MIGGY’S ATHLETIC PROWESS GOES BEYOND THE BAT

By:  Kurt Snyder

I hate to mention his name again, but I must. Prince Fielder. It kind of makes me cringe to bring him up, but he helps to illustrate the importance of one of the two most critical pillars of successful baseball: defense.

The acquisition of Prince Fielder was probably Mike Ilitch’s weakest moment as owner of the Tigers.  As much credit as Ilitch earns for financial support and a good baseball sense, this was not one of his strongest days.

It was an exorbitant amount of money spent to acquire Fielder; one of the most limited players in the game. Prince was not a good first baseman for the Tigers. In fact, defense has never been his strong suit. When he is talked about, it’s all about his bat and never about his glove, and certainly not about quickness or agility.

So when the Tigers acquired him, as exciting as he was offensively, things became a mess defensively. With Prince showing no desire to DH, first base is where he had to be, meaning the Tigers, almost embarrassingly if you think about it, told Miggy he had to move to third base.

Cabrera, after initially beginning his career with the Tigers at third base, had successfully made the transition to first where he had become quite comfortable. And he had become very good. So for the Tigers to first sign Fielder to a disgusting contract, it was followed up by turning the infield upside down.

Moving Cabrera back to third was not something any fan wanted to see given the experience we remember when he first became a Tiger; he struggled so much at third when he arrived. So the combination of adding Prince and downgrading the defense at first, the move in turn degraded the defense at third base as well. Weak defense at the corners is not something any team wants, even though the Tigers still managed to make it to the Series with the Miggy / Prince combo.

In Miggy’s defense, he did show his athleticism at third; but there were balls he just couldn’t get to, often futilely diving for shots in the hole or down the line.

Jim Leyland had to be cringing every time he saw Miggy diving in dirt. The Tigers were gambling with the future of their most-prized possession; and I am convinced that his time at third advanced some of his health problems the last few seasons.

When a team wins a World Championship, it’s common procedure for the media to comb through key moves and acquisitions that led to that title. And if the Tigers manage to win a title with this core, the Fielder trade for Ian Kinsler will certainly be one of the biggest reasons, because it has been so far-reaching.

Just think how Prince’s exit, Kinsler’s addition at second base and Miggy’s return to first, affected the Tiger defense. Before either of them even picked up a bat after the trade, the team had already improved immensely.

It was addition by subtraction from a financial standpoint, while Kinsler has become the anchor of the infield, playing a Gold Glove worthy second base.  And most importantly, Miggy has found his rightful spot back at first base, where he seems to improve every season.

As the Tigers have since upgraded shortstop with the addition of a very talented Jose Iglesias, they are now better defensively than they have been in a very long time.  But the key will always be Miggy.

We continually talk about how critical it is that Cabrera stay healthy for the Tigers to have any shot at winning a title. And it’s true, without him in that lineup, there is a gaping hole, which normally means the end of the line for the Tigers. There is really no replacing the best hitter in baseball.

But it’s not just his bat that is missed when he is injured. It’s his glove at first, his great arm and also his defensive instincts. He is a great talent, a complete baseball player, an intelligent presence on the diamond;  one we need to have on the field, both at the plate and standing next to the bag at first.

When the day comes that Miggy becomes a full-time DH, the Tigers will need to think defense as well as offense at first, because both will need to be efficiently replaced.

11 thoughts on “MIGGY’S ATHLETIC PROWESS GOES BEYOND THE BAT

  1. It’s easy to Monday morning quarterback. I’d like to know what you had to say about the Fielder signing at the time. From what I remember, the move was universally lauded as Ilitch doing whatever was needed to win that elusive championship. In the days after Victor Martinez’s first off-season knee injury, it seemed the best possible way to replace a giant hole in the batting lineup.

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    • I was happy when we picked up Fielder and I was even happier when we traded him. Hopefully I won’t being saying the same about Upton, but you never know what will happen until it happens.

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  2. The infield was handcuffed with Prince in the lineup. The ripple effect of moving Miggy to 3B was moving Nick C to LF in the minors, which stunted his development at 3B as well. Next to getting Miggy, DD’s trade of Prince is right up there as one of his top trades.

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  3. Randall, at the time, I was glad to see the added potential offense. However, Prince could have been signed for several less years. He was waiting for a call, most likely due to his one dimensional play and his high price tag. The 7 or 9 years or whatever it was made no sense. In Prince’s defense, he always hustled. Not something you can say about at least 2 of our highly paid superstars.

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  4. Randall is spot on. These last half dozen years or so have been all about WIN NOW. Mr. I and Mr D did that masterfully in my opinion and gave hope EVERY season the Tigers could go all the way. Plugging holes isn’t easy. The loss of Victor and obtaining Prince, even with the necessitated position change for Miggy, was lauded at the time.

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  5. Do you both think the rumors were true regarding (editors’ translation) Avisail Garcia and the reasons for a clubhouse confrontation between Prince and Miggy are true?

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    • Hi, Chuck – We appreciated your question from earlier in the day and debated about publishing it. It ventures into tricky territory – personal lives with no actual facts or witness statements for anyone to use. Yes, the internet is rife with the rumors but we can’t publish them for the same reasons the major newspapers can’t. Nor can we publish responses by others. However, Kurt and I are open for going out for drinks and discussion. 😉 In any case, we appreciate receiving your questions! – Holly

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    • The one fact we do know is that Prince filed for divorce in the spring and it happened quite suddenly. The divorce filing was on-line along with each court order. I loved having Prince on the team even though he was a lousy 1st baseman. His total demeanor changed that season.

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