Hats off to Detroit Tigers owner Mike Illitch, who did his city proud this week. The 82-year old who owns Little Caesar’s Pizza and the Detroit Red Wings of the NHL, found his American League Central 2011 champion Tigers in an extreme position after their DH Victor Martinez injured his knee while working out, an injury that promises him plenty of shelf time in 2012, perhaps the entire season.
All Mr. Illitch did was authorize his General Manager, Dave Dombrowski, to negotiate with super-agent Scott Boras for the remaining jewel of the current free agent class, Prince Fielder. The result was a stunning nine-year, $214-million contract that will Fielder in Detroit through his age 36 campaign. At once two of the great slugging first-basemen in Major League Baseball abandoned the National League and provided game-changing effects in the American League West and Central. Albert Pujols joined the Los Angeles Angels in December on a ten-year, $254-million blockbuster.
The logjam at first base for the AL in the 2012 All-Star Game and henceforth is going to be ferocious. Pitchers in the National League Central, on the other hand, can sleep much better now with two of the premier sluggers in the game at a greater remove.
It brings to light an increasing disproportion between the leagues due to the Designated Hitter: lumbering sluggers who want the long-term, nine-figure deals almost are certain to be drawn to American League teams. No National League team can afford such contracts for relatively immobile players. While the NL has done well this century in the World Series, and has begun to turn around its misfortune in the All-Star Game, this is a trend that will have to be addressed. I and many others despise the DH, but the fact is it is going to have to be adopted across all of MLB. Like it or not!
Prince, who will return to the city where he grew up as the son of Tiger Cecil Fielder, is going to join another premier hitter, Miguel Cabrera. Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland made no bones about it, Cabrera will have to return to playing third base, a position that he abandoned, and with good reason, in 2008 his first year in Detroit. How the Tigers’ crack staff of starters is going to respond to such a potentially horrendous defense is anyone’s guess. It has been pointed out that ace Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer are strikeout-fly ball pitchers who may not be terribly affected, and that Doug Fister, acquired from Seattle last season, will probably do OK as well. Rick Porcello, more of a ground-ball pitcher, might not do as well and if the Tigers add a lefty for their fifth spot, wow!
No question, most observers have panned the move while giving ample credit to Mr. Illitch for putting his money up front to get his team a World Series ring. The defensive liabilities will be fraught. The hole in the DH position with Victor Martinez out is evident. The fact is that the Tigers are short on high On Base Percentage guys, and their overall team speed is now snail-like are concerns. Most expect lots of solo home runs and ground-ball double plays.
Still the games must be played and a great African-American star like Prince will be a tremendous draw in the Motor City. Another reason to relish the start of the 2012 season!