Things were going so well for the Detroit Tigers: American League Central winners, only two victories shy of going to the World Series, all cylinders seemed to be firing in synch. Then catcher/1B/DH Victor Martinez picked up a season-ending knee injury (anterior cruciate ligament) during workouts. This forced the team to make one of the most stunning and unexpected moves in baseball history.
The Action: Once he found out Martinez would be gone for 2012, general manager Dave Dombrowski jumped feet-first into the free-agent pool and opened the vault to acquire the biggest prize on the market, former Milwaukee Brewers 1B Prince Fielder, with a nine-year, $214-million contract. Up to that point, the Tigers were not named as being one of the suitors in the chase for the burly slugger, but then they came in with an offer that blew everyone else out of the water.
It’s A Lock: Comerica Park should be the scene of many high-scoring games as Jim Leyland has one of the most explosive lineups he’s ever managed. The big bats of Fielder and former first baseman Miguel Cabrera will provide much pop. Once Martinez returns, this lineup will look even more formidable.
American League MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander heads up a strong pitching staff also featuring starters Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Doug Fister and closer Jose Valverde. Lefthander Daniel Schlereth will likely be an occasional starter and situational reliever, while southpaws Duane Below and Adam Wilk will also battle for a spot.
Hedge Your Bets: Defense, especially infield defense, is going to take a big hit with Fielder at first and Miguel Cabrera moving back to third base. Center fielder Austin Jackson is tweaking his swing to cut down on the strikeouts, but he’ll need a lot more work before he can become the effective leadoff hitter he was touted as when he came up in 2010 after being acquired from the Yankees for Curtis Granderson.
The Payoff: The MLB futures betting has the Tigers rated as a lock to hold on to their A.L. Central title. In the World Series champion race, they’re just behind the Phillies, Yankees and Angels, and just ahead of the Rangers and Red Sox. It’s a heady group, but the Tigertown faithful can be confident that there is no shortage of talent in the 2012 edition of the team.
There’s also a prop bet on whether Fielder will have more career home runs at the end of the season than his official listed weight of 275 pounds (Go Yard Or Go Lard!). He enters 2012 with 230 round-trippers to his credit. Can he hit 45 homers this year? He’s hit more than that twice in seven seasons: 2007 (50) and 2009 (46).