Big Daddy’s little boy is back in town, and he’s all grown up.
Fresh from signing a nine-year free agent deal worth more than $200 million, Prince Fielder was introduced to Detroit by the Tigers today. But in many ways, an introduction was unnecessary.
Years ago, Fielder’s father, Cecil (Big Daddy) enjoyed the best years of his career in Detroit, leading the big leagues in runs batted in for three straight seasons, while also launching mammoth home runs. In 1990 he belted 51 for Sparky Anderson’s team.
Prince isn’t expected to hit 50 homers (though he did once), but 40+ and 100+ RBI a year will do just fine. The younger Fielder (Little Daddy?) is a superior ballplayer than his father. He hits for a higher average, makes better contact, uses the entire field offensively, and is better defensively. As recently as last season he helped lead the Milwaukee Brewers to the post-season.
Fielder will be expected to protect Miguel Cabrera, the reigning American League batting champion, in the Tiger lineup. With Victor Martinez out for the 2012 season with an injury, Prince’s arrival more than fills a huge hole, it piles it over.
If anyone ever questioned Mike Ilitch’s desire to win a World Series with his Tigers, they shouldn’t any longer. The 82-year old Tiger owner got involved personally with the negotiations to acquire Fielder. And why shouldn’t he? Ilitch has known Prince since he was a teenager hanging around the clubhouse at Tiger Stadium. Even at a young age, Prince looked like he could step into the lineup and launch homers into the grandstands. Now, as a seasoned major league superstar, he’ll be expected to do that for Mr. Ilitch.
Tiger fans are understandably excited about Prince’s arrival, especially coming off the success of the 2011 season, which produced the first division title for the Tigers since 1987. But there are some reasons to be cautious about the signing.
Fielder is in the prime of his career; he’ll be just 27 years old on opening day. But a nine-year deal is a risk that few teams have ever taken, let alone the normally conservative Tigers. By the time he’s in the back end of the contract, Fielder will be 34. Given his size (he’s just as big and packs just as many pounds as did his Papa), Prince’s ability to stay healthy and productive throughout the contract is questionable. But in his favor, Prince has been remarkably durable thus far. In his six full seasons, he’s never missed more than five games.
The Tiger lineup looks much better and hearts can rest a little easier in Tigerland now that Cabrera has a partner in crime with the bat. The righty-lefty duo is easily the most fearsome in the game. Both players are patient with power, Cabby from the right side and Prince from the left.
Fielder will take over at first base, with Cabrera moving over to third base, a position he’s played before, though modestly with the glove. Each will probably get some time at DH, as well. Regardless, the duo will be the big wheels in the Tiger lineup in 2012 and beyond.
For that, the future looks bright for the Tigers. Detroit is happy to welcome home a boy who has grown into a man.