Victor Martinez’s name just got wiped off the front pages as if it had been written on a dry erase board.
There have been some shocking free agent signings in baseball since Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally unleashed the genie from the bottle back in 1975.
But the Tigers signing of Prince Fielder today caused more gasps than the first audience that ever saw a lady being sawed in two.
This wasn’t only unexpected, it was dismissed—by the very same man who consummated the deal.
Tigers President and GM Dave Dombrowski, just last week, said the Tigers wouldn’t be getting involved in the Fielder sweepstakes because of the longevity Prince would be seeking, despite the Tigers needing a bat to replace Martinez, lost for the 2012 season with a torn up knee.
Yet there it was, around 3:00 pm ET today: the news breaking with some salvos fired from Twitter, that the Tigers dug deep and snared Fielder for nine years, to the tune of $214 million.
This is “man bites dog” kind of stuff. Jimmy Hoffa was found—alive. Smoking doesn’t cause cancer.
Already it’s being speculated that Dombrowski wasn’t the real trigger man here. Owner Mike Ilitch, it is being said, stepped up to the plate, so to speak.
If that’s true, then the octogenarian owner just knocked one into the seats.
You wanted protection for Miguel Cabrera, in the wake of the Martinez injury? You wanted a left-handed stick to complement Miggy’s right-handed one?
Well, here comes Prince, complete with a navy blue and orange bow tied around his big belly.
Fielder is a Tiger, the second Fielder to be one. And Prince is even better than the first one—and the first one was pretty damn good.
Fielder is a first baseman, as you all know. The Tigers currently employ a pretty good one, if you recall.
No worries. It’s likely that Cabrera will move across the diamond to play third base, which would be the highest-profile sports move in Detroit since the Pistons fled to the Silverdome.
The Fielder signing comes from left field, to use yet another baseball term. But it ends at first base, which is where Prince will be entrenched. Reports say that the Tigers consulted with Cabrera about the signing before handing Prince the magic pen.
Miggy, those reports say, gave his blessing.
Why wouldn’t he? He has a bona fide elite slugger hitting behind him. He now has more protection than a Sicilian store owner paying the Mob.
Prince Fielder to the Tigers. Nine years, $214 million. Mr. Ilitch continues to spend his kids’ inheritance.
Think the Hot-n-Ready pizzas will stay at five bucks?
I think it’s highly likely that Ilitch shoved Dombrowski aside, so to speak, and ponied up the pizza dough to sign Prince.
Ilitch is past 80 years of age and he’s coming up on the 20th anniversary of buying the Tigers. Lord knows he had no idea he’d be 20 years into this and have next to nothing to show for it, except for a division title and two playoff appearances.
I’m guessing the owner thought he’d have a few World Series trophies in his case by now.
But it hasn’t happened. The Tigers made it to the Fall Classic in 2006, and saw their 2011 hopes dashed when too many of their guys tried to play while held together by baling wire and duct tape.
Then came news of the Martinez injury, suffered nearly two weeks ago during some agility drills.
V-Mart gone—for the season.
It was the biggest slug in the gut in Detroit since Houdini.
But here’s one way to mourn and grieve the loss of such a key player as Martinez: simply go out and buy an even bigger star.
Since when did the Tigers start wearing pinstripes?
Ilitch is acting like the Mike Ilitch of the pre-NHL lockout days, when he could wait for the clock to turn midnight on July 1st each summer and fork over the money for Kenny Holland to snag the free agent star du jour.
It was all so easy, and fun, back then. Stanley Cups were the payout for such largesse investments.
But back to Ilitch and his age.
It may be that the length of Fielder’s contract outlives the man who signed off on it. I know that sounds morbid but it’s very possible.
Mike Ilitch wants to win a World Series in the worst way. He’s more driven than most owners, because most baseball owners didn’t live through World War II; actually, most of them weren’t even born then.
Age can be a big motivator, along with fear. They sometimes go hand in hand, like in this case. Mike Ilitch is scared to death of not winning baseball’s biggest trophy before he passes.
The owner has done this before. He stepped in and got involved, enabling Dombrowski to trade for Cabrera in December 2007.
That has worked out pretty good so far.
But the brass ring has eluded Ilitch, with his baseball team.
So he broke out 214 million ways to try to resolve that.
When does spring training start?