Prince Fielder agrees to sign with Detroit Tigers

Free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder on Tuesday agreed in principle to a nine-year, $214 million contract with the Detroit Tigers, according to baseball sources.

The charismatic slugger therefore severs ties with the Milwaukee Brewers and a community that came to adore him.

And the Tigers, who'd lost slugger Victor Martinez to an offseason knee injury, have their protection for Miguel Cabrera in a man who spent part of his childhood around their organization, chasing daddy Cecil.

Martinez tore the ACL in his left knee during a workout and is expected to miss most or all of the 2012 season. The question for Tigers manager Jim Leyland is whether to move Miguel Cabrera back to third base or to have Fielder and Cabera share first base and DH roles.

The Tigers were late-comers to Fielder's free agency, but closed strong, outbidding the likes of the Washington Nationals and Texas Rangers. The sides were working on the final details of the contract Tuesday, and the deal is pending a physical.

But, the defending American League Central champion Tigers are that close to adding one of baseball's most powerful and dependable hitters.

Fielder, 27, has averaged 38 home runs over six full seasons and twice hit 46 or more. He finished third or fourth in NL MVP voting, including third – behind teammate Ryan Braun and Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp – in 2011.

He also was among the most reliable players in the game.

In his six seasons, he sat out eight times, so played in 99.2 percent of the Brewers' games. He's missed one game in the past three seasons.

In spite of that, Fielder entered free agency riding not just his power and production numbers, and not just his reputation as a skilled leader and emotional competitor, but as a breakdown risk. At 5-foot-11, Fielder is listed at 275 pounds, but appears to be heavier.

Talk among scouts and general managers suggested Fielder's market would be influenced by fears Fielder would – during the course of his next contract – add too much weight, that his legs would give out and his production would plummet.

The marketplace appeared to ignore that potential frailty, however. As expected, he waited out the courting and signing of Albert Pujols (10 years, $254 million with the Los Angeles Angels), and had the rest of the market to himself.

The Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, Chicago Cubs, Miami Marlins, Baltimore Orioles and Rangers were believed to be interested to some degree in Fielder. The Rangers had the need and a reputation for coming in late and strong on free agents. The Marlins, considering their all-in run at Pujols, were at least a curiosity.

Like Pujols, Fielder came to free agency without the usual benefits of a player of his stature. That is, the New York Yankees (Mark Teixeira) and Boston Red Sox (Adrian Gonzalez) have established and well-salaried first basemen. And Fielder, at 27, could not be expected to submit to a fulltime designated-hitter role. The Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets are financially in ruins, though sources said the Dodgers were engaged to some degree.

Still, as one of the more dynamic players in the game, Fielder's resume is long and attractive. He helped restore the Brewers as a competitive franchise, both in the NL Central and in their own community. He helped fill Miller Park. The Brewers drew 2.2 million fans in 2005, Fielder's rookie year. By 2008, they were drawing 3.1 million. And by 2011, what would be Fielder's last season in Milwaukee, the Brewers had drawn at least 3 million three times in four years. He'd driven the club's first playoff runs in a generation and, along with Ryan Braun, became the face of the rebirth.

Various attempts by Brewers management to sign Fielder failed. And as this offseason passed, it became clear the small-market Brewers would not be able to retain him, doubly sobering considering Braun faced a 50-game suspension for allegedly being in violation of baseball's anti-drug program. In hopes of deadening the blow, the Brewers signed former Chicago Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez to a three-year, $36-million contract.

Like Pujols in St. Louis before him, Fielder leaves behind a fan base heartbroken in the heartland, and an organization trying to replace a superstar – both on the field and in the community. The Brewers chose Fielder with the seventh overall pick in the 2002 draft. He debuted in the major leagues three years later and in a little more than six seasons hit 230 home runs, drove in 656 runs and was an All-Star three times.

In Detroit, fans knew him as the little boy with the big swing. Fielder's father, Cecil, played seven seasons for the Tigers in the 1990's, hitting 245 of his 319 career home runs for them.

"Prince is a lot like Greg Maddux, where he is a superstar in the game and when he takes off his uniform he's a great father, a great husband, a great teammate and then great in the community," Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, said. "That's rare among superstars."

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