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On an unsuspecting November night, only a month and one day removed from being ousted from the ALCS, the Prince Fielder era in Detroit was over.
The Tigers shipped Fielder and his massive nine-year, $214 million contract to the Texas Rangers in exchange for second baseman Ian Kinsler. Joining Fielder in Texas will be $30 million as the Tigers agreed to pay a yearly fee of $6 million for Fielder’s contract starting in 2016.
Fielder’s time in Detroit could be called a flop. Literally. In his two playoff runs as a Tiger, Fielder combined to hit only one home run and three RBIs. All three RBIs came during the 2012 postseason as Fielder failed to knock anyone in during the Tigers latest playoff run, which ended thanks in part to his belly flop as he tried to retreat to 3rd base during a rundown in Game 6 of the ALCS in Boston.
But one thing that Fielder did do right was provide protection for the best hitter in baseball: Miguel Cabrera.
Cabrera’s production has soared the past two seasons with Fielder hitting behind him. Cabrera has won back-to-back MVP awards and became the first hitter since 1967 to win the Triple Crown. He most certainly would have had a shot at back-to-back Triple Crowns if he could have stayed healthy last season.
With Fielder now in Texas, many question what effect this will have on Cabrera. But fret not Tigers fans, he will be just fine because…
1. Cabrera wasn’t so bad before Fielder
Since his first full season with the Marlins in 2004 and before Fielder entered the picture, Cabrera put together an impressive streak of eight consecutive seasons with 100 or more RBIs. In seven of those seasons, he hit 30 or more home runs and led the American League in 2008, Cabrera’s first year in Detroit. A six-time All-Star during that stretch, Cabrera was an elite hitter, even without Fielder. So will the loss of Fielder all of a sudden make Cabrera forget how to hit? In Sonny Gray‘s dreams. Expect crazy numbers once again in 2014.
2. Cabrera loves a good challenge
I’m sure he’s heard and will continue to hear the doubts about his production possibly suffering without Fielder. But Cabrera doesn’t mind. In fact, he revels in the opportunity to prove people wrong. Remember the doubts and questions Cabrera faced when he was forced to move back to 3rd base? “He’s too big.” “He has no range.” “Will the switch effect his offense?” It came from everywhere, from fans and experts alike. But the skepticism only made Cabrera work harder. He shed 20 pounds that offseason and came into the 2012 season determined to prove people wrong. I believe that extra work helped his offense too. What do you think?
2012: .330, 44 HRs, 139 RBIs (MVP, Triple Crown)
2013: .348, 44 HRs, 137 RBIs (MVP)
With another position switch and new speculation whether or not he can continue to produce without Fielder, Cabrera will be motivated to prove he’s up to the challenge.
3. More speed = More opportunities
Newly acquired left fielder Rajai Davis finished last season with 45 stolen bases. The Tigers? 35 as a team combined. Yikes. Speed was clearly an area that GM Dave Dombrowski wanted to address this offseason and he has done just that. With the addition of Davis and Kinsler, the top of the lineup has improved considerably in terms of generating runs. Something the station-to-station Tigers did little of last season. Having runners in scoring position should be no problem with the added speed, meaning more RBI opportunities for Cabrera. Oh, and don’t forget the trouble Coco Crisp caused Tigers pitchers in the postseason. Luckily for the Tigers, Oakland didn’t have a bat like Cabrera to get after the mistakes that pitchers make when baserunners such as Crisp, Davis, and Kinsler wreak havoc on the base paths.
4. He might have even better protection
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Victor Martinez is expected to replace Fielder in the cleanup spot. In 2011, Martinez joined the Tigers to protect Cabrera. Unlike Prince, Martinez has lived up to his contract. Despite missing the entire 2012 season due to injury, Martinez has put up staggering numbers in a Tigers uniform. In 2011, he hit a balmy .330 and led the American League with a .394 average with runners in scoring position. During that season, Cabrera had a career high .448 OBP and even had a higher OPS than his Triple Crown winning season. Coincidence?
Martinez returned in 2013 and after a slow start, he hit a scalding .361 in the 2nd half of the season, which led the American League. He may not put up the power numbers that Fielder does, but Martinez is a pure hitter. He hits to all fields, hardly strikes out, and is flat-out clutch. With career regular season and postseason batting averages above .300, Martinez may scare opposing pitchers more than his predecessor did when it comes to crunch time. Tell me, if you are a pitcher in the postseason, who would you rather face? Victor Martinez or Prince Fielder?
5. It’s Miguel Cabrera
Find me a better hitter in the game today. Google it, ask Siri, discuss with your friends, talk to your neighbors, pull an all-nighter researching stats, and watch all the highlight films you can on YouTube. Do whatever you have to do to get your answer and give me your reasons why Cabrera will struggle without Fielder.