that order ahead of Prince in 2011—compiled a .368 on-base percentage and stole 57 bases, providing him ample RBI opportunities. If we assume Ordonez is dropped to fifth in the 2011 Tigers lineup, behind Cabrera and the man of the hour, the 1-2-3 of Austin Jackson, Brennan Boesch and Cabrera posted—would you know it—a .369 on-base-percentage (though they stole 30 fewer bases). It won't be the most noteworthy transition in terms of lineup adjustment, and the park should be friendly. Overall, a short-term recipe for success.
Now he just has to keep that weight in line, and can't get hung over from the $214 million contract-celebration bash. I can't imagine any scenario in which Fielder provides any sort of return on investment in even the same ballpark, and the most convincing argument for why the Tigers gave up this kind of moolah is the Bucket List wish of 82-year-old owner Ilitch to win a World Series. That, and Boras' deft negotiations. I don't even wanna know what's going on there.
When something unexpected happens that seemingly doesn't make any sense, it's a good policy to wait before offering an opinion. Sometimes, time can offer perspective.
In this case, that perspective might be a second move. At first glance, it doesn't appear that the Tigers can hold onto Fielder, Cabrera and Martinez for the 2013 season. On the face of it, it looks like Detroit will try to play Cabrera at third base or left field and/or trade Martinez. I'm going to pull on my predictions hat and choose hidden answer C: I believe the Tigers may shop Cabrera.
Think about it: They had a franchise first baseman already and opted to sign another one. The incumbent has had recurring off-field problems and isn't exactly a poster child for hard, diligent work. Yet he's also massively talented and still potentially valuable to a large market franchise (the Dodgers have been known to invest in troubled stars). Shifting to Fielder allows them to position a role model as the centerpiece of the franchise. And the marketing department must love the father-son connection.
Detroit looked like the class of the America League Central even without Martinez, but the addition of Fielder certainly helps to solidify the Tigers as a true World Series contender.
There's obviously a lot of risk in signing a really big, already below-average first basemen through his age-36 season. Okay, it's downright scary. Further, if it seems like a redundant addition. Cabrera shifted over to first base in 2008 and he hasn't logged significant innings at third since 2007. He's passable at first, but a shift back to the hot corner might not go well. Martinez is signed through 2014 and he's more of a first base/DH-type than a catcher at this point. An infield defense of Cabrera, Fielder, Peralta, and Ryan Raburn/Ramon Santiago has the makings of a ground ball's best friend.
The Tigers are at a point on the win-curve where you could argue that paying a premium for Fielder makes some sense. His addition will give them better playoff odds in 2012 (and in the short-term) and naturally improve their probability of advancing in the playoffs. And you know, flags fly forever. With the inherent randomness of postseason baseball, though, it's dangerous to put so much emphasis on October success. If the Tigers don't break through within the next few years, Fielder's contract will quickly turn into an albatross that never paid major dividends.
So, it looks like the Detroit Tigers have chosen to assemble a softball team. How this strategy will influence their ability to win games over the next few years remains to be seen, but from a fantasy perspective this could be a boon. If the Tigers have a realistic intent of playing Cabrera at third base, that would have huge fantasy implications. A third-base-eligible Miggy would immediately vie for consideration as the top overall pick in a fantasy draft. Even the possibility of added positional eligibility nudges Cabrera's ADP up a few spots.
The old adage says like father, like son. The Tigers better hope not, because we all know how Cecil Fielder's 30s went, and the Tigers just signed Prince through his age 36 season. With Martinez out for the year, Fielder fills a role for 2012, but what about 2013 and 2014? Apparently Cabrera has agreed to slide to third, which makes him a potential No. 1 overall fantasy player in my book. Adding Fielder also bolsters the runs/RBI production of rest of the Tigers team. Alas, an infield of Fielder, Miggy and Peralta means Tigers pitchers are going to have to learn to avoid contact this season.
The idea of playing Cabrera at third base, given his current weight, is preposterous. It would be akin to the Giants putting Jim Ray Hart at third, or the Mets putting Dave Kingman at third, and expecting one of them to play the position creditably. Unless Cabrera loses about 30 pounds and makes a conscious effort to improve his footwork and throwing, I think he'll be a disaster. The Tigers should either cut their losses and make him a DH, or trade him.
Short term, the signing of Fielder gives the Tigers a frightful lineup, though they're still lacking a good leadoff batter. Long term, this is a move that is clearly unreasonable. With that body, can we really expect Fielder to still be an effective player in four years, when he's 32? And then at 35, 36, what are those seasons going to look like?
One offshoot of the Fielder signing: Johnny Damon won't sign with the Tigers, where he had expressed interest in going, and may be headed back to New York.