I've been super busy this week and haven't been able to blog at all, but that doesn't mean that the world has stopped. If you read this blog regularly, or know me at all, you know that I'm a huge fan of the Detroit Tigers. I love the sport of baseball, and have been a Tigers' fan since I was 5 years old.
Last year, the Tigers dominated the American League Central Division, beat the hated Yankees in the first round of the playoffs, and then lost to the Texas Rangers in the AL Championship Series. They showed a lot of heart that year, and Justin Verlander dominated the league by winning both the Cy Young and MVP awards.
A huge part of the Tigers' success was the addition of Designated Hitter and Catcher Victor Martinez. He hit really well, especially with runners on base, and provided outstanding leadership in the clubhouse. But something terrible happened to him last week. In a freak exercising accident, Martinez tore the ACL in one of his knees--an injury that will keep him out of baseball for the entire 2012 season.
Martinez's absence leaves a gaping hold in the Tigers' lineup, one that no Tigers' fan thought could be filled by one person. There was one free agent left on the market, Prince Fielder, who could meet or exceed Martinez's statistical contribution, but Fielder is a first basemen, and Miguel Cabrera was already holding that job down just fine. (Cabrera is arguably the game's best hitter.) Nobody thought the Tigers were in on Fielder, until they announced that they had signed him to a 9 year, $214 million contract!
I was floored. Then I was excited. Then I thought, "Where's he going to play? What about Cabrera? What will happen next year when Martinez comes back? What's he going to be like at the end of that contract? Will he be worth it?"
Miguel Cabrera will be switching to third base, which is actually his natural position. He's a really big guy, and will need to shed a few pounds, but Jim Leyland, the Tigers manager, seems confident he can play there. So I'm not going to worry about the defense. This wasn't a defensive move. This was a move that Mike Ilitch, the Tigers' owner, wanted to make to win a World Series before he dies. (He's 85 years old.) And if everybody stays healthy, this move certainly puts the Tigers into that upper echelon of teams in the game. The Tigers have the games best pitcher in Justin Verlander, one of (if not the) the best hitters in Miguel Cabrera, and now a serious power threat to complement him in Prince Fielder. Besides those high-level, possibly Hall of Fame caliber players, the Tigers have an excellent supporting cast in Jhonny Peralta, Brennan Boesch, Alex Avila, Doug Fister, Jose Valverde, and many others. This is, easily, the most talented Tigers team since they won the World Series in 1984.
Last year, Prince hit .299 with 38 home runs, 120 RBIs, and an OPS of .981. For reference, the man he is replacing in the lineup, Victor Martinez, hit .330 with 12 home runs, 103 RBIs, and an OPS of .850. Martinez is an excellent player, but at 33 years old, he is on the down side of his prime. Fielder is just 27 and still entering his prime. I expect similar numbers to these for at least the first 5 years of the contract.
As a fan, I'm excited about the offensive potential of the Tigers' lineup. Coupled with our excellent starting rotation and shut down bullpen, this team has a great shot to win the World Series. If there were still a move to make, I would really love them to pick up a speedy, defensive wiz at second base. But no team is perfect, and in my opinion, the Tigers are the best team in baseball. Here's to hoping we get Mr. Ilitch, and the city of Detroit, that World Series trophy in 2012.