To quote former major league announcer Mel Allen: “How about that!” The Detroit Tigers signing of first baseman Prince Fielder of the Milwaukee Brewers (and his 230 career home runs) is as stunning as headlines come in the world of sports.
The slugger’s nine-year $214 million contract costs owner Mike Ilitch dearly yet the payoff could be a trip to the World Series and a home gate of more than 3 million at Comerica Park in 2012.
Crain’s Detroit Business reports the Tigers can afford the slugger. They stated the team is actually saving the $23 million Fielder will cost this season by not re-signing right-fielder Magglio Ordoneza and second-baseman/designated hitter Carlos Guillen. A boost in season-ticket sales, suite sales, new corporate sponsorships, merchandise and others revenue generators, Crain’s says, will also benefit Ilitch. Look for the Tigers to raise ticket prices in time for the 2013 season especially if they happen to win the Fall Classic.
Fans are giddy about the prospects of Fielder replacing the injured Victor Martinez in manager Jim Leyland’s lineup. A powerhouse 1-2 punch of Fielder and Miguel Cabrera has pitchers around the major leagues shuddering this winter. Add in the bats of catcher Alex Avila, shortstop Jhonny Peralta, right fielder Brennan Boesch and left fielder/DH Delmon Young, and you have Detroit’s version of the famed New York Yankees’ “Murderer’s Row.”
Fielder is coming home. Most of us remember his father, Cecil Fielder, and his 1990-1996 run with the Tigers. His 245 home runs here included 51 in 1990, the most in one year for a Tiger since Hank Greenberg’s 58 home runs in 1938.
Cecil Fielder brought his robust son Prince to many games at old Tiger Stadium and the youngster even clubbed a home run at age 12 at Michigan and Trumbull. Ah, shades of Willie Horton hitting one out of that same park as a teenage hitting sensation for Detroit Northwestern High School in the early 1960’s.
The fact that Ilitch opened up his wallet and president/general manager Dave Dombrowski was able to sign a free agent of this magnitude demonstrates how hungry the two are for the taste of champagne in a world champion’s locker room. The Tigers got to the World Series in 2006 but lost in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals. This past season, it was a trip to the American League Championship Series (ALCS) only to lose in six games to the Texas Rangers.
Now, the table is set for the Tigers to make it back to the Series and to finish the job and bring home a championship flag.
My question entering spring training will be the Tigers defense. By moving Cabrera to third base and plunking Fielder at first base, the Tigers have two less-than-desirable gloves out there. Add in the short-range of Peralta at short and middle-of-the-road defense of Ryan Raburn at second and you have the making of a potential shaky infield defense.
In the outfield, you have a so-so fielder in Young (left) and getting-better Boesch in right. Only Austin Jackson has Gold Glove potential in center field. Avila is above average behind the plate. Tiger pitchers like Rick Porcello and Doug Fister, who rely on ground outs, had better be ready to expect a few more base-runners in 2012 as the result of Cabrera at third and the other fielders we mentioned.
One solution would be rotating Fielder and Cabrera between first base and DH, leaving Young in left full-time (instead of DH) and platooning Brandon Inge and Don Kelly at third base. Leyland has plenty of options even though Cabrera says he is ready to go at it full time at third base.
Prince’s wife Chanel, at the introductory press conference last week at Comerica Park, summed up her husband this way: “He’s a big teddy bear. You want that fire on the field.”
And fiery is what Prince Fielder is – and will be – as a Detroit Tiger. It’s a move with plenty of risks for Ilitch and Dombrowski yet it’s a wildly aggressive move that stoked the flames of the Winter Stove League in baseball. Detroit, as a team and a city, should be better off because of this special homecoming. Prince is back home – where he belongs.