Fungoes

2012 Top 10 Stories: #4 – Tigers Sign Prince Fielder

While Tigers fans were reeling from the news of Victor Martinez‘s season-ending knee injury, owner Mike Ilitch (likely to the dismay of Dave Dombrowski) was having back-channel conversations with agent Scott Boras.

As we’d soon find out, those conversations centered on the last remaining free-agent slugger that could soothe the wounds of losing Martinez and inject more oomph in the lineup.

Prince_FielderNine days later, ba-da-boom, Prince Fielder is the Detroit Tigers first baseman … for the next nine years.

Shortly after the Martinez news, Dombrowski and Jim Leyland brushed aside any interest in Fielder who was being rumored to end up with the Rangers, Mariners or Nationals, among others.

After the Tigers announced last Wednesday morning that Martinez was lost for the upcoming season after tearing the ACL in his left knee during offseason workouts, manager Jim Leyland said on my radio show that losing Martinez was like a “punch in the gut.” Worse yet, when asked if the Tigers would consider signing Fielder to replace Martinez’s bat, he replied: “We can’t shop at that store.”

The next day, team president and general manager Dave Dombrowski concurred with Leyland, saying “the fit is not there at this point.” Dombrowski was resolved to the idea of filling Martinez’s spot with a Johnny Damon-type free agent.

But on Jan. 25, after who knows how many behind-the-scenes calls between Ilitch and Boras, the Tigers announced they’d signed Fielder through 2020:

“Prince Fielder is one of the premier offensive players in the game of baseball and we are extremely excited to add an all-star caliber player like him to our lineup,” Tigers President, Chief Executive Officer and General Manager David Dombrowski said. “The addition of Prince is a testament to the organization’s continued commitment to fielding a championship club.”

Fans seemed to shout in unison: “Wow!”

The Tigers once again had two legitimate hitters in the middle of the lineup and left-handed bat to complement Miguel Cabrera and Detroit proved to be a destination of choice for baseball stars.

Of course, a contract of this size and duration stirred the skeptics, who pointed to the deal’s back end, so to speak, and how a player like Fielder might age quickly:

This contract has a chance to go bad deeper into Fielder’s tenure. Fielder is 27 and carries way too much weight. He also carries a 50-home-run bat. The Tigers were investing in Fielder and his probable span of explosive, middle-of-the-order power, and forget about the other stuff. For now, anyway.

The front office understands what Ilitch also recognizes and is willing to accept. There could be a whopping parting check handed Fielder as he slides into his 30s. Again, that’s part of an owner’s calculation. If you’re rich enough to own the Tigers, you’re well-heeled enough to buy out a bad contract should it evolve into such deep into Fielder’s tenure.

Well, it’s hard to find a complaint about Fielder’s debut season in Detroit: a .313 average, 30 home runs, 108 RBI, .412 on-base percentage, .528 slugging and a .940 OPS. What’s more, he appeared in 162 games in 2012.

Here’s where he ranked in the American League:

  • Batting average: Tied for sixth
  • On-base percentage: Second
  • Runs batted in: Fifth
  • Slugging: Seventh

In addition to being voted as the A.L. starting first baseman in the All-Star Game, Fielder slugged 28 homers in the all-but-unwatchable Homer Run Derby.

Fielder’s postseason production left much to be desired: he hit just .173 with a single homer in the Tigers’ 13 playoff and World Series games. He certainly wasn’t alone in this department but was the most notable offensive no-show in October.

But the Tigers never would have advanced to the postseason, nor would Cabrera have won the Triple Crown, had Fielder not stunned Detroit baseball fans when he agreed to call Comerica Park his home for the next nine seasons.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

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Fungoes

2012 Top 10 Stories: #5 – Victor Martinez Lost for Season

About four weeks before the Tigers convened in Lakeland for spring training, the club’s outlook instantly went from brimming with confidence and optimism to soaked in despair and gloom. That’s when Dave Dombrowski received word from Florida that Victor Martinez suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and would eventually be lost for the season.

The Tigers’ front-office boss put on a brave face when he talked to the media after hearing the news:

“After you feel sorry for yourself for a day or so, you move on,” general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “We have a good club. We’ve got a lot of players who will step up.”

But Tigers fans knew the impact this would have on the lineup and most likely the season. Martinez’s provided desperately needed protection for then-cleanup-hitter Miguel Cabrera. As good as Delmon Young was in the postseason, few expected him to be a reliable solution. And, Dombrowski certainly made it sound as if the Tigers would be making no major splash to shore up the sudden loss of Martinez.

Slugging first baseman Prince Fielder remains a free agent, but it’s unclear if the Tigers would want to make a major financial commitment to a long-term contract to replace the injured Martinez.

“Most likely, I would say it’s short term,” Dombrowski said. “But I don’t know that for sure. Depends on what position somebody plays and who they are.”

Dombrowski did seem to shoot down the possibility that Cabrera could move from first base to third, with another first baseman joining the team.

The Tigers signed Gerald Laird to serve as Alex Avila‘s backup, so that part of the equation was solved. The pressing issue was how to replace a guy who in 2011 batted .330 with 103 RBIs and a .855 OPS.

How could they possibly do it? Dave Schoenfield offered some borderline gruesome alternatives:

If there’s good news for the Tigers, there are at least several decent options out there in free agency. One-time Tigers first baseman Carlos Pena could provide a nice alternative, even improving the team’s defense if Jim Leyland is willing to shift Cabrera to DH. Pena needs a platoon partner, but did have a .388 OBP and .504 slugging percentage against righties in 2011. Johnny Damon, another ex-Tiger, would also fit in nicely at DH.

Thankfully, neither of these two options materialized.

And luckily Tigers fans didn’t have to wait long to find out who’d replace Martinez in the lineup.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

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Fungoes

News Galore on the Way Out the Door

It’s not often Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski gets loose and talks at length about the club’s plans, but on Sunday in Baltimore he did just that, breaking some news and confirming a few long-anticipated decisions:

  • Inge.jpgBrandon Inge gets offered an extension. As Ian wrote this summer, Inge is either loved or loathed in Detroit — with little in between. But I think even those of us who are frustrated by his lack of a strategy when he’s at the plate feel better about third base next season and maybe in 2012, too. In our recent Fungo Pulse Check, 79 percent of respondents (207 of 263 votes) preferred bringing back Inge over Jeremy Bonderman.

  • OrdonezHead.jpgMagglio Ordonez might be back. This isn’t a surprise. The Tigers aren’t picking up the $15 million option on Ordonez’s contract which means he’ll be a free agent, but the Tigers are open to re-signing him. I kept thinking that sentimental Mike Ilitch would tell Dombrowski to pick up the option for old time’s sake. I hope he comes back. If he does sign elsewhere — and you know Scott Boras is already firing up his hyperbole machine — I just pray that he doesn’t go back to the White Sox.

    Continue reading

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Two for Tuesday: Damon Decisions, Ordonez Operations

Thoughts on the news out of Comerica Park today:

  1. Damon.jpgJohnny Damon. I don’t care that the Tigers are going nowhere this season, Damon has been a good soldier for the Tigers and, based on what we read, he’s provided clubhouse leadership and mentorship for a youthful team. As of this writing, the Tigers are running roughshod over the Royals and likely to return to the .500 mark. With Damon’s decision to stay, he makes the Tigers a better team by his mere presence if not his on-field production. Right now we can only hope that this once-promising season ends with the Tigers north of .500 and they have a much better chance of achieving it with number 18 in the lineup.

  2. OrdonezHead.jpgMagglio Ordonez. Over the past week the Tigers have been hinting that we might not see him again this season given the stubbornness of his healing ankle. This afternoon we learned that he’s having surgery in Los Angeles and indeed won’t return in 2010. And that flat-out stinks. Ordonez deserves a much better send off from Tigers fans than the one he received as he was helped off the field after fracturing his right ankle on July 25. I, for one, would like to see him back next season on a one-year deal. Given the choice between Ordonez and Carlos Guillen at designated hitter, I’d much rather have Magglio. (You can weigh in on our latest Flash Poll and let us know if you think the Tigers will bring Ordonez back in 2011.)

By the way, today’s the 54th birthday of former heavyweight contender Gerry Cooney.

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Thinking Out Loud: Trade Deadline Despair Infects Tigers Fans

Thinking Man.jpgHere’s a quick thought in the form of a question after tonight’s long-awaited win:

Would there be as much handwringing and angst about the Tigers if it weren’t 10 days before the trade deadline?

If the Tigers had lost seven straight in, say, the first week and a half of May, would we all be so ulcer-ridden?

I’m thinking … no.

An extended slide in the first six weeks of the season wouldn’t have the perceived escape hatch of a mystical trade deadline when all problems can be corrected.

We’d be ticked off, that’s for sure. But the panic, the calls for Jim Leyland‘s head, the outlandish trade wishes? They’d be nowhere near the fever pitch of the past week.

But hey, the Tigers won tonight — and if Johnny Damon hadn’t committed a major baserunning gaffe on Monday, they’d have taken two of three from Texas and we’d all be happy.

The losing streak is over. The Tigers are just three games out. And it’s only July 21.

Life is good.

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Damon, Inge on Jerry Crasnick’s “All-Offensive Laggard” Team

In Jerry Crasnick’s Starting 9 column this week on ESPN.com, he names his mid-season “All-Offensive Laggard” squad — the “hitters for contending clubs who have failed to produce to expectations and need to pick up the pace in the second half to help their teams make the playoffs.”

Brandon Inge
Johnny Damon

Not surprisingly the Tigers — and Johnny Damon and Brandon Inge specifically — are on the list and rank at #5:

The Tigers rank last in the American League in fielding percentage, and their starters have logged the 26th-biggest workload in the majors. Throwing the ball around the diamond indiscriminately and burning out a bullpen aren’t the optimal way to compete for a division title.

It would help if manager Jim Leyland could find someone to take the offensive burden off Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez and Brennan Boesch. The shortstop and catching positions are offensive black holes in Detroit, so the two guys mentioned above [Damon and Inge] need to help pick up the slack after the break.

Nothing we don’t already know. It would be nice if Alex Avila picked it up some more, too.

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