The race for votes at 1B for the AL All-Star team just got more interesting.
Well this certainly isn't good. In case you haven't heard yet (shame on you for being a bad fan or a responsible adult), Prince Fielder agreed to a 9 year/$214MM contract with the Detroit Tigers today. Remember a week ago when Victor Martinez tearing his ACL slightly opened a window? Consider that window slammed shut, locked, boarded up, and bars installed over the frame. Detroit now has the two best hitters in the division. While anything can happen during the season, it's pretty safe to say that if the Tigers weren't already the odds on favorite to win the Central, they damn well are now. So what does the biggest contract in the 18 year history of the division mean for everyone else?
Tigers: Detroit finished behind only the Red Sox, the Yankees, and the Rangers in scoring in the American League last season. Prince Fielder is a better hitter than Victor Martinez. Their offense for 2012 is likely improved. As many have been pointing out though, what happens in 2013? Martinez will still have two years left on his contract and won't be able to play very many innings behind the plate as a 34 year old recovering from knee surgery. The team will have three expensive hitters that will all be on the wrong side of 30 vying for two spots. Reportedly, Cabrera will be attempting to play third base again. He hasn't done so regularly since 2007 and wasn't good at it back then.
The Tigers aren't quite in the same rarefied payroll air as the New Yorks and Bostons of the world, but until Mike Ilitch dies they will remain on that second tier and ahead of the White Sox. Until we know the yearly breakdown of the salary in this contract. we can't pass full judgment. It averages at just under $24MM a season though. Using that as a baseline, Detroit's payroll is already around $87MM for 2013. Doug Fister, Alex Avila, Rick Porcello and Austin Jackson all become arbitration eligible that year. Will the last few years be worth it? That depends on how much they can accomplish at the start. If Cabrera and Fielder age poorly or get injured, things could go south very quickly
Twins: For Minnesota, it means Joe Mauer is no longer the highest paid athlete batting around the Great Lakes. In worse news, it means that their string of dominance may have finally reached its end. Last season tied 1995 or the worst record the Twins have put up since baseball went to six divisions. The Twins are the cautionary that Tigers fans should be looking at closely. Giving Fielder 9 years and $214MM could replace Joe Mauer's 8/$184MM as the biggest risk in the area. Everyone knew Mauer wouldn't catch the entire length of the contract, but injuries may have already forced him to DHing or playing corner infield, greatly decreasing his worth. Combined with the horrible luck of Justin Morneau's lingering concussions issue tie up $37MM between two now-injury prone players and you have a baseball team praying its farm system can save them a few years down the road. Don't expect the Twins to be relevant for the next two seasons.
Indians: I have given up on trying to predict what will happen in Cleveland. Every year I guess wrong. They can compete for second place this season, which is always nice for the fans. Things get very interesting in 2013 though. Without factoring in arbitration numbers, the Indians only have $3.75MM committed to their 2013 team payroll. Next winter may not have the sexiest crop of free agents, but players like Joey Votto hit the market the following winter. This is good news for an organization with plenty of talent in the lower minors. The Indians should bide their time the next two seasons and come out swinging in 2014.
Royals: Kansas City fans can't be thrilled about this signing. While this probably isn't the year they make their long-hyped return to glory anyway, Fielder pretty much makes that a certainty. The Royals will be in the middle of the pack this season and have more than enough talent in the minors to graduate players or ship them out for veterans they need to fill gaps. The Royals may have the best chance of knocking off the Tigers in 2013. Should be pretty fun living in their territory that season.
White Sox: Sorry it took me so long to get to our team. I just wanted to be thorough. Things look pretty grim. We have the worst farm system in baseball. Unless they both turn it around, we have three more years of misery to slog through with Adam Dunn and Alex Rios weighing down Reinsdorf's signing hand. Our outside chance of sneaking into the playoffs all but disappeared today. The upper and lower class of the division have been seemingly cemented in for the upcoming future. Where are we? Stuck in limbo. Until 2014 and the payroll relief starts kicking in, we won't be singing any big free agents (not that we ever really do anyways). Their is no savior on the farm. How much longer will we hold onto Gavin Floyd now that it seems we won't be competing again for the length of his agreeable contract? Looks like we'll just have to appreciate the game.