Tigers sign Prince Fielder, petition for second utility slot

Scott Pianowski
January 24, 2012

As you probably have heard by now, Prince Fielder and the Tigers reached an agreement in principle Tuesday. As first reported by Yahoo's Tim Brown, it's a nine-year, $214 million deal.

Lots of things to discuss about this deal, both in the real-life baseball world and in our numbers racket. Load up the bullets:

• Fielder can mash, no one will dispute that. The Tigers could regret this deal later in the decade, but Fielder's production should be safe for a while. He doesn't turn 28 until May. Opposing pitchers will be shaking on the mound, dealing with the one-two punch of Miguel Cabrera and Fielder.

But where is everyone going to play? Cabrera is only 13 months older than Fielder and he probably doesn't want to slide into a DH role yet. Do the Tigers dare use Cabrera at a more challenging defensive position? He was an outfielder and third basemen in the Florida days. (Cabrera only needs 10 appearances or five starts at a new position to pick up the eligibility in the standard Yahoo! game. Given the state of third base in fantasy baseball today, I'd like to see him at the hot corner, at least temporarily.)

Can Fielder or Cabrera handle the challenge of staying focused in a DH role? Cabrera has struggled with that assignment for his career, albeit it comes in a tiny sample of 100 at-bats: .230/.306/.370. And is there an ego hit that comes with being asked to be a batter only before you reach your 30th birthday? Jim Leyland has some intriguing challenges on his hands for 2012.

• If Cabrera and Fielder are both on the field at the same time, I weep for the Detroit pitchers. You specifically worry about Rick Porcello and Doug Fister; they have ground-ball heavy tendencies and need plays made behind them. It's not like the Tigers have Joe Morgan and Ozzie Smith up the middle, either; Jhonny Peralta is the shortstop, with Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago two of the second-base options. Dave Dombrowski might have more roster moves to come before spring training opens.

• The Tigers never make the Fielder move had Victor Martinez not gotten hurt. Martinez has a torn left ACL and could miss the entire 2012 season. He still has three years remaining on the four-year, $50 million deal he signed 14 months ago. What do the Tigers do in 2013 and 2014 with this logjam of 1B/DH types? Petition for a second utility spot? I suppose that's a problem for another day.

• Fielder steps into a new league and a new park, of course. Comerica Park has been a neutral field for left-handed batting average over the last three years (hat tip, Bill James Handbook), but it's collapsed left-handed homers by 11 percent over that span. Miller Park was more Fielder-friendly; while it taxed lefty averages by three percent over the last three seasons, homers spiked by 16 percent (full disclosure: both of those stats were in the red for 2011-only).

Given Fielder's age and strength, I don't think the park swap will wreck his roto value. Lineups cycle through more freely in the AL, and there will be good hitters around him in this offense. All in all, he landed in a good spot.

• Scott Boras is amazing. This man could sell snow to the eskimos. With a limited number of teams in play, how does he get this deal for Fielder?

• If you're in an NL-only pool, your first base options keep thinning out. Adrian Gonzalez left the Senior Circuit last year and Albert Pujols and Fielder jetted out this year. Ryan Howard is down for a chunk of 2012, too.

• Bottom line, I like Cabrera a little more today than I did yesterday, albeit he was already a Top 4 guy on anyone's list. Third-base eligibility might be enough to push him to the No. 1 slot in some mixers, if he wasn't in the discussion already. Fielder could be a Detroit albatross down the line, but it's going to be a long honeymoon first. I'll sign off on him as a first-rounder in 2012. But I don't think I can keep Fister and Porcello on my sleeper list, not until Dombrowski tells me how he's going to take a sad defensive song and make it better. (One sleeper I do like: whomever bats No. 2 in this lineup, in front of Cabrera and Fielder. Get healthy soon, Brennan Boesch.)

Now it's your turn to break it all down. What's the Tigers team song for 2012: Detroit Rock City (look at those mashers in the middle of the lineup) or Panic in Detroit (woe is the infield defense)?