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Prince Fielder's road back to Detroit

Detroit— Last Friday afternoon, while he was making the media rounds during a winter caravan stop at Western Michigan University, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski was asked the obvious question:Who replaces Victor Martinez?Dombrowski responded in typical, vague fashion, reiterating only what he’d been saying for days. The Tigers, he said, could sign any number of players who could bat .265, hit 15 home runs and contributed 65 RBIs. But they hadn’t because their standards were higher.Now we know just how high they were.Word came Tuesday afternoon the Tigers reached agreement with slugging first baseman Prince Fielder on a nine-year, $214 million contract. That would be the fourth-largest contract in baseball history, and the Tigers’ most expensive by more than $60 million.The price is steep, but in Fielder, 27, the Tigers are getting a proven commodity, one who in his first six full seasons in the major leagues — all with the Milwaukee Brewers — has averaged nearly 40 home runs and 110 RBIs a season. He’s a three-time All-Star, and two-time Silver Slugger winner.”A sad day,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Prince is one of the best young players in the game. You try to build teams around young, star players.”Long before he put on a major league uniform, Fielder, son of former Tigers slugger Cecil Fielder, was a star in the making. Prince Fielder’s talent first was on display as a tyke in Detroit, when he’d hit booming home runs at Tiger Stadium. In 2002, the Brewers made him the seventh overall pick in the draft, and three years later he was in The Show.Fielder debuted in the summer of 2005, and by Opening Day 2006 he was the Brewers’ starting first baseman. He had 28 homers and 81 RBIs his first full season, finishing seventh in the National League rookie of the year voting. The next year, Fielder officially arrived, clobbering 50 homers and finishing third in the MVP voting.Two years later, he had a league-leading 141 RBIs.His only “down” season was 2010. He had 32 home runs and a .401 on-base percentage.This past season, he hit .299 with 38 homers and 120 RBIs in leading the Brewers to the NL Central title. Again, he finished third in the MVP voting.With his huge uppercut swing and an offensive lineman-like physique, Fielder was a fan favorite in Milwaukee. He’s brash, he’s intense.And, as Melvin told the Journal Sentinel, “he always wanted to win.”The Brewers couldn’t afford him anymore. They decided to spend big on Ryan Braun’s contract.In Fielder, the Tigers will get homers, doubles and walks in bunches, as well as excellent protection for Miguel Cabrera. The No. 3 hitter Fielder hit behind in 2011, Braun, won MVP.Fielder has his flaws, too.He strikes out a bunch. When he swings, he swings ferociously, regardless of the count.Defensively, Fielder is average. He’ll be a downgrade from Miguel Cabrera at first base, but odds are Fielder wouldn’t have agreed to come to Detroit to be a full-time DH. Also, he will make one of baseball’s slowest teams even slower. Fielder only has 16 stolen bases in his career. (Of course, he’s Carl Lewis compared to his father, who only had two).And at 5 foot 11 and 300 pounds, conditioning is a big concern, and perhaps the prime reason many ballclubs weren’t willing to discuss a long-term deal like the 10-year contract fellow first baseman Albert Pujols — five years Fielder’s senior — got from the Angels.That said, Fielder has proven extremely durable as a major leaguer, averaging 160 games a Covering the Bases on Facebook

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