Prince Fielder Joins Detroit Tigers; Why This Won't Be Tigers' Last Move
As fans called in to 97.1 The Ticket, Detroit's local radio station, to gloat about their now-vindicated LSD-laced call-outs from a week ago ("We should sign Prince Fielder and move Miguel Cabrera to third,") I was surprised to find my thoughts, not fixated on the biggest bomb to drop in Detroit since Kwame's pants, but wandering much further down the path into the land of YetToCome.
Believe me when I say this: The Detroit Tigers are not finished.
This may seem like a move befitting of a desperate man looking to please fans after their star gets injured. But, Dave Dombrowski is no fool; this is the beginning of a master, "win now" plan put in place by the ever-determined owner, Mike Illitch: Fielder is the first freefall of a much larger avalanche.
Let's take a look how the presence of Prince Fielder re-shapes Detroit's landscape going forward.
Delmon Young Is Now Expendable
Delmon Young helped transform the Detroit Tigers, along with Doug Fister, upon their arrival in the second half of the 2011 season.
His performance in the playoffs was admirable, and for his services, Detroit fans will always be grateful. But, the arrival of Prince Fielder has an immediate effect on the value of the team's current left fielder.
Young belted 8 HRs and drove in 32 RBI for Detroit in only 40 regular-season games. He added 5 HRs in the postseason and was, perhaps, the biggest factor in the ALDS win over the New York Yankees.
But keep in mind, Delmon did all this while batting in front of one of baseball's best hitters, Miguel Cabrera.
Young hit third for the Tigers, and in that position was afforded the rare luxury of seeing a majority of fastballs. Pitchers did not want to pitch to the Vinous Venezuelan that is Miguel Cabrera on-deck, and would therefore be wary of walking Young.
Because of this, Young devoured those fastballs and his numbers may take a hit when not presented with those favorable scenarios this season.
Let's get one thing straight: you don't pay $214 million for someone to bat fifth in your lineup. Being buried that deep in the lineup could result in Fielder missing 20-25 at-bats during the season; that is a lapse the Tigers cannot afford to have.
Fielder will bat fourth, and Cabrera will bat third. That's just the way it's going to happen. No debating.
This leaves Young hitting fifth, or deeper. He won't see fastballs later in the order, and we all know Delmon is about as patient as fire. His numbers will drop.
Luckily for the Tigers, Delmon's trade value is currently about as high as it will get: he had a great postseason, is in a contract year, and is only 26.
I propose moving him for a player like Peter Bourjos, and to a team lacking power like the Los Angeles Angels. In adding Bourjos, the Tigers upgrade defensively at the position, and are able to plug the 24-year-old outfielder in as the everyday lead off hitter.
Bourjos is a kid with speed and that is one aspect of the game, even with the enormous power now doubled by Fielder, the Tigers completely lack and desperately need.
Nick Castellanos Has Nowhere to Play
Nick Castellanos is the best, and probably only, position prospect the Tigers have in their farm system. The problem is that he no longer has a position to play.
It's true that Castellanos is only 19, and Tigers fans probably wouldn't see him in Comerica Park for another three years, but even then Cabrera and Fielder will most likely be manning the corners.
It has already been confirmed by Cabrera, in an article on MLIVE.com (http://www.mlive.com/tigers/index.ssf/2012/01/detroit_tigers_miguel_cabrera.html), that he will make the change to third base this coming season. Castellanos is a third baseman. Cabrera wins this battle.
The signing of Fielder also makes the Tigers a "win-now" team. Every decision from here on out will be made with a World Series championship in mind, and it better come this year or next (once a healthy Victor Martinez returns).
One could argue that either Cabrera or Fielder could DH, but you have to look forward in order to see the problem here: Martinez is not dead, he will be back next season, and he will be healthy.
That means the DH, 1B, and 3B are all accounted for in the foreseeable future. Nick Castellanos would be an attractive piece for a re-building team looking for young talent. Bye-bye, Nick.
Johnny Damon V2.0?
Damon disappointed many critics during his first run with the Tigers in 2010. He and his buddy, agent Scott Boras, worked a one-year deal with Mike Illitch, during which he posted a split of .271/8/51.
This, coming off the heels of a .282/24/84 season with Yankees, was not what most people expected.
Enter 2012, and Johnny Damon again appears on Illitch's radar.
Though Fielder's addition filled the gap left in Victor Martinez's absence, it still doesn't address the two biggest holes in the Tiger's organization entering this off-season: Pitching and the top of the order.
As a lead-off hitter this past postseason, Austin Jackson got on base 15 times, while striking out 19 times. That's unacceptable at the top of any batting order.
Now, I believe Austin Jackson will be a good MLB player, but he is not at a sufficient level to this point to lead a World Series lineup.
Damon was his normal self last year in Tampa Bay where he spent the majority of his time hitting first or second in the order. Posting a .261/16/73 split with 19 steals, Damon still has some left in the proverbial tank, and with a career .353 OBP he represents an upgrade at the top of the order.
This addition would allow Jackson to move further down in the order and focus more on knocking in runs, which was something he proved capable of doing towards the end of last season.
Now, the only way this works is if Johnny Damon WANTS to come to Detroit for a chance at the title.
We can't afford to overpay him as we did in 2010, but he has shown an interest in a reunion by texting the Detroit Free Press that he's open to the idea. Stranger things have happened (need I provide an example on a day like this?).
Matt Garza Is Back on the Block
Where there's smoke, there's fire, folks. I don't believe for a second that this deal didn't almost happen, despite what Theo Epstein and Dave Dombrowski say publicly.
Like I said before, pitching was a big need coming into this off-season, and with the move for Fielder, I highly doubt the Tigers are interested in "tweaking" the rotation at this point. It's time to get your hands dirty.
Goodbye Jacob Turner or Rick Porcello, goodbye Nick Castellanos, and goodbye Player-to-be-Named-Later. This deal is back on.
Originally, Dombrowski was said to have balked at Epstein's demands for both Turner and Castellanos.
The time for stubbornness is now over. Though I would prefer a Porcello/Castellanos/PTBNL deal for Garza, I don't think Dombrowski will say no again if he has the chance to add this pitcher for whatever package the Cubs want.
The AL has become a league representative of an Offensive Pantheon. The Angels, with the addition of Albert Pujols, the Rangers, Yankees, and Boston all present imminent threats to the Tigers' AL pennant hopes.
The common thread? None of the teams listed above have holes in their lineups. Also, with the exception of the Angels (Weaver, Wilson, Haren, Santana), none of them have particularly scary rotations (say what you will about the Yankees, but I'm not scared of Pineda OR Nova...yet).
The Tigers have a chance to create the best rotation in baseball with the addition of Garza.
Joining reigning MVP Justin Verlander, and a pitcher who out-performed said MVP winner after his move to Detroit, Doug Fister, Matt Garza would round out a fearsome combination in any playoff series capable of shutting down any lineup.
I would not be surprised if Dombrowski called Epstein as quickly as Brad Pitt finagled Mark Shapiro in Moneyball. Keep an eye on developments here.
Championship or Bust
Make no mistake, the Tigers are in a "win-at-all-costs" mindset right now. Mike Illitch is 82 years old and he is "determined to the point of stupidity" (to quote another owner) to win a World Series championship in his lifetime.
I'm not guaranteeing the moves listed here will be completed this off-season, but the addition of Prince Fielder raises more questions than answers.
One thing is for sure: the Tigers should cruise to the AL Central crown again. With that leverage, they could wait until the trade deadline, as Dombrowski did last year, to add more pieces.
One can be certain that the flexibility to maneuver more freely will be awarded to the Tigers' crafty GM as the season progresses. I wouldn't be surprised to see a number of prospects in different jerseys, and a far more fearsome team by September.
There is more to come in this story; I am sure of it.