DETROIT (AP) — Prince Fielder was born in 1984, the last time Detroit won the World Series.
After luring Fielder to Michigan with the fourth-largest contract in baseball history, the Tigers are hoping he will help usher in a new championship era for the Motor City.
“This is awesome,” Fielder said Thursday after finalizing a $214 million, nine-year deal with Detroit. “It’s kind of a dream come true. I’m excited.”
Detroit began seriously pursuing Fielder after designated hitter Victor Martinez tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during offseason conditioning. Now the Tigers have three of baseball’s biggest stars — Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander — all in their primes. Detroit won the AL Central by 15 games last year but lost to Texas in the AL championship series.
When the Tigers introduced Fielder on Thursday, the message was clear:
“We’re trying to win right now,” general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “We tried to win last year. We were close. I think we’ve reached a point now, on a yearly basis, we feel that way. When you look at the core of our group of players, there’s a lot of guys that are on that field right now that are quality players.”
Fielder’s father Cecil became a big league star when he returned to the majors from Japan and hit 51 home runs with Detroit in 1990. Cecil played with the Tigers into the 1996 season, and young Prince made a name for himself with his prodigious power displays during batting practice at Tiger Stadium.
Detroit plays at Comerica Park now, and times have changed. The Fielders’ strained relationship has been well documented, and Prince didn’t elaborate on it Thursday.
“I’m just ecstatic about being with the Tigers,” Prince Fielder said. “I’m just here to enjoy the day.”
It will be up to manager Jim Leyland to figure out where to play all of his powerful hitters. He said Thursday the Tigers will move Miguel Cabrera from first base to third to make room for Fielder. He also listed a possible batting order, with Cabrera hitting third and Fielder fourth.
It’s a lineup based on power, not speed.
“If they hit it where they’re supposed to hit ‘em, they can trot,” Leyland said. “We’re going back to the old-fashioned baseball. We’ve got big-time power on the corners.”
Fielder’s contract includes a limited no-trade provision. He can be traded to 10 clubs without his consent before 2017, when he gains rights to block all trades under baseball’s labor contract as a 10-year veteran who has been with a team for at least five years.
He will earn $23 million in each of his first two years with Detroit, then will make $24 million annually in the final seven seasons of his contract, according to terms obtained by The Associated Press.
The move carries plenty of risk for the Tigers. Fielder is 27 and has been extremely durable during his career, but Detroit is committing to him for almost a decade.
“I go by my instinct, like everybody else does,” said owner Mike Ilitch, the Little Caesars pizza mogul who signed off on this massive deal after what had been a quiet offseason for the Tigers. “My instincts told me that this is going to work out fine.”
Leyland sounded as taken aback as anyone with his club’s sudden change.
“This boggles my mind, to be honest with you,” he said. “I was kidding somebody. I said — I’m being funny — ‘About three weeks ago we were talking about maybe getting an extra pitcher or bullpen guy or something. Well, we didn’t know if we had the finances to get a guy.’ I said, ‘I don’t know what happened in three weeks. Little Caesars did good, evidently.’”
The hardest adjustment might be for Cabrera. He’s returning to a position he played while with the Florida Marlins, but he’s played only 14 games at third base with the Tigers — all in 2008 right after he joined the team.
Fielder made 15 errors last year, the most in baseball by a first baseman.
“Mr. Ilitch and Dave have given me a lot of nice pieces to this puzzle. It’s my job, along with coaches, to figure out how to put that puzzle all together,” Leyland said. “(Cabrera) is not going to have the agility, most likely, defensively that Brandon Inge had. You give up a little something, but you get a whole lot in return.”
Leyland said he talked to Inge, who lost his job as Detroit’s everyday third baseman last season.
“He’s not the happiest camper,” Leyland said. “He certainly understands.”
Dombrowski indicated he’s satisfied with his roster heading into spring training, although it’s hard to rule out any more moves after the Tigers shockingly emerged with Fielder.
The pitching rotation is anchored by Verlander, who won the Cy Young Award and MVP last year, but Detroit’s fifth starter spot is still uncertain. Dombrowski said the Tigers could bring in some non-roster invites to compete for that job.
“I think positional player-wise, we’re pretty well set,” he said.