Alex Avila was one of the top hitting catchers in MLB in 2011.
Well, it depends on how you look at the scenario. But there are reasons why Avila means more to the Tigers than the newly acquired All-Star first baseman does.
Fielder signed his massive contract and has a stranglehold on the fourth spot in the lineup behind Miguel Cabrera to form one of the most powerful three-four hitting combinations in Major League Baseball.
Drop two more spots in the lineup, and there sits Avila in the No. 6 hole. Avila earned the nod as the starting catcher in the All-Star game last season.
Here are three reasons why Avila is more important to the defending American League Central Division champions than Fielder is, even if Avila is nearly 200 career home runs shy of matching Fielder's career round-tripper total.
Avila is one of the best in the business and cutting down an opposing team's running game.
Avila plays one of the most physically demanding positions in baseball, and his knees will take a pounding throughout the 162-game grind.
All Fielder has to do on defense is catch a ball and touch a bag.
Finding a catcher who can contribute offensively is difficult, and Avila is one of those rare backstop presences who could help Detroit repeat as division champion with his bat. Avila won the Silver Slugger last season, and he takes on the task of handling a starting pitching staff that doesn't have much talent after Justin Verlander.
Avila is also valuable for keeping runners aware on the bases. He was second in the American League last season by tossing out 32 percent of runners.
Avila's presence on the defense is much more valuable to the Tigers than Fielder's defensive contributions.
Prince Fielder signed one of the biggest contracts of all time with Detroit in the offseason.
Avila's 2012 salary is $510,000. Fielder's 2012 salary is $23 million.
So who gives the Tigers more bang for their buck? The logical business man is going to say Avila.
Avila, as previously mentioned, anchors one of the hardest defensive positions in baseball, and he contributed a .895 OPS, 19 home runs and 82 RBI to the Tiger offense in 2011.
Fielder had a .981 OPS, 38 home runs and 120 RBI in 2011. Are those numbers worth $22,490,000 more than Avila's output?
Fielder's salary is approximately 46 times more than Avila's salary. While it is impossible to expect Fielder to produce 46 times more runs than Avila, it does put into perspective how much Detroit invested in its prized first baseman.
And to answer the question, Fielder's numbers on offense are not worth 46 times more than Avila's stats at the plate.
Fielder high-fives Avila after scoring a run.
The Tigers won 95 games, captured the AL Central title and reached the American League Championship Series without Fielder. It is not like Detroit absolutely needed to acquire to Fielder to increase its chances at winning a championship.
Sure, having Fielder will make things a lot easier for the Tigers in 2012. But is he irreplaceable? No.
The AL Central is a pretty weak division this season, and even if the Tigers didn't acquire Fielder, they were sure to be favorites heading into the 2012 campaign. Miguel Cabrera could have handled first base again, and Brandon Inge is a veteran who could have handled the majority of the season at third base.
But would Detroit have the same success this season if it didn't have Avila patrolling behind the plate? Again, the answer is no.
Avila's offensive and defensive production for a catcher is irreplaceable. The Tigers do not have another player who could rank in the top five among AL catchers in home runs, RBI, OPS and caught stealing percentage.
Perhaps Avila should be the one making north of $23 million in 2013.