It was January 26, 2012, and the Prince Fielder-Tigers rumor was circling. Victor Martinez had blown out his knee back home in Orlando, Florida, and everyone knew Scott Boras was seeking the Prince megamarket and that he had a solid working relationship with owner Mike Ilitch, who wanted a championship for his city badly. So badly…
I reached Jim Leyland by phone around lunchtime. We’ve known one another since the late Seventies, when he was a minor league manager in the Tiger system, and he’s always honest. He said he hadn’t been called about Fielder in any way. An hour later Leyland was headed to the office. A short time after that, Prince had a nine year, $214M deal with the Tigers.
Less than 23 months later, Prince is a Ranger. And the alarms sounded, about the Rangers jumping in on Robinson Cano at $200M or Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann or Shin-Soo Choo, if not David Price. Or the Tigers extending Max Scherzer, or signing an Ellsbury or Choo.
Now, the cautionary tale runs like a CBS Soap: there have been nine players who have hit the free agent market beginning with the 2010-11 off-seasons and signed with new teams for between $96M and $240M. None have won a World Series ring with his new team. Three—Fielder, Carl Crawford and Jose Reyes—have already been traded; there are many people in Boston who believe that had the Red Sox not been able to dump Crawford in the infamous Aug. 24, 2012 Filene’s Basement farewell, they would not have their current World Series trophy. If you take the top ten free agent deals signed by players who switched teams from the last four off-seasons, one has a ring, or, to be precise, will get a ring—Shane Victorino.
Ray Davis is the new owner of the Rangers, Nolan Ryan is out, beginning 2015 the Rangers regional TV deal is upped by $30M as MLB brings in its extra $25M, and Boras and other agents know it. Ilitch has unloaded all but $30 of Fielder’s contract, while taking on Ian Kinsler’s $62M for four years. Boras may have noticed, and likely has books on Ellsbury, Choo and Scherzer on a Fedex plane. Why even think about what Arte Moreno is going to be paying Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson these next few years, in Mike Trout’s prime arbitration earning period.
Right away, this deal makes sense. The Rangers need power in the middle of their lineup, and believe Prince’s 25 homer, .819 OPS 2013 was a blip on the radar screen. They know he’ll play; he’s played 27 more games the last eight years than Kinsler has. Barring the Robinson Cano move, Jurickson Profar can move to second and they have the cash to sign two or three out of the McCann/Ellsbury/Choo/Nelson Cruz pack, and Jon Daniels still has a lot of talent in his system to make a run at Price or another frontline starting pitcher.
It also makes a lot of sense for the Tigers. Miguel Cabrera can go to first base, where his injuries won’t betray his defensive effort as they did last year, and Nick Castellanos can move home to third base. Kinsler goes to second. They have the cash freed to sign Scherzer, or they can go Choo or Ellsbury for left or center up at the top of the order in front of Cabrera and Martinez. They have plenty of cash for a closer like Joe Nathan.
In many ways, this was the perfect storm for two franchises that feel that the time has come today to win it all. The Rangers are still stinging from their classic 2011 World Series one-strike-away loss to the Cardinals. The Tigers have gotten to the World Series and ALCS the last two years, and while the series loss to Boston was one of the most intense series in recent memory, the March expectation was a parade past the Mariners’ Cathedral.
These perfect storms work different ways. Remember the last time the Red Sox were in the series clincher, in Denver, in 2007? Boras got the Yankees in just the right place, worked the $300M extension for Alex Rodriguez…
And, as we know, that divorce is making the McCourts seem like “Father Knows Best.”