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New Tigers 1B Prince Fielder’s Impact on the American League

Prince Fielder is a Detroit Tiger

Prince Fielder finally found his suitor. The National League slugger waited and waited all offseason to find the right fit until the Detroit Tigers made a $214 million, nine-year offer that he just couldn’t refuse. Hard to blame him considering he’ll now be a part of the best 3-4 combination in all of baseball alongside Miguel Cabrera. Arguably the two best offensive first basemen in the game have teamed up, a move made possible after a probable season ending injury to Victor Martinez. Fielder and Cabrera can now share first base and the designated hitter spot, and when Martinez returns Cabrera is expected to slide back to his old position at third base. One way or another, this move was a big one for the Tigers, and certainly creates shockwaves around the American League.

Fielder in Mo-Town

Without a doubt, the most exciting thing about Prince Fielder now being a member of the Detroit Tigers is seeing he and Miguel Cabrera make managers and pitchers tremble. There’s no doubt they’ll each produce, Fielder finished third in the National League in MVP voting, while Cabrera finished fifth in American League voting, as teammate Justin Verlander took home the honor. If there is any weakness on the Tigers, it has to be depth in the rotation after Verlander, as Doug Fister and Max Scherzer may not be the most reliable second and third starters. Still, their bullpen is solid, backed by closer Jose Valverde, who recorded a perfect 49/49 saves in 2011.

American League Impact

The American League certainly has gained some stars this offseason. First it was Albert Pujols crossing leagues to join the Los Angeles Angels. Then Yu Darvish signed the largest contract for a right-handed pitcher in baseball history when he agreed to pitch for the Texas Rangers. Now Prince Fielder is going to Detroit, where he and the Tigers should be heavy favorites to dominate the AL Central, a typically weak division that projects to be a one-team race. With what should be a wild race in the West between the Rangers and Angels, and an equally thrilling three-team battle between the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays in the East, the Tigers are effectively the only sure bet in the American League for the playoffs in 2012.

Adrian Gonzalez vs Prince Fielder

Before the 2011 season the Red Sox traded for first base slugger Adrian Gonzalez, who is comparable to Fielder, playing the same position and being a young left-handed hitter coming from the National League. Gonzalez will be receiving around $21 million each year starting this season until 2018 from the Red Sox, until he is 36 years old. Fielder’s contract with Detroit gives him $23 million each of his first two years, and then $24 million until 2020, when he is 36 as well.

Each team is paying a lot for a great amount of talent in two potential Hall of Fame players, but the Red Sox have the better deal. Gonzalez is one of the best defensive first basemen in the game, and while Fielder is better defensively than he physically appears, they’re in different leagues in that regard. Gonzalez is also expected to be the everyday first baseman for the Red Sox throughout his time in Boston, while Fielder will certainly see a good amount of time at designated hitter.

As a slugger, Fielder’s strength is pulling the ball out of the ball park, while Gonzalez is best when he goes the other way. Gonzalez’s style fits much better at Fenway Park than Fielder’s does at Comerica, where he will likely see a drop in home run totals. Gonzalez was expected to hit more home runs in Boston, given his transition from the pitcher friendly Petco Park in San Diego to the drastically smaller Fenway, but Gonzalez actually hit just 27, his lowest total since 2007.

Looking Ahead

No matter how you analyze Prince Fielder as a Detroit Tiger, there’s no doubt that offense in the American League as a whole this year should be strong. The league switches of Fielder, Pujols, and Gonzalez over the last couple years set up an interesting development for Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who will be in a similar situation after the 2013 season, unless he signs an extension. Fielder, on the other hand, has found his home, the same one his father Cecil Fielder had for the majority of his baseball career.

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