Prince Fielder: Why Detroit Tigers Could Be New Dynasty in AL
Through 2014 the Detroit Tigers have three things going for them: Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
If you're looking to build a dynasty, that's a good place to start.
All three are among the top five in WAR at their respective positions over the last three years (Cabrera third, Fielder fifth and Verlander second).
Each has been a paragon of good health—Fielder and Cabrera missed a combined 16 games over the past three seasons and Verlander led the league in innings pitched twice.
The aging curve tells us each one is in his baseball prime, so we have reason to believe that the three seasons they share together will be among their best.
Case closed, right?
Call the season off. Fit 'em for rings. Send Diana Ross her advance for the championship parade.
If only it were that easy.
Three stars help, but baseball is an ensemble game.
You can put replacement-level talent around Miami's big three and make the NBA finals.
Put replacement-level talent around Verlander, Cabrera and Fielder, and you have the 2002 Texas Rangers.
In order to succeed, baseball teams with big contracts at their core need a) said players to produce at an elite level and b) the financial flexibility to add above-average complementary pieces.
On that last note, the Tigers have a distinct advantage over their AL rivals these next three years.
Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello are arbitration eligible through 2014. Austin Jackson, Brennan Boesch, Alex Avila and Doug Fister enter their final years of pre-arbitration in 2012. Delmon Young is on a one-year contract. Jose Valverde has one year left on his deal. Joaquin Benoit has two years on his, but it's small enough and he's good enough to justify it.
With Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez coming off the books, the only thing standing between Detroit and near financial autonomy is the three years left of Victor Martinez's deal.
But even that is a small loss in the great scheme of their payroll structure. Detroit can flush the $13 million owed Martinez this year down the proverbial toilet, but starting in 2013 he either slides back into their lineup as a decent, if aging, support player or becomes a viable trade chip.
Either way, Martinez's contract isn't the sort of leviathan that handcuffs Detroit's free-agent capabilities.
Compare that to the Boston Red Sox.
They're committed to Carl Crawford through 2017, Clay Buchholz through 2015, John Lackey through 2014 and Josh Beckett through 2014.
Based on performance, age, injury or a combination of the three, there are viable concerns about each of those contracts.
On top of that, Jacoby Ellsbury is a free agent after next year. Boston locked into long deals before they locked up their most valuable asset, and it puts them in a bind for the years to come.
The New York Yankees have a similar profile. Alex Rodriguez is theirs through 2017, Mark Teixeira through 2016, A.J. Burnett through 2013, Rafael Soriano through 2013 and Derek Jeter through 2013 (with a player option for 2014).
You'll, of course, recall that Robinson Cano needs a new contract after 2013.
Then there's the rest of the bunch.
The Los Angeles have a Vernon Wells problem (and lot more committed money in general), the Tampa Bay Rays can't spend to keep pace and no one else looks as good on paper as the Detroit Tigers.
No one else, that is, besides the Texas Rangers.
The Rangers have big contracts, but based on individual precedent alone none of them are bad contracts. Adrian Beltre and Michael Young haven't misstepped. Yu Darvish comes with risk, but the reward is just as high.
Texas doesn't even have a mid-level throwaway deal like the Victor Martinez contract to sully its expense sheet.
But Texas has other concerns the Tigers don't share.
Mike Napoli, Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton—their first, third and fourth most valuable position players from last year according to WAR—all could be free agents by next year (Kinsler has a team option for 2013).
The Rangers' financial give comes with great risk attached, namely that major decisions on their top players are still forthcoming.
Now take all of that side-by-side—I know, it's a lot—and compare it to the Tigers' outlook.
Detroit is the only American League team with its best three players under contract through 2014 and the roster compliance to add pieces as needed around the centerpiece. The Tigers made their big move on Tuesday, but that doesn't mean they have to stop building.
And that's where the dynasty talk can begin. That's the fodder for a conversation about multi-year dominance.
Detroit has the guys they want and the room they need to grow.
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