In a surprising twist, the Detroit Tigers have emerged as the victors in the race for Prince Fielder after inking the big man to a nine-year deal worth $214 million. This $23.8 million per year contract looks good in the short-term, but there is no doubt that it will be too much of a burden to bear in the last three to four years of the deal. Fielder is a 5 WAR player, but heavier players don’t tend to age well, and this deal will keep him in Detroit until he is 37. The injury to Victor Martinez might have been the catalyst for this deal, but $200 million contracts rarely take place because a solid role player was injured.
For most of the offseason, the Washington Nationals were viewed as the favorites for Prince Fielder, but the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers, to a lesser extent, were also in the thick of the race. Jon Heyman tweeted yesterday morning that Fielder would sign soon and that the Nationals should be regarded as heavy favorites. However, he also mentioned a mystery team who had as much interest as the Nats. The former Milwaukee Brewers slugger did sign, and he will play in the Motor City; not in the capital. The mystery team struck again.
With three superstars, the Tigers are in win-now mode and will be a mainstay at the top of a mediocre, to put it kindly, division. After last year’s playoff run in which they made it to the ALCS, the Tigers are better equipped to making late runs. This deal signifies this all-in approach, because the team is willing to be saddled with a ridiculous contract for the latter years of Fielder’s contract, in trade for the chance to compete for a World Series.
John Paul Morosi of Fox Sports believes that this deal was made by ownership, because this deal happened in a similar fashion to other deals made by Detroit Red Wings and Tigers owner Mike Ilitch. The Tigers have been losing money in each of the past three years, but Ilitch is a team-first owner who legitimately loves the game of baseball. He will do nearly anything as an owner to win, and this signing is certainly a step in that direction (for the short-term at least).
With Victor Martinez out for the season, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder will likely rotate at first base and DH, with Fielder playing mostly as the DH. However, things will get messy when V-Mart comes back, and Danny Knobler reported on Twitter that Miggy will move to third base and is all for moving to third. Let’s just say that his defense will be disastrous at the hot corner, but it’s the only move, outside of trading Martinez, that the Tigers could possibly make. They will have to take the -15 UZR, unless if Miggy drops a huge amount of weight and makes a dramatic improvement. At this point, the best move for the Tigers is to trade Martinez and hope they can get something out of him- it will ultimately involve the Tigers eating up a significant portion of his salary.
The Tigers have sacrificed their future and their defense in order to bring in Prince Fielder; one of the top hitters in baseball. Fielder should be worth about 28 WAR over this deal (just over 3 WAR per season), which is about $160 million, with inflation. The Tigers have undoubtedly overpaid and have dampened their future, but it will be worth it if they win a ring. If they don’t, then this deal was a poor move. The Tigers are literally going hard or going home with this deal, because this contract has too much money tied into it, and Fielder will be a liability during the contract’s final three seasons.
The willingness of “Mr. I” to spend a copious amount of money for the betterment of the team has shone through once again, just as he did when signing Magglio Ordonez and Ivan Rodriguez in the mid-2000’s. They went to the World Series then, and they are hoping to make it to the “Promised Land” this time around. Prince Fielder brings new hope to this franchise. Not just for the AL Central crown but for something much more. This isn’t a “good deal, bad deal” scenario, but rather a signing that has plenty of risk but also huge rewards that can be reaped in the future. The Tigers have, effectively, sacrificed their future for a chance to win in a window of three or four years. Whether or not Fielder can help them achieve their lofty goals is unforseen. But one thing is for certain; these Tigers are ready to achieve new heights.
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