The Detroit Tigers shocked the baseball world Tuesday with the signing of free agent first baseman Prince Fielder. It wasn’t expected at all, and in a Twitter world in which we know things before they are even announced, it was a real surprise.
It will be a homecoming for Fielder, whose father Cecil played in Detroit from 1990 through 1996 and damaged AL pitchers. Prince Fielder hit home runs at the old Tiger Stadium when he was a young kid, and now he’ll be able to do it for a lot of money.
The news had to be a bit of a relief for the Atlanta Braves, who might have had to watch Prince play in their own division. Before Detroit came out of nowhere Tuesday, the Washington Nationals had been considered the favorites to land Fielder. That might have made Washington look better, at least on paper, than the Braves.
But Fielder’s signing will have a significant impact around the game. It will tilt the balance of power back to the AL.
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The NL has won the past two All-Star games and the past two World Series. But several AL teams have made moves this offseason to possibly have those short streaks come to an end.
First, the Los Angeles Angels signed Albert Pujols away from St. Louis. Now the Tigers have signed Fielder away from Milwaukee. Those two arrive in the AL from the NL Central, which will certainly be weaker with those two bats now gone.
Tampa Bay has had a nice offseason, and even though Texas lost C.J. Wilson to the Angels, it signed starting pitcher Yu Darvish from Japan and added a closer in Joe Nathan. The Rangers will be tough once again with that great lineup.
Boston and New York have only made a handful of moves, as they allowed others to make the big splashes. That’s because both teams already had first basemen signed under contract. Plus, they’re being a bit more careful now with higher luxury taxes facing them in another year.
But the Fielder signing makes the Tigers very interesting. Fielder will join Miguel Cabrera to perhaps form the best one-two power punch in baseball. Fielder is a left-handed hitter, while Cabrera is a right-handed hitter. They are both young. Fielder will be 28 this year, while Cabrera is a year older.
Fielder has averaged 38 home runs during the past six seasons, while Cabrera has averaged 33 home runs the past eight years. You won’t find a better duo than that in a baseball lineup.
Meanwhile, even though the Braves didn’t need Fielder and couldn’t have afforded him anyway, it’s still tough to watch another team be aggressive and try to improve for the upcoming season. Atlanta has been the most inactive team in baseball this winter. The Derek Lowe trade that saw Atlanta shed some salary and receive a minor league reliever is the only significant transaction, and that was done strictly for financial reasons.
Atlanta is one of only two major league teams (the Chicago White Sox being the other) to not sign a major league free agent from a different team this offseason. The Braves plucked someone out of the Rule V draft, and Robert Fish might be a candidate for the bullpen. They signed a few minor league free agents. But that’s about it.
Next year might be a different story. Pray the Braves have a different owner, one who will allow a general manager to be aggressive in the offseason. And the Braves will have a lot of money coming off the books.
But for now, they can only watch other teams get better. The Tigers did that with Tuesday’s big splash.
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