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Prince Fielder: Tigers’ New Slugger Will Have Big Short-Term Impact on AL Central

By Cbr66 @JKries

Prince Fielder: Tigers’ New Slugger Will Have Big Short-Term Impact on AL CentralThe defending AL Central division champs, the Detroit Tigers, made headlines Tuesday by signing free agent first baseman Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million contract.

Fielder, formerly of the Milwaukee Brewers, will play in Detroit as his estranged father, Cecil Fielder, did in the 90′s, blasting 95 home runs for the Tigers in 1990 and 1991.

Prince Fielder comes to Detroit with a big left-handed bat. Fielder has hit 230 home runs in seven seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. Fielder, who turns 28 in early May, has a career OPS of .929, as well as a .257 ISO. A three-time All-Star in the National League, Fielder has been among the top-five in votes for the NL MVP over the last five years. A Rookie-of-the-Year winner in 2006, Prince has put up some monster seasons in the National League, slugging 50 and 46 home runs in 2007 and 2009, respectively.

The Tigers’ acquisition of Fielder came as a bit of surprise to MLB pundits and fans. Fielder didn’t seem to be on the Tigers’ radar, as he was linked this offseason to trade rumors sending him to teams like the Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, and even the Seattle Mariners. The deal makes sense in the short-term for the Tigers, after losing Victor Martinez to an ACL tear, which will likely keep him off the field for the entire 2012 season. Martinez, who will be 34 when he returns to the field in 2013, may not be in the Tigers’ future plans. He remains under contract through 2014, and may be worth trading for prospects if Fielder and the Tigers enjoy some success in 2012.

Fielder has been remarkably healthy to this point in his career. After being called up from the Brewers’ AAA affiliate team in 2005, he has played in no less than 157 games in a season. Fielder’s huge contract may be worth it in the short-term for the Tigers, but like so many other modern-day baseball contracts, the Tigers may be tied down later with an aging, potentially unhealthy player at the back-end of the deal.

Despite Fielder’s lack of injuries, it’s reasonable to expect some kind of knee or back injuries hampering the slugger in the coming years, due to his weight. While he might not be the same type of hitter if he were to lose some of the weight, it may take a toll on his body as he gets older.

Prince Fielder: Tigers’ New Slugger Will Have Big Short-Term Impact on AL Central

Miguel Cabrera

For now, the defending AL Central champion Tigers have one of the game’s premiere sluggers. While he may cost his team a game or two over a season’s worth of games with his glove, his power and knack for getting on base (.390 career OBP), makes him a force in the middle of the Tigers’ lineup. The Tigers already have one of the game’s best hitters in Miguel Cabrera, who has an OPS of 1.038 his last two seasons in Detroit. Cabrera will likely move over from first to third base with the addition of Fielder. While Detroit’s lineup has significantly improved with the Fielder signing, their defense will most likely take a hit this season with the two sluggers playing the corners.

What does this mean to the rest of the AL Central? The Tigers were the clear-cut favorites going into the new year, before the Martinez injury and the Fielder signing. That hasn’t changed, but Detroit still has some holes on the team, which could hurt their chances for a repeat division title.

Prince Fielder: Tigers’ New Slugger Will Have Big Short-Term Impact on AL Central

Justin Verlander

Detroit was just above the league average for home runs in 2011, and the addition of Fielder will definitely help their team power. Their pitching may be their downfall, however, in 2012. Detroit was also in the middle of the pack for team ERA in 2011, and it’s reasonable to expect that Cy Young winner, Justin Verlander, won’t have the kind of season he had last year when he completely dominated American League hitters. While the Tigers staff definitely has a solid rotation, with Doug Fister and Max Scherzer as capable starters, the rotation really drops off after Verlander. While most MLB pitchers can’t hold a candle to Verlander’s talent, the Tigers’ staff is beatable on almost any day when Verlander doesn’t take the mound. It remains to be seen if the Tigers will make another deal, as they’ve been linked to Chicago Cubs starter Matt Garza.

After Cabrera and Fielder, the rest of the Tigers’ lineup, in its current form, doesn’t necessarily strike fear in American League pitchers. After losing Martinez, if either Cabrera or Fielder goes down with a long-term injury, the Tigers might not score enough runs to support their average pitching staff.

With one of the league’s biggest signing splashes, the Tigers definitely improved their team Tuesday by getting Fielder. He should be a force in the American League during his prime years, but could be a burden to the team as he gets older and possibly heavier, while carrying a huge expense for the team.

-James Kries

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