Owner Mike Illitch has won four Stanley Cups with the Red Wings, and he opened his wallet again by landing another slugger for the Tigers.
Mike Illitch has been called the George Steinbrenner of the American League Central, and Tuesday, the Tigers owner showed his spare-no-expense mentality again.
No one expected Detroit to sign Prince Fielder. Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski dismissed the idea publicly last week after Victor Martinez suffered a potential season-ending knee injury.
But Illitch, the founder of Little Caesars Pizza, is still looking for that first World Series title. He has hoisted the Stanley Cup four times as Red Wings owner, but the Tigers are trying to snap a title drought that stretches to 1984, eight years before he bought the team.
While some mid-market teams such as the Twins tend to shy away from high-profile Scott Boras clients, Illitch has signed several, including Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Kenny Rogers and Johnny Damon.
The Nationals and Rangers were viewed as favorites to sign Fielder, but after talking to Boras, Illitch made a nine-year, $214 million offer. Done deal, pending a physical. It would rank as the fourth-biggest contract in baseball history after the two signed by Alex Rodriguez (for $252 million and $275 million), and the 10-year, $240 million deal Albert Pujols signed with the Angels last month.
After losing the American League Championship Series to Texas last fall, the Tigers were viewed as clear favorites to win the AL Central again in 2012 even without Victor Martinez, who provided key protection for superstar Miguel Cabrera last season, batting .330 with 103 RBI.
Martinez tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during a workout, and Detroit was expected to sign a lesser free agent -- Damon, Hideki Matsui, Raul Ibanez or Vladimir Guerrero -- to replace him at DH.
Instead, Illitch swung for the fences again, landing the 27-year-old son of former Tigers slugger Cecil Fielder. Prince Fielder might have his father's girth, but he has proven to be extremely durable. Over the past six years for the Brewers, he averaged 160 games played, 38 home runs, 108 RBI, a .391 on-base percentage and a .541 slugging percentage.
"I'll wait until I see that it's an official deal before I comment on it," Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. "We certainly respect Prince Fielder's talent. If the Tigers get him, that won't make things any easier for us, or the Royals, or the Indians, or the White Sox, that's for sure."
Quite simply, the righthanded-hitting Cabrera and the lefthanded-hitting Fielder should become the most intimidating duo in the game.
The main question becomes defense. Both are first basemen. Cabrera says he's be willing to play third base again, but he hasn't played there since 2008.
More likely, Cabrera will stick at first base this year with Fielder at DH. And what about when Martinez returns in 2013, with two years and $25 million remaining on his contract? That's another good question, especially now that Alex Avila has emerged as an All-Star catcher.
Those were the reasons Dombrowski said last week that Fielder probably wasn't a long-term fit. Now, for better or worse, the Tigers are stuck with him through 2020.
In Cabrera, Fielder and reigning MVP Justin Verlander, the Tigers will have three players making at least $20 million apiece for each of the next three years.
According to BaseballProspectus.com, the Tigers trimmed their Opening Day payroll from $134 million to $107 million over the past two years, and it looked like that might drop again with Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen and Brad Penny coming off the books. But Fielder changes everything again.
Meanwhile, after pushing their Opening Day payroll to $113 million last year, the Twins current 2012 projection is down to about $98 million.
"We're not done [upgrading the roster]," Ryan said. "We're still looking."
But don't expect a competing headline to Detroit's latest blockbuster.
"I'm not quite sure that Minnesota's going to make a signing that's going to combat Prince Fielder," Ryan said. "There isn't that type of name out there right now."
Joe Christensen • firstname.lastname@example.org
|Los Angeles - LP: H. Ryu||4||FINAL|
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