Prince helps AL Central's rich get richer

By Evan Drellich / | 01/24/12 10:30 PM EST

No division was won by a greater margin last season than the American League Central, and its defending champions did their best to position themselves for another runaway on Tuesday.
Two wins away from a World Series berth in 2011, the Tigers have beefed up with Prince Fielder's bat and his $214 million, nine-year deal now in the fold.
The news certainly isn't positive for the Indians, White Sox, Royals and Twins -- Detroit's division-mates who finished second through fifth respectively -- but it also does not provide wholesale change from the dynamic the division carried a day earlier.

The Tigers, the only AL Central team with a winning record in 2011, are coming off a 95-win season that saw them ahead of the pack by 15 games. The 2012 crown would be theirs to lose in any scenario, Fielder in the fold or not.
"Who won the division last year?" said Royals manager Ned Yost. "So that alone puts them in the position of guys that can certainly contend for it. But we're not going to concede the division to them yet."
Fielder, who hit 38 home runs last season, has spent all of his career in the National League, in seven seasons with the Brewers. In a small sample size during Interleague Play, he's lit up the Indians, going 8-for-17 (.471) with a 1.000 slugging percentage.

Fielder's numbers in a larger body of work against Minnesota are more normal: a .261/.344/.514 line in 138 at-bats. Kansas City and Chicago, meanwhile, have actually done excellent jobs holding the slugger in check. Fielder's 1-for-12 (.083) against White Sox and 2-for-22 (.091) against the Royals lifetime. Not that any of it means much.
"That's definitely a big move for sure," said Indians starter Josh Tomlin, who's never faced Fielder. "His proven track record is obvious. He's a really good hitter and he'll provide a lot of protection in that lineup for certain guys. I feel like he can make a lot of guys around him better because of his presence in that lineup."
"It's a good thing he's left-handed," said Royals southpaw Bruce Chen, "but he's one of the best hitters in the big leagues right now so I'm not going to take anything for granted. He's going to be a big help to the Tigers, especially now that they've lost Victor Martinez."
Chen has never faced Fielder, either. Martinez is likely out for the season because of left knee surgery.
Though Fielder is one of the game's premier hitters, he's not the only stellar left-handed batter the division has to offer. The experience of facing a Joe Mauer, an Eric Hosmer, et al, should at least help, in Chicago reliever Matt Thornton's mind.
"Don't forget about Hosmer, Mike Moustakes, it's never ending," said Thornton, a lefty who faced Fielder once, in 2009, and retired him on one pitch. "[Shin-Soo] Choo, [Alex Avila] is with [Detroit], a lot of quality lefties in the AL Central. For the majority of my career, I've faced those guys. It's the way the game is. You go with flow and try to execute pitches. It's a fun challenge, there's no doubt about it."
"He is one of the premiere left-handed hitters in the league, but we have two of our own, [Mauer and Justin Morneau]," Twins southpaw Scott Diamond said. "It's a 162-game schedule so anything can happen, but I'm going to be watching a lot of video to prepare."
Left-handed pitchers do appear to be the best way to combat Fielder: He has a .257/.340/.458 line against them lifetime, versus .294/.411/.577 against righties.
As far as combating a stacked Detroit team, the best method is the tried and true: Take care of your own business, and the rest falls into place.
"He's a good player," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said, "[but] Martinez was pretty good too. There's nothing really that I can say, we've just got to focus on what we do. I can't control what any other club does."