Results tagged ‘ Miguel Cabrera ’
Jim Leyland’s answer to the question of how he’ll handle third base while Miguel Cabrera is out lasted five words.
“I’ve got plenty of coverage,” he said Tuesday morning.
That he does. Between Danny Worth, Don Kelly, Audy Ciriaco and yes, Brandon Inge, Leyland has no shortage of guys who can play over there this spring. Who he plays will likely say a lot about how long the Tigers expect Cabrera to be out.
Inge has had a ton of playing time at second base this season to try to get him acclimated, with surprisingly good results. The Tigers and Leyland have made it abundantly clear that Cabrera is the third baseman now, a message that has grown stronger as Spring Training has unfolded and Cabrera has more than held his own at the hot corner. It would seem unlikely the Tigers will move Inge back to third unless they have to — in other words, if they have a reason to believe that Cabrera would miss time at the start of the season.
If they had to make an adjustment on the fly, they could get Inge ready at third with very little lead-in time. As Leyland said early this spring, Inge could play third in his sleep. So the idea of Inge needing time as an insurance policy doesn’t really hold in this situation.
So while Cabrera is out, the biggest impact could be on Kelly, getting more time at third to fill Grapefruit League innings and more at-bats to get himself ready, as well as Worth, who has been trying to make his case as an extra infielder for some time now. It also could keep Ciriaco in camp a little longer, continuing what has been a decent spring for him.
What we learned: While Ryan Raburn and Delmon Young have been belting balls all spring, the common refrain has been that they’ve been feasting on early spring pitching, when hurlers are usually focusing on their fastballs and rarely mixing in their good secondary pitches. Raburn’s sixth home run of the spring came on a breaking ball from Jair Jurrjens, whose rough spring continued. Young’s ball came on a pitch with more velocity on it.
Either way, their hitting is starting to outgrow the early spring training phrase.
“I don’t know how to explain it. It just seems like Delmon and Raburn get a good pitch to hit, they hit it pretty hard and a lot of times pretty far,” Leyland said. “But I don’t really know how to explain it.”
Hey, it’s only spring training: Justin Verlander said Tuesday was his first real jam in which he had the situation to try to gear up his fastball. He got it up to 96 mph on the radar gun at Joker Marchant Stadium, maybe another tick on other scouting guns.
“The velocity was getting up there, and that’s the first time it’s done that,” Verlander said. “A little harder to control for me, but the more I do it, the better it’ll get.”
At some point, that fastball will gear up to the upper 90s. It’s not there yet, but that’s not something he’s trying to get there at this point in the spring.
The highlight play you saw: Not really a highlight, but you saw a lot of the Lakeland grounds crew working on the mound. Both Verlander and Jurrjens pointed around their landing spots on the front of the dirt.
“It caused a little bit of issues,” Verlander said. “I felt like that might have led to some of the walks. A couple walks, I was slipping a little bit. Obviously, it was a bit more of a problem for Jair than it was for myself.”
At one point between innings, they were both around the mound looking at the trouble spot.
“I was telling him he was doing it, and he was telling me I was doing it, creating that big old hole,” Verlander said. “But I don’t create much of a hole when I pitch, if any of a hole. That’s what I was telling him. … It was weird, because I think them fixing it might have caused more a problem for him, because then his original hole wasn’t there anymore. That’s when he started slipping, I think.”
Up next: With the Tigers scheduled for their lone off-day of the spring on Thursday, they juggled their rotation a bit for Wednesday. Andy Oliver moves up a day to make the start against the Twins at 1:05pm at Marchant Stadium, putting him in a pretty good test that also happens to be the first broadcast of the spring for Fox Sports Detroit. Rick Porcello will pitch in a minor-league game earlier.
To-do list for Wednesday: Stretch out Oliver and get a look at how Twins hitters react to him the second and, maybe in a couple cases, third time into the order. He probably won’t get deep into a third turn, not with a pitch limit around 75 or so, but guys will get a chance to adjust from their first at-bats.
Word from the Tigers is that they’ll have an update when they have more information to relay. One would expect that to be sometime this morning. The team just took the field for workouts, with no sign of Cabrera in the Tigers clubhouse. That doesn’t necessarily signify anything either way: He could be getting treatment or follow-up exams somewhere, or he could just be recuperating.
Cabrera, as expected, is not in the starting lineup. Danny Worth is starting at third base.
- Austin Jackson, CF
- Brennan Boesch, RF
- Andy Dirks, LF
- Prince Fielder, 1B
- Delmon Young, DH
- Alex Avila, C
- Jhonny Peralta, SS
- Ryan Raburn, 2B
- Danny Worth, 3B
P: Justin Verlander
Just when Miguel Cabrera’s conversion to third base seemed to be going swimmingly, the reigning American League batting champion was injured by a one-hopper that hit him in the face and knocked him out of Monday’s Grapefruit League game against the Phillies.
Cabrera immediately left the game, a towel covering the bloodied right face of his face. He received stitches and was taken to a local hospital for precautionary x-rays.
Cabrera has been starting regularly this spring at third base, his new everyday position ever since the Tigers signed Prince Fielder and put him at first. Cabrera has handled most every play that has come his way, but Hunter Pence’s shot was hit hard enough that left him with virtually no time to react once the ball took a high hop.
Cabrera immediately recoiled once the ball bounced off his face, seemingly near his right eye. Head athletic trainer Kevin Rand immediately came running onto the field once play stopped as blood immediately began streaming from the wound.
No immediate medical report was available. The Tigers still have two and a half weeks before they open the season April 5 against the Red Sox at Comerica Park, which would leave Cabrera some time to recover if it’s just a bruise.
I am not going to go on my blog and complain about spring training. It was 86 degrees and sunny today in Lakeland, while it was maybe half that temperature back home.
That said, listening to Miguel Cabrera talk about Venezuelan food after his Wednesday workout, around lunchtime, was killing me.
“This thing, arepa, it’s like bread, but they make it with corn,” Cabrera told reporters when asked about his favorite food. “We put everything [in it]: Cheese, steak, everything. It’s so good, so I’ve got to stop.”
It makes me hungry just writing it. It has to make him hungry describing it.
Yet when another reporter asked him if he missed it, Cabrera was fine.
“No. Right now, no,” he said, pointing to his head.
Miguel Cabrera gets it. If he wants to make this move to third base work, if he wants to move better — and especially important, if he wants to remain a durable, productive player well into his 30s — he can’t eat like he used to.
“It’s hard to stop that,” he said. You eat all your life like that, and you’ve got to change.”
He’s serious about this. He has someone helping him out with that.
“It’s kind of helped me a little bit,” he said of his new diet. “You know, you’ve got to sacrifice, you’ve got to do it, and you’ve got to work hard to get better. That’s what I want, to get better every day and try to do my best.”
Cabrera didn’t get into too many specifics a couple weeks ago when he talked about his workout program and his weight and his move to third base, but that was then. As he moves around third base, as he moves around Tigers spring training, as he works out separately in the early morning, he’s in a very happy place. He’s a loud presence in team workouts, in a constructive way, encouraging guys, recognizing nice plays, teasing hitters who had to face Justin Verlander Wednesday morning.
When I wrote about Cabrera’s move to third base a few weeks ago, I wrote that it would be a challenge, but that his enthusiasm about the move and determination to make it work were the strongest points in his favor. I think his enthusiasm is more than even I expected.
“I’m happy,” he said, “because I’ve got Prince hitting behind me. We have a very good team. We’ve got a chance to win more games. I’m happy because I see Verlander, he’s more strong.
“I see a lot of things around me. I see these guys work hard [like] Peralta. I think when you’re around great guys like that who want to win, you enjoy it more. And like I said, I like to play third. They gave me a chance to play third again, so I don’t want to miss the opportunity. I want to do much better over there. I want to be in the best shape I can be to move around at third base.”
Just as encouraging for the Tigers, and especially for Cabrera’s agents, is the fact that he’s doing this while looking towards the second half of his career. He didn’t mention anyone by name, but he has seen injuries hamper players in their mid-30s. Carlos Guillen, one of Cabrera’s mentors, is a non-roster invite in Mariners camp. Magglio Ordonez, with whom Cabrera worked out the past two offseasons, might well be done despite his great shape.
Cabrera wasn’t around when Dmitri Young was a Tiger, but Young was in Venezuela this year trying to revive his career. Weight, among other things, took a toll on Young’s legs.
“Everybody talks about the knees,” said Cabrera, whose Tigers contract runs through 2015. “When you [get to] 30-something, you start to have problems with your knees, with your hamstrings, obliques, back. So you’ve got to see other players at 37, 36. They play for a long career and they don’t have injuries, and you have to look to them. They’re in good shape. So why don’t you do it? Why don’t you follow the right step? When you get to that age, if you’re lucky, if you have a chance to play to 37, 38, you’re still in your best shape.”
If Cabrera someday ends up in the Hall of Fame — look at the similar batters list on Cabrera’s baseball-reference page, and you see that path — this might be the defining point that gets him there. If this Tigers infield works, even to a respectable level, this might be a pretty important point to a Tigers championship season.
Actual workout note of the day: Justin Verlander continues to approach his spring training workouts with game-like intensity, and his second session against live hitters Wednesday was no different. He had a game-like tempo, he shook off signs once in a while so he could work on particular pitches, and (like most pitchers in camp) he declined to use the batting practice screen.
Hitters are catching up to pitchers, but not really to Verlander. So imagine Verlander’s surprise when 20-year-old Avisail Garcia smacked a comebacker that skirted Verlander’s feet along the ground on its way to center field. It was close enough that Verlander paused a few seconds and breathed a visible sign of relief, and an audible exclamation.
“That wasn’t a little grounder,” Verlander confirmed. “That was hit hard.”
“Really close,” Verlander answered.
Actual workout note of the day, part 2: What breaks up a boring spring training workout better than sliding drills? No much, I say. Maybe sliding drills that involve Cabrera, Fielder and Delmon Young. Pictures below.
Non-workout note of the day: Leyland has a lengthy note of caution for reporters Wednesday not to jump to conclusions about the fifth starter. A lot of the candidates will get an inning on Friday against Florida Southern, followed by a piggyback start Wednesday against the Braves, but a different guy will get the start each time.
“I can promise you, the minute I find out about the starters, we’ll have a press conference and you’ll know it,” Leyland said. “I’ll announce it. You won’t have to worry about.”
Quote of the day: “Gold or old?” — Jim Leyland, when informed that former Red Sox manager turned ESPN analyst Terry Francona called him the gold standard of managers on television.
Let’s be honest: It’s not as if the Tigers haven’t had a superstar before. They didn’t have one when Ivan Rodriguez signed in 2004, which made him the potential savior of a 119-loss team as soon as his car pulled into the parking lot at Tigertown that February. Miguel Cabrera was a superstar on the field when the Tigers got him about four years later.
Justin Verlander has pitched his way into superstar status, complete with his image on the cover of a video game and a cereal box, and his face on Conan. In many ways, he’s the face of the franchise, and baseball’s headline attraction each time he takes the mound.
Still, there’s something about Prince Fielder. And his arrival at camp Monday drew a reception that hasn’t been seen here in a while, whether from television cameras, microphones, fans or even teammates. Maybe it’s the fact that he grew up a Tiger. Maybe it goes back to the draw of a big home-run hitter. Or maybe it’s the fact that one of the best free agents on the market actually chose Detroit. Or it might even be the fact that a Tiger has the third-largest contract in baseball, . Whatever the reasons, Fielder’s arrival Monday had the attention of an event.
Fans, who had been asking when he was expected to show for a couple days, lined up against the fence separating the practice complex from the clubhouse for a chance at his autograph. Photographers followed his every move around the fields, then his interaction with fans. His warmup throws with new teammate Miguel Cabrera became a sight.
Teammates weren’t immune to it, either.
“When star players show up, people take notice,” manager Jim Leyland said. “They might say they don’t, but they do, particularly the young guys. I don’t mean they’re in awe or anything, but heck, that’s pretty nice. Heck, that’s a thrill.”
Then he took batting practice with Cabrera — back-to-back, like they’re expected to bat in the order when the games start.
“It was fun,” said Brennan Boesch, who shagged fly balls (or watched home runs) while they hit. “I mean, they’re in my opinion the best left- and right-handed hitters — especially with power — in the game. They’re great hitters, too. They’re not just sluggers. Obviously, everyone knows what they can do — Prince from the left side, Miguel from the right. So it’s a deadly combination to have, and you’re glad to have them on our side.”
The chemistry seemed to be immediate, Cabrera watching Fielder’s homers in awe, and Fielder joking about how hard Cabrera hits the ball.
“Double,” Cabrera said about one of his own drives to the gap.
“What???” Fielder exclaimed, looking out beyond the fence. “You hit that alligator.”
There was no alligator out there; Lake Parker, where many a gator call home, is beyond even these sluggers’ reach. But you get the point: They enjoyed hitting with each other, and they admire talent.
And a lot of fans admire what Fielder can do, which is why he had the crowd he had. Whether Fielder relishes that kind of response or not — he said he got used to people asking for autographs when he was a kid — he’s getting that reception.
(Page down after photo for more camp notes)
Speaking of rock stars: Look for a bigger story Tuesday, but Justin Verlander talked with reporters Monday morning about his upcoming season and how he worked this offseason. He said he turned down some off-field opportunities this winter because they would have interfered with his training routine.
“What I tried to do,” he said, “was choose the things that would be fun and brought the most attention to the Tigers, myself, the organization, the city. Those are basically the things that I kept in mind. And obviously, doing the Conan show was huge, being on the cover of the game, going out and shooting the commercial. And I’m doing a couple other cities that are in the works but haven’t come out yet.”
The Conan appearance, he said, was “awesome. That was a lot of fun. I was a little nervous going into it, didn’t know how I’d feel. Then I sit down in the chair and just start talking and I felt very at ease and just had fun with it.”
That, he said, was his favorite thing of the offseason.
“That, and shooting a commercial with Kate Upton isn’t too bad,” he said with a smile.
Monday, by the way, was Verlander’s 29th birthday. He got a watch.
Actual workout item of the day: Watch these drills for enough years, and it sometimes looks like a ritual rather than an actual exercise. But manager Jim Leyland takes these things seriously, and he lets players know if he doesn’t like what he’s seeing. He met with one group of pitchers during pickoff drills and hammered home the point that they need to make their pickoff move look as much like a normal delivery as possible until they’re whirling and firing. Of course, Leyland has been hammering home the need for Tigers pitchers not named Verlander to hold runners better for a few years now.
The Tigers don’t have all-day workouts, but when they’re working, Leyland wants them to be productive. He didn’t use his most common phrase today — Work Hard, but Work Smart — but he related it to game situations.
“I think it makes you better in close games during the season if you have more discipline,” Leyland said. “I truly believe that. I believe disciplined teams perform better from the seventh inning on.”
Actual workout item runner-up: Nobody, and I mean nobody, has more fun in spring training workouts than Jose Valverde. I said it last year, and the year before, and it still holds.
Valverde was yelling and cheering during random parts of pitchers fielding practice Monday morning. He covered first base with a flair every once in a while, drawing a cheer from the fans in attendance. He slammed his glove to the ground in mock disgust when Phil Coke missed a throw to first. He doesn’t blow these drills off, mind you, but he has fun doing that.
The better sign of who takes these early workouts seriously will come when Jim Leyland starts trying to hit fungoes past pitchers during infield work.
Non-workout item of the day: Remember when Gerald Laird joked a few days ago that he would be picking up whatever loose change fell out of Prince Fielder’s locker next to him, because “he’s making $213 million more than I am.”
Fielder saw it, and joked upon his arrival Monday that he would be watching his money.
“Yeah, I heard about that,” Fielder said. “I’m going to make sure I keep all my change in my pocket.”
Quote of the day: “Beck, you missed my bullpen.” — Don Kelly on his way in from batting practice. He did not actually throw a bullpen session.
As expected, Miguel Cabrera was an early arrival to Tigers camp. We just figured it would be early on the calendar, not on the clock.
Yet as the fog was just starting to lift around Lakeland before 9 a.m. ET, Cabrera was already in his workout gear and hitting in the batting cages. He wasted no time getting to work, and he didn’t waste much time brushing off questions about his weight.
“I don’t know,” he said when asked about his weight program. “My goal is to be ready for the season. Whatever weight I [am at], I have to be in the best shape every year to go out there and don’t be hurt. I’m trying to be in my best shape and trying to be 100 percent the first day of the season.”
Cabrera looked notably slimmer compared with last year, but he couldn’t put a number on it. Manager Jim Leyland said Thursday he felt that 255 pounds would be a good weight for him, and a source close to Cabrera suggested that would be his weight.
To Cabrera, the scrutiny has gotten repetitive.
“It’s the question they ask me every year,” he said. “I think that’s been an issue my whole career. Everybody complained about my weight every year. It’s the same thing this year. Everybody’s talking the same thing about my weight, and he’s overweight, he’s this, he’s this. It’s nothing new. It’s been a complaint almost my whole career. Every year they say I’m overweight. It’s the same thing this year.”
That said, Cabrera added that he thinks losing weight will be good for him in the long run. He sounded very much like someone transitioning for the next stage of his career as he approaches age 30 next year.
“I think that’s a very positive thing to happen right now in my career,” he said, “because it’s going to help me a lot to lose more. It’s going to help me a lot to get in my best shape. It’s going to help me to play long in baseball.”
For what it’s worth, his neighbor in the Tigers’ spring training clubhouse gave him a vote of confidence. Jhonny Peralta saw him settle in, turned to reporters and said, “He’s ready.”
Leyland was in his office when Cabrera arrived.
“He looks great,” said Leyland, who added that he seems “real upbeat.”
Leyland said he felt like Cabrera is “on a mission to show he can play third base.”
Cabrera, however, downplayed that in favor of the team aspect.
“I want to win some games,” he said. “I’ll go over there and do my best and do my best to help the pitchers get some outs and try to get some wins. That’s what I’m going to do. I don’t want to try to show everybody I can play third base because, why? What’s the reason? There’s no reason to hear all the negative things they say about me playing third base.”
He did indicate, though, that moving back to third will be a challenge.
“It’s going to be hard,” he said. “Nobody said it’s going to be easy. It’s going to be hard playing back over there. But when you’re motivated and you have your team to support you and you’ve got the support of your manager and all your team, you feel like you’re going to do it, you can do it and play your best baseball.”
Four years ago, Miguel Cabrera was a man on the move, and Brandon Inge was man without a position, hoping to find a starting job somewhere. The trade that was expected that winter never happened, and Inge ended up back at third base.
Now, the Tigers and Inge might be back in the same spot.
Because Miguel Cabrera was the only player given a heads-up about the signing, Inge found out about being replaced through the media, not the team. Manager Jim Leyland said he finally talked with Inge Thursday once the signing was official.
“I basically apologized [to him] that this got out on the airwaves obviously prior to us wanting it to,” Leyland said. “I’m sorry he had to hear it other than from the horse’s mouth, but at that particular time, I was not at any liberty to discuss this whatsoever.
“I have talked with Brandon. He’s not the happiest camper. We certainly understand. We try to deal with these issues as we’re supposed to be.”
Leyland suggested there still could be a role for Inge on the team. He had Inge penciled in for some starts at third when Cabrera’s DHing or off. He did not indicate any change of positions for Inge.
Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said he has not talked with Inge yet, or his agents. If Inge wants a trade or release, he hasn’t heard about it. At this point, he isn’t preparing to make a move.
“I can understand he wouldn’t be thrilled,” Dombrowski said, “but I also think at this point, probably the best thing for him to do — he’s not coming off a big year, the market is pretty well set — probably the best thing is to let him come to spring training, let him play well and let’s see what happens. I think he still can play a very important role on our club. Like I said, we’re trying to win.
“I respect his situation. We’ll do what we can. We’ll see what happens, but I think he’s a very important part of our club. He is in good shape, and he’s worked hard, and I think he’s got a chance to put up some nice numbers this year.”
Inge has $6 million in guaranteed money this year — $5.5 million in salary, plus a $500,000 buyout assuming the Tigers don’t pick up his $6 million option for 2013. The Tigers were willing to eat that money last summer when they designated him for assignment for make room for Wilson Betemit. Inge accepted a minor-league assignment after some encouragement from Tigers owner Mike Ilitch.
On the other hand, if Miguel Cabrera’s move to third base doesn’t work out — remember, the Tigers moved him out of third a few weeks into the 2008 season — the Tigers would then need a third baseman. If Inge is gone, the Tigers’ best option at third is Don Kelly. So even if the Tigers could find another team for Inge, or could afford to eat his contract, they have a motivation not to. He’s an insurance policy, or Plan B, or the fallback option, whatever term you want to use.
On a semi-related note, Dombrowski was asked whether Cabrera’s move to third makes top position prospect Nick Castellanos, one of the top third base prospects in the game, expendable? Dombrowski said no.
“We’re in a position where you just take your time with him,” Dombrowski said. “He’s at third base. He’s a tremendous player. He’s going to be a tremendous player. We’re not looking to trade him. He’s just made the [MLB.com] Top 100 players prospectwise along with [Jacob] Turner and [Drew] Smyly.
“So for me, it’s just really a matter of you want to have young players. A guy like Castellanos will be a fine big-league player. He’ll fit in great eventually.”
Getting the picture here?
Justin Verlander told his followers on Twitter he was playing a bad round of golf when he got the call on Prince Fielder. His game didn’t get much better, but his day did.
“The Prince news turned my day around! Still played bad, but who cares,” Verlander tweeted. “Really excited about 2012, especially with the new addition.”
He wasn’t the only Tiger looking at the 2012 season with a little brighter outlook, once the sense of shock over Fielder’s signing tapered off.
“I had just got done working out, hitting, and a few of my friends texted me,” superutilityman Don Kelly said. “I seriously thought they were joking. I got online and checked it out and it was all over MLB.com and whatever.”
Austin Jackson, who’s now set to be leading off for a more formidable Tigers lineup, had the same reaction when his phone started going off while he was sitting at home. Shock gave way to mere amazement, then gave way to the thought of a lineup with two of the most formidable all-around hitters in baseball.
“It’s crazy to think about him and Cabrera hitting next to each other in the lineup,” Jackson said. ‘You do those type of things on MLB2K or something. You never really see two hitters like that get a chance to hit on the same team.
“It’s going to be a very interesting season. I think everybody’s pumped up to get going.”
The news that the Tigers had signed Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million contract sent shock waves around baseball, but it sent excitement around Detroit. Tigers players were no different. Some likely realized it was a possibility, but most didn’t know at all.
“No,” Kelly said. “I mean, everybody was under the impression that it wasn’t a real good fit from what Prince was looking for and what the Tigers were looking to do. But obviously, it ended up [working out].”
Jackson compared it to a holiday gift.
“To be honest with you, I thought it was a long shot,” he said. “I think myself and a lot of other people were probably putting it on a wish list. You think about things like that. You think about what a guy like him could contribute to this team, but you always think those things are long shots. When it actually happened, it was like, ‘All right, I can see this team is really serious about moving in the right direction.”
Miguel Cabrera, the man Fielder is expected to move out from first base, had an idea it was a possibility. He told Venezuelan reporter Marfa Mata that the Tigers had approached him during last week’s winter caravan to let him know it was a possibility and to see how he felt about it, including the possibility of changing positions.
Not only was Cabrera on board, he was excited.
“Some people forget that this is my [old] position, third base,” Mata quotes Cabrera, translated through Google. “I want a better team.”
So do most of the Tigers, even those whose roles might be impacted. Kelly was looking at a potential platoon role at third base going into the season, the kind of set role he hasn’t had in the big leagues. If Cabrera moves to third, there’s a good chance that changes.
That wasn’t among Kelly’s chief concerns Tuesday night.
“Looking at it, when you have a team and you can add a guy like Prince Fielder to that team, your team’s obviously going to be better,” he said.
Even Tigers who haven’t made it to Detroit yet were looking forward to the possibility. Top pitching prospect Jacob Turner was heading into the season looking to compete for the fifth spot in the Tigers rotation. His run support picture now looks much different. He retweeted the news almost as soon as it hit Twitter.
Fellow Tigers pitching prospect Drew Smyly, who’s expected to compete for the same rotation spot, learned about his new teammate soon afterwards.
“That’s one hell of an offense,” he tweeted.
The Tigers spent a week reacting to Victor Martinez’s season-ending left knee injury. Their eventual reaction was big enough to be worthy of a Prince.
After supposedly looking for a short-term solution to the void in the middle of their order, the Tigers went big, physically and financially, with All-Star slugger Prince Fielder. On Tuesday, the two sides agreed to terms on a nine-year contract worth $214 million.
Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports and Jon Heyman of MLB Network and CBSSports.com first reported the talks and ensuing agreement. A source confirmed the terms to MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez.
The Tigers have not commented on the reports. The team has a policy of not commenting on reported deals until the players involved have passed physicals.
The move caught the rest of baseball by surprise, not so much regarding the Tigers’ interest but by the lengths they pursued Fielder to get a deal done. What was expected to be a short-term replacement became a cornerstone acquisition, reuniting Fielder with the team he followed as a child.
With a nine-year deal, Fielder would be under contract with Detroit through 2020. Even then, however, he’ll be 36 years old, which made a long-term deal for the 27-year-old an intriguing one. That intrigue just wasn’t expected to include the Tigers.
Until Martinez tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in a training mishap a week and a half ago, the Tigers were set at designated hitter. Martinez hit .330 with 103 RBIs last year to help lead Detroit to its first division title in 24 years and protect Miguel Cabrera in the lineup on the first baseman’s way to his first American League batting crown.
Though the Tigers supposedly had contact last week with Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras, in the wake of Martinez’s injury, the fit didn’t look realistic. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski downplayed the chances of a Fielder deal just last Thursday, telling MLive.com’s Angela Wittrock that they probably would be focused on a short-term deal.
“Of course we’d consider it,” Dombrowski said of Fielder at the time, “but realistically, it’s probably not a good fit. … We anticipate Victor Martinez coming back in 2013 and playing at the level he was at last season.”
Dombrowski wouldn’t completely put the Fielder speculation to rest but stuck to his statement that the “fit really is not there at this point.”
As recently as Monday, Dombrowski told the Detroit News, “We’ve got a lot of names to consider.”
However, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch has a history of putting together deals with Boras late in the offseason. In 2004, Ivan Rodriguez surprised many with a four-year contract to join a Tigers team coming off a 119-loss season. A year later, Magglio Ordonez signed what ended up being a six-year deal with the Tigers.
Both deals came together late in the offseason with pursuers dwindling. So did Johnny Damon’s one-year contract with the Tigers two years ago. That decision was strongly believed to have come directly from Ilitch, who, at the age of 82, has made his drive to win a World Series well known.
Ilitch’s push is believed to have been the driving factor behind the Fielder deal as well. The owner remembers Fielder from the first baseman’s childhood days tagging along with his father, former Tigers slugger Cecil Fielder, around Tiger Stadium and the Tigers clubhouse during the early 1990s.
Defensively, the fit also seemed unlikely. Fielder has played his entire Major League career with the National League at first base in Milwaukee, having played just 17 career games at DH during Interleague Play. The Tigers have installed Cabrera as a cornerstone player at first base, where his defense has improved markedly over the last two years.
A source close to Cabrera said the Tigers front office approached the slugger to see if he would be all right with the club adding Fielder and possibly pushing Cabrera away from first base. Cabrera, according to the source, told the team he was fine with it, and that he’s looking forward to playing alongside Fielder.
Cabrera told the Venezuelan newspaper <i>Lieder in Deportes</i> that he’s moving back to third base. Whether that’s on a full-time basis or part-time remains to be seen. At the very least, the Tigers are expected to use a rotation that makes sure neither is relegated to a being a full-time DH, including some games at third. Cabrera manned the hot corner for several seasons with the Florida Marlins before the Tigers moved him to first early in 2008.
What the Tigers will do a year from now, when Martinez is expected to be back at full strength, will be another challenge. Martinez spent most of last season at DH while filling in at catcher on some days as essentially a backup to All-Star Alex Avila. An August knee sprain, however, limited Martinez to DH down the stretch, and manager Jim Leyland said at season’s end he planned not to catch the 33-year-old Martinez again for the rest of his contract.
In the end, however, the Tigers had an offensive hole that Ilitch and management felt they needed to fill. They’ll deal with the roster impacts later, certainly next year.
The move caught even Cecil Fielder by surprise, the former slugger told MLB Network Radio. The father and son have had an estranged relationship in recent years stemming from debts the elder Fielder accumulated in retirement, reportedly costing the family their home. However, they have kept in touch in recent years.
“I didn’t see Detroit in the picture,” Cecil Fielder said.
Very few people did. But one big financial swing, it happened.
“I know Mr. Ilitch is probably excited,” Cecil Fielder said. “He’s been wanting that kid since he was a little kid, so he finally got his wish.”
Everybody on the Tigers feels the loss of Victor Martinez, likely out for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee. But nobody is more likely to feel the aftereffects than Miguel Cabrera, the reigning AL batting champion and Tigers cleanup hitter. After all, the Tigers signed Martinez last winter to support Cabrera.
Cabrera, though, isn’t feeling the loss. Martinez won’t be in the lineup, Cabrera said, but he’ll still be a presence.
Apparently, Cabrera talked with Martinez this week, after the extent of the injury became clear.
“He told me, ‘Don’t get down. I’m going to work hard to get past the injuries,’” Cabrera said. “‘I’m going to do a lot of things to stay with the team. I’m going to support you a lot. I’m going to stay with you and hopefully get back on the field soon.’”
The field part is a question mark. Though the timetable from doctors and others have been through ACL surgery suggest anywhere from 8-10 months of recovery, Cabrera holds out hope Martinez could return by year’s end and be ready for the postseason.
The leadership aspect, the energy, seemed to be the biggest thing on Cabrera’s mind for Martinez. He saw the difference last year that Martinez brought. Even if Martinez isn’t physically around for most, if not all of the season, Cabrera still expects him to be a presence.
“I think even if he’s out for three months, four months, whatever he’s out, I think he’s going to be part of the team,” Cabrera said. “I think he’s going to be with us, he’s goinig to call everybody and we can call him. I think we’re going to be the same family.”
The bigger question on many minds, the question of how Martinez’s physical absence in the lineup affects Cabrera, wasn’t quite as big of a concern for him. When asked about the potential of how pressure on him, Cabrera politely shook his head.
“No, no, I don’t see it,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot of things about putting more pressure on yourself, and that’s no good. You have to go out there and do what you can control and do what can you do to lead to wins. We’re going to keep focused the whole year.”
He definitely didn’t look worried Thursday; he looked pretty relaxed at the Tigers’ winter caravan stops. While some Tigers took part in movie trivia at a fan rally at Birmingham’s Palladium 12 Theater, Cabrera caught a ball and a pen from a kid in the seats and signed.
Delmon not distracted by batting order: Delmon Young isn’t really worried about where he’s going to bat in the order with Victor Martinez. Whether he hits third, fifth or eighth, he knows his job is to drive in a runner in scoring position.
No, what matters more to Young is knowing that his name’s going to be in the lineup.
After 3 1/2 years in Minnesota, Young knows about dealing with injury-depleted lineups. Losing Martinez hurts, but it isn’t new territory for him, whether it impacts his spot in the order or not.
“I learned a lot in Minnesota in 2008 when [Michael] Cuddyer missed [a half] season,” he said. “And in 2009, when we went to game 163, we had [Justin] Morneau down the second half of the season, and guys just had to step up. In 2010, Morneau missed the second half of the season.
“So when guys are MVP-caliber players and you lose them, you can’t try to do too much. You just have to have everyone come in and play their own game. And whoever is the guy that comes in for them has to play their own game. Because if you try to put up the .330, 100 RBI type numbers Victor puts up, that’s rare. There’s only six or seven guys in Major League Baseball that batted .330-plus last year. You can’t go in and try to replace Victor, because you’re not going to do that.”
Young’s best numbers, coincidentally, came in 2010, when Morneau suffered a concussion around the midway point that cost him the rest of the year. Pressure wasn’t the factor, he said.
“No, I just knew I didn’t have to check the lineup anymore,” he said, “just like when I got here. Jim [Leyland] said, ‘You’re playing every day. If you need a day off, come talk to me.’ So I never had to go check the lineup and have a daily tryout to see if I could make the lineup the next day.”