Stealth Mode: With Mike Ilitch’s Money Dave Dombrowski Snatches Prince Fielder
- Updated: January 27, 2012
The Detroit Tigers were silent long enough. An offseason that had so far peaked with the weak uneventful signing of reliever Octavio Dotel and plummeted with the news of Victor Martinez tearing his ACL just got a lot more exciting. Prince Fielder joins Miguel Cabrera to form the best middle of the lineup in baseball for the foreseeable future.
Rumors swirled around Detroit all off-season about possible additions to shore up pitching or hitting. The “big” names included Matt Garza, Yoennis Cespedes, and Jose Reyes, as Detroit needed speed or a solid third starter. Detroit wasn’t supposed to have a lot of money to spend. Dombrowski himself said Detroit wouldn’t pay for another $20 million per year player. And Prince Fielder? Besides not truly needing another power hitter, let alone a first baseman, many thought he wouldn’t play where his estranged father Cecil became a star.
Then Martinez got hurt…
Whether Detroit was serious about Fielder before the injury is unknown. Even if the team claims the two are unrelated, something went through Mike Ilitch’s mind the moment he heard his star DH was most likely out for the season. Ilitch has desperately sought a World Series win after tasting a sample of what could be in 2006. Maybe he thought the dream was now slipping away. That gave the remaining ammo for Dombrowski to use all money necessary for Scott Boras to bring Prince Fielder to Detroit.
Mike Ilitch, once known as the worst owner in baseball, has officially solidified himself near the top.
Before the signing, the Tigers were still easy favorites in what may be the weakest division in baseball, the AL Central. This move puts them right on par with the Angels, Rangers and Yankees after their big pitching heist earlier in the offseason.
But Detroit might not be finished.
Signing Fielder may be great for the lineup, but Detroit entered the offseason with some pitching question marks. Justin Verlander and Doug Fister give the team a solid 1-2 punch, but the inconsistencies of Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer cannot be overlooked. Add in a still vacant fifth spot in the rotation and work remains for the front office.
As baseball continues to prove yearly with teams touting monster lineups, pitching still wins championships.
Ilitch must continue to give Dombrowski free reign of the baseball world to complete the All Star roster Detroit has begun to assemble. Members of the farm system become more expendable as the roster sees less spots open for the future.
The rumored Matt Garza deal may come to fruition still or Roy Oswalt deciding to join in on the Detroit bandwagon, but Detroit doesn’t have to act immediately. A combination of the weak AL Central and the depth of the lineup; however, allow the Tigers to take their time making a move. A team never knows what pitchers will become available by the trade deadline as Detroit proved by grabbing Doug Fister last season.
Without Martinez for the season Fielder and Cabrera should play every game of the season as they switch off days at DH. This can also help ease Cabrera back into a third base role so he can readjust to the riggers of the hot corner.
As for the lineup itself, Jim Leyland would be wise to glue Miguel Cabrera at the three spot with Prince Fielder cleaning up. This would mirror his situation with Ryan Braun in Milwaukee, a spot he dominated.
The lineup as a whole should look like this:
Don Kelly/Brandon Inge
Ramon Santiago/Ryan Raburn
Uncertainty still exists with the leadoff spot and the very bottom, but there is very little room to pitch around anybody.
Fielder and Cabrera should continue with their annual .400 OBPs coupled with 35+ HRs and 100+ RBIs. If Austin Jackson improves on his strikeouts and Boesch exhibits patience at the plate, pitchers will have nowhere to go.
In addition, Delmon Young should parlay the strength in front of him with last season and continue to be a valuable contributor for the Tigers. A healthy Alex Avila, who has a now serviceable backup in Gerald Laird, should get back the hitting groove that solidified the catcher position as his own. Detroit won’t need to ride Avila as hard with consistency and power coming from Cabrera and Fielder.
All that being said, an MVP pitcher and lineup featuring two potential Hall of Famers in their prime makes winning the AL Central simply not good enough.
Assuming the world doesn’t end after the 2012 baseball season, the Detroit Tigers will have at least five years with that core of Cabrera, Fielder, and Verlander. This announces to baseball: World Series or bust!
Add a healthy Victor Martinez in 2013 and 2014 to an already terrifying lineup for opposing hitters and the future only gets brighter. If the supporting cast of pitchers and hitters succeed in their roles there’s no reason to think Detroit won’t be playing in late October at least once.
If Detroit doesn’t win a World Series over the length of Prince’s contract, regardless of his numbers, he becomes the one of the most disappointing free agent signings in baseball history.
If I’m the Tigers, however, I like my chances.