After the stunning news that the Tigers had signed Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million contract came another little bombshell, courtesy of CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman:
prince will be the first baseman, for anyone asking. cabrera will have to change role.
FOXSports.com’s Danny Knobler, a former Tigers beat writer, made the same claim minutes later (he probably would have had it first if he didn’t bother with that pesky capitalization):
Expect the Tigers to play Prince every day at 1B, and to move Cabrera to 3B. And don’t be surprised if he’s better there than you think.
So, that’s the way it will likely be aligned at the start of the spring. Still, if the Tigers actually start the season that way, they’ll have the game’s worst infield defense and possibly the worst seen in the league in a few years. Some days, it would include three players who were moved off their current positions, only to return later:
– The Marlins stopped playing Cabrera at third base after the 2007 season.
– The Indians shifted Jhonny Peralta from shortstop to third base in 2009 before the Tigers put him back there a year later.
– Ryan Raburn will compete with Ramon Santiago for time at second base. The Tigers originally stopped playing Raburn at second in 2008 before giving him 15 starts there in 2010 and 55 starts there last year (even though he opened the season behind Will Rhymes, Santiago, Scott Sizemore and the injured Carlos Guillen in the pecking order).
The Tigers can probably afford to start the season that way. I doubt they’ll be able to afford to finish it with such an alignment. The only reason for them to do it is if it was a condition of Fielder picking Detroit. It makes no sense for baseball reasons, not when they just lost Victor Martinez, their full-time DH, to a torn ACL. Fielder at DH, Cabrera at first base and Brandon Inge at third is the right alignment for these Tigers for now. Inge should at least flash an above average glove, and if he doesn’t hit much better than last year, a cheap third baseman can be acquired later.
And if it is a condition of Fielder’s arrival that he has to play first, then sticking Cabrera in left field and Delmon Young at DH would be a superior alternative to the other plan. Young’s a big liability in the field anyway, so the Tigers probably wouldn’t lose much defensively by going to Cabrera there.
But let’s face it: the Tigers only wanted Fielder for his bat. Shaking up the whole defense to make room for it simply doesn’t add up, and it would likely cost the team some of what it gains with his arrival.