Tigers swoop in to claim their prize

'Mystery team' answers V-Mart's injury by adding Fielder

By Anthony Castrovince | MLB.com Columnist | Archive 01/24/12 4:45 PM EST

So it turns out the Tigers were the "mystery team" in the Prince Fielder sweepstakes. And it's no mystery why they went all-in on Cecil's son.
As replacements for an injured Victor Martinez go, this one's tough to top.
Just when the outside world was beginning to wonder if agent Scott Boras would be able to find a suitable deal for his prized slugger, the Tigers stepped in with what is reported to be a nine-year, $214 million deal for Fielder. It's a gargantuan contract that not only compares with what Albert Pujols will receive from the Angels in average annual value ($24 million) but also sets Fielder up to be eligible for free agency again at 36.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. No matter what general manager Dave Dombrowski said to downplay (or, in fact, dismiss) the Tigers' interest in Prince, we should have seen this coming the minute Martinez's left knee buckled.
Or maybe even earlier.
The 2006 American League champion Tigers were built on Boras clients in Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez and Kenny Rogers. And the Tigers shelled out $8 million in hopes of one last burst of brilliance from Johnny Damon in 2010.

So, yeah, there's a history here. And it was always clear that the most suitable landing spot for Fielder would be an AL team where he can transition (if not immediately, then eventually) to designated hitter. The Yankees and Red Sox weren't interested, the Rangers were only interested on their terms and the Angels, of course, made their selection in the fearsome first baseman department more than a month ago.
The only AL team, then, that had both the financial might and the competitive environment to fit Fielder's frame was Motown.
And oh, brother, is this Tigers team looking good.
Forget about the AL Central. That the Tigers, who ran away with the AL Central by 15 games in 2011, are the favorites was a matter long ago decided, and not even Martinez's absence was going to affect that. The White Sox are "reloading," the Twins are banged up and the Royals and Indians, for all their youthful upside, are still, well, youthful.
But the Tigers have more than just the Central on their minds. This is a club with very real World Series expectations. Not hopes and dreams, but expectations, and there's definitely a difference.
With Fielder plugging in alongside Miguel Cabrera, you now have two of the top 10 -- perhaps even top five -- hitters in the game making nightly appearances at Comerica Park. And oh yeah, you have reigning AL Cy Young and MVP Award winner Justin Verlander toeing the rubber every fifth day, with the clearly capable Doug Fister following in the No. 2 slot. And you've got Jose Valverde closing it out with a primal scream.
That's one dangerous ballclub.
So much for the speculation, uttered earlier this winter, that Fielder would want no part of playing for a team where his father once roamed. Their fractured relationship, the thinking went, ensured that Prince would not want to entertain the constant questions about and comparisons with Cecil.
If that was ever actually a major consideration for the young Fielder, suffice to say he had more than 200 million reasons to forget about it.
Now, that's not to say this deal doesn't have potential downsides, for player and team alike. Start with the obvious assertion that a $200 million commitment is rocky ground. Look at how poorly Alex Rodriguez is holding up in the Bronx, having recently resorted to experimental blood-spinning treatments in Germany to treat his ailing knee and shoulder, and you get the idea.
Fielder is also going to have to adjust to the not-so-hitter-friendly-confines of Comerica Park. And his deal reportedly does not have an opt-out clause that would allow him to test the market again in his prime.
Beyond all that, from a basic baseball perspective, what the Tigers have also ensured here is that they'll have three burly bodies clogging the first base/DH dynamic come 2013, when Martinez, presumably, is back on the field. Martinez's days as a regular catcher are long over, and it's hard to imagine Cabrera becoming a full-time third baseman.
We can shrug this off as a good problem to have, of course, but this isn't fantasy baseball. It's awfully difficult to simply bash your way to the Promised Land if you're routinely booting the ball on the infield corners.
That's a mystery the Tigers will have to address another day.
For now, they are the "mystery team" come to light. And 2012 is looking mighty bright.