Tigers’ Fielder deal sends shockwaves
Only baseball could produce such a wacky juxtaposition.
“Moneyball,” an ode to rational, less-is-more roster construction, received six Oscar nominations on Tuesday.
Hours later, the Tigers produced a classic burst of old-school irrationality, agreeing with free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder on a nine-year, $214 million deal.
As far as anyone can tell, because their owner, Mike Ilitch, said so.
Ilitch, who turns 83 on July 20, had an estimated worth of $1.7 billion in 2010, according to Forbes. The Tigers and NHL’s Red Wings are his personal playthings. And if he takes on a few ill-advised contracts from time to time — Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson and Damion Easley come to mind — so be it.
Let the rest of the low-rent AL Central eat cake.
A week ago, the Tigers revealed that catcher Victor Martinez likely would miss the entire season with a torn ACL in his left knee. General manager David Dombrowski, acknowledging Fielder’s desire for a long-term contract, told ESPN.com that the first baseman wasn’t a “fit.”
But just like that, to the shock of the entire sport, the Tigers changed their minds.
The Angels did much the same thing when they signed Albert Pujols, needing only two days to reach agreement on a 10-year, $240 million contract. Owner Arte Moreno made that call, just as Ilitch made this one, with his old friend, agent Scott Boras, cooing in his ear.
As one rival executive asked Tuesday, in what other industry do companies make $200 million decisions seemingly on the spur of the moment?
Or, as another exec put it, referring to the Tigers’ amassing of Fielder, Martinez and Miguel Cabrera, “They’re paying three guys who should DH $168 million over the next three years. So, what’s the big deal?”
Cabrera told reporters in Venezuela that he will move to third base, and a source close to him told FOXSports.com’s Jon Paul Morosi that the Migster was “really excited” by the signing of Fielder — as opposed to say, Hanley Ramirez, who remains less than enthused about the Marlins’ addition of free-agent shortstop Jose Reyes.
To succeed at third, Cabrera will need to get into much better condition and regain his mobility, something that should not be impossible for him at age 29. But both Cabrera and Fielder are below average at first, and it’s a stretch to imagine Cabrera suddenly becoming even average at third.
A rival player, upon hearing the news that Cabrera would play third, texted me, “No chance!!!! That’s why he moved to first four years ago!!!!” A rival scout volunteered, “He can’t move to third unless he loses 30 pounds.”
And get this: For $214 million, the Tigers aren’t even getting that much of an upgrade over Martinez, at least according to Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
Fielder’s WAR last season was 5.2. Martinez’s was 2.9. And no one knows how Fielder and Cabrera, two high-energy types, would react to even part-time DH duty, if such an adjustment is necessary.
Of course, don’t tell that to the rest of the AL Central, which was fighting an uphill battle against the Tigers even before the injury to Martinez.
If the Indians stood perhaps a 30 percent chance of winning the division pre-Prince, what are their odds now, 10 percent? How is the Royals’ 10-year plan looking? Do the Twins seriously think additions such as outfielder Josh Willingham, shortstop Jamey Carroll and right-hander Jason Marquis will help erase the 32 games that separated them from the Tigers last year?
Then there are the White Sox, who already were in modified white-flag mode, and now could start dumping anew, beginning with right-hander Gavin Floyd.
The Tigers advanced to the ALCS last season and might have reached and even won the World Series if not for a debilitating run of injuries. Now, thanks to Ilitch, it’s damn the defensive torpedoes and full speed ahead.
Fielder will make the Tigers just as good offensively, if not slightly better. Right-hander Doug Fister, acquired last July 31, will be in the rotation from Opening Day. Righty Octavio Dotel, a free-agent addition, will bolster the bullpen.
Before the injury to Martinez, the Tigers were easily the class of the division. After the injury to Martinez, they were still the team to beat. Yet Boras — who previously sent Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez, Ivan Rodriguez and Kenny Rogers to the Tigers — evidently was at his persuasive best with Ilitch, one of his favorite targets, er, owners.
Boras overplayed his hand earlier this offseason and failed to secure multi-year deals for relievers Ryan Madson and Francisco Rodriguez. But he was at his masterful best with Fielder, gambling, waiting — and winning.
“A good investigative journalist should be checking to see whether Tonya Harding is a Boras employee, and whether she was anywhere near Victor Martinez in recent weeks,” one baseball person told me, joking.
I’m on it.
If only Victor knew how much he was taking one for the team.