While the Dustin Parkeses and Drew Fairservices of the world are off enjoying their weekend, I’ll be taking the reins and providing you with some content to hold you over until the big boys get back to their desks on Monday morning. Now you can get your Getting Blanked fix seven days a week. You’re welcome.
I know, I know. You’re all sick of talking about Prince Fielder going to the Detroit Tigers. You’re all fully aware of the fact that his signing a nine-year, $361-bajillion contract is questionable especially considering the Tigers already had one of the best first basemen in the game in Miguel Cabrera and nowhere else to play him. You’re probably also aware that they will try to play Cabrera at third to what will no doubt be hilarious consequences.
Forgive me, but I have a couple theories about this signing and its consequences that I’d like to share after the jump
First, I would like to respectfully disagree with our fearless leader Dustin Parkes and Ol’ Reliable Andrew Stoeten on something they said during the Getting Blanked Podcast Thursday (by the way, if you don’t listen to this podcast, what’s wrong with you? Go forth now and listen. This week, Drew Fairservice interviewed FanGraphs prospect expert Marc Hulet). They said that the Prince Fielder signing quite obviously makes the Tigers a better team. I’m not sure I agree.
First, let me be clear, Prince Fielder is one of the very best first basemen in the game and is a terrific player. Being a resident of Windsor, ON, I cannot wait to traverse across the border to watch Prince mash bombs into the rightfield bleachers at Comerica Park on a regular basis. I’m not even sure I totally disagree with Fielder getting a nine-year contract worth over $200-million. The questions of his durability are, to me, largely unfounded and seem to be the result of a societal prejudice against larger people. Prince is just as likely as anyone else to decline at a normal rate and his durability to this point in his career is a testament to that. His contract is a slight overpay, but not grossly so. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect Fielder to be a 5ish WAR player for the duration of the contract.
But back to the question; does Prince Fielder make the Tigers better in 2012? Assuming that Victor Martinez could have been counted on for roughly 3 WAR (he was worth 2.9 WAR according to FanGraphs last season) and Prince can be counted on for roughly 5.5 WAR (he was worth exactly that last year) that means Prince coming to Detroit and Martinez sitting out the year adds roughly 2.5 wins to the Tigers total. This, if you stop there, clearly shows that the Tigers should be better in 2012 than they were in 2011. But what about the defense?
Let’s assume that the Tigers’ plan to play Cabrera at third permanently sticks (something that I’ll admit seems unlikely); doing this will clearly make the Tigers a worse team defensively. Cabrera was a bad third baseman four years ago when the Tigers moved him off the position and he was never exactly a good defensive first baseman either.
Depending on what defensive metric you prescribe to, Cabrera cost the Tigers between four and six runs at first in 2011, or roughly half of a marginal win. Moving him to third base is very likely to increase that dramatically. If the Tigers stick with Cabrera at third for better or for worse (let’s keep in mind, this was a team that batted Delmon Young and his sub-.300 OBP third for much of the latter half of 2011) then they may negate most of whatever positive gains they attain by having Fielder in the lineup.
The other problem the Fielder signing presents for Detroit pertains to them now having committed $338-million to three players who can only truly play two positions at the wrong end of the defensive spectrum. Let’s assume for a moment that the Tigers decide Cabrera can’t play third base; a platoon 1B/DH with Fielder then seems logical and solves their problem for 2012, but what of 2013 and beyond? Detroit can’t reasonably play Martinez at catcher given Alex Avila’s emergence and his own defensive shortcomings and the other two spots are already taken up by better players. So what do they do?
They obviously can’t and won’t trade Fielder and trading Martinez would be impossible considering his contract and the fact they he’ll have missed an entire year, tanking his trade value. So, is it possible that the Tigers have backed themselves into a corner where the only solution is to explore trading Miguel Cabrera? If they do that, they could potentially make themselves significantly worse.
This may all work out fine for Detroit, but the chances of that seem slim. If I spend $214-million on a player, I’d want to make sure that it was going to be a positive-sum move. For many teams in baseball, signing Fielder would have made them a significantly better team. For Detroit, I just don’t see the fit.