What Will the Tigers Do with Fielder, Martinez, and Cabrera after 2012?

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 14: Prince Fielder #28 of the Milwaukee Brewers looks on against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game Five of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium on October 14, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

It is now being widely reported that the Detroit Tigers have swooped in and signed a deal with Prince Fielder for 9 years/$214M.

My first reaction is that this never gets close to being done if Victor Martinez doesn't suffer a freak ACL tear while working out. Martinez is out of action for the 2012 season, and the Tigers don't really have an impact bat in their system that projects to be comparable to Martinez in the near-term, but is still under contract through 2014. Virtually all of Martinez's value is tied up in his bat, so going forward his most likely home is at first base or designated hitter.

Of course, he won't be playing first, since preeminent slugger Miguel Cabrera is signed through 2015 and already occupies that position. The big question is what will the Tigers do with three, largely offensive players in Cabrera, Martinez, and Fielder in 2013 and 2014?

Martinez will be 34 in 2013 and coming off an ACL tear. At this point, he's an every day DH, so if the Tigers were to move him it would need to be in the American League, which limits the potential suitors. Theoretically, Martinez should exhibit some natural decline at the plate, but he has posted an OPS+ of 127 since turning 30 in 2009. Of course, the Tigers would be selling low given that they have to move him and he's coming off a significant injury without the ability to show other teams that he has recovered.

That, of course, leaves Cabrera. Cabrera is beyond a shadow of a doubt one of the most feared hitters in the game. He'll be 30 in 2013 and only 32 when is current deal expires. Last year, he posted an OPS+ of 181. He's not exactly a defensive stalwart, but he has an edge over Prince when it comes to playing first base. (Cabrera has been less bad than Fielder according to UZR since 2007.)

Given the obvious difference in age and hitting ability between Martinez and Cabrera, it seems like a no-brainer that Martinez will need to be dealt after this season. The Tigers will need to make a decision in 2014 whether to try and extend Cabrera, or whether to hand first base over to Prince. Given the deal that Albert Pujols just got at age 32 from the Angels, an elite slugging first basemen could still drive an incredibly high price on the open market even after age 30. If the Tigers can't get an extension done in 2014 that fits within their budget, and with Fielder locked up through 2020, I think it's safe to say Cabrera will be on the trading block by that point.

While I am not crazy about the years involved in the Fielder deal (strike that, I am terrified by them), the Tigers managed to upgrade offensively and fill the short-term gap caused by Martinez's injury. Whether they will be able to get much value for Martinez next year remains to be seen, but given his age, health, and the fact that the Tigers can't possibly keep him I doubt they'll get much in return.

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