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Determined to win, Tigers make Prince fit

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If Prince Fielder can help them, the Tigers were going to find a way to welcome him. (US Presswire)  
If Prince Fielder can help them, the Tigers were going to find a way to welcome him. (US Presswire)  

Prince Fielder didn't fit.

Yeah, I believed that. The Tigers already had two $20 million-a-year players. They already had a great first baseman, signed through 2015, and a big-time designated hitter, who is out injured this year but is signed for two more years after that.

Prince Fielder didn't fit with the Tigers, just like he didn't fit with the Yankees or the Red Sox or the Phillies.

Yeah, I believed that, and now I can't figure out why I did.

Because here's what I should have believed: Mike Ilitch is 82 years old, and he's every bit as determined to win a World Series as Arte Moreno is in Anaheim, every bit as determined as the Steinbrenners are in New York.

And if Prince Fielder was the guy who might put the Tigers over the top, Ilitch and his baseball people were going to try like heck to make it fit.

Fielder to Tigers
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Yes, it means having three $20 million-a-year players, with Fielder joining Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. Make it fit.

Yes, it very likely means having Cabrera play third base, which is a gamble (but one that could work out just fine). Make it fit.

After all, there's another very important thing that signing Prince Fielder means:

It means that the Tigers might now be the favorite to win it all.

They made it to the American League Championship Series last year, before finally running out of gas against the Rangers.

You can argue that they have the best pitcher in baseball, in Verlander, with a solid rotation around him. You can argue that they have the most-feared hitter in baseball, in Cabrera.

And now you can argue that they have the game's top young power hitter, in Fielder.

Over the last five years, Cabrera is second in baseball in RBI (behind Ryan Howard). Fielder is fifth (behind Pujols and Mark Teixeira). No other team in the game has two of the top five.

Add in Victor Martinez, who will miss most or all of this year after knee surgery, and the Tigers have the best middle-of-the-order in the game.

They might already, even without Martinez.

The Tigers were the overwhelming favorites to repeat as American League Central champions, even without Fielder. They could play it conservative, stick with what they had, reassess in July and make a move then.

Or they could go for it all, the way we expect teams like the Yankees and Red Sox to go for it all.

There's a reason that when I talked to one rival AL Central club official Tuesday afternoon, he said both "I give them credit" and "They're one of the teams you hate [because of the money they're spending]."

Exactly. Just what people say about the Yankees, or the Red Sox.

When the winter began, and we were all trying to figure out where Fielder and Pujols would land, I refused to totally count out the Yankees and Red Sox, even though both already had big-time, big-money first basemen.

Pujols and Fielder didn't fit there, but you learn over the years that sometimes teams like that find a way to make players like that fit.

Right thought. Wrong team.

In this wild winter, where the Yankees and Red Sox really do seem to be operating under some sort of budget concerns, the other AL superpowers (or superpower wanna-bes) were the ones operating under the "make it fit" theory.

The Angels, who already had Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales, signed Pujols. Maybe Trumbo can play third base, they said.

The Tigers, who already had Cabrera and Martinez, sign Fielder. Cabrera can play third, they're expected to say.

There are already suggestions that Cabrera loves the idea. He came up as a third baseman, after all, and in the minor leagues he was a good one. He's bigger now, but he got in better shape last year and is reportedly getting in even better shape this winter.

I'm not going to guarantee you it'll work. I'm not going to guarantee you that a nine-year commitment to Fielder is going to look good eight years from now (or even five years from now).

I'm certainly not going to guarantee you that Ilitch is going to get that long-sought World Series trophy to go along with his Stanley Cups.

But I will guarantee you this: I'm not going to overlook the Tigers anymore.

I'm not going to believe it when they (and logic) tell me that a big-time player "doesn't fit."

I'm going to figure that they're looking for a way to make it fit.

And I'm going to believe that if there's a player out there who might just represent their best hope of winning a World Series, they're going to try like heck to find a way to make it happen.

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