Tuesday, January 24, 2012

...And Slams Closed

In the baseball transaction equivalent of Jerry Maguire's proposal to Dorothy Boyd (somewhere Rod Tidwell is nodding in amazement and saying, "Well, this definitely was another way to go"), the Tigers found a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Well, technically not permanent, but 9 years is a long time in baseball. Prince Fielder will be filling the hole in the lineup opened by Victor Martinez' knee injury.

Several smart people have correctly explained how this will probably be a long-term liability for Detroit. But for 2012, they have done what seemed impossible a few days ago: upgraded over Martinez. While everything I said last week about regression and their unathletic defense and baserunning is still true (perhaps even more so), Fielder is easily going to be worth 4+ wins over whoever else they might have run out there. They are now a better team than they were last October, 90 wins is suddenly easily within their grasp, and the remainder of the AL Central is far back in the rearview mirror.

In this light, the Twins' conservative offseason strategy is vindicated. They would still do well to add one more high-upside veteran RHP on a 1-year deal, though. It should be done with the idea that he could be dealt in July or August for someone who can add longer-term value to the organization. Even a riskier guy health-wise, like Brad Lidge or Michael Wuertz, makes a lot of sense under the circumstances.

Though they aren't likely be much better than .500 as presently constituted, the Twins are well-positioned to improve themselves over the next two seasons. They are fielding a starting lineup of competent veterans. They finally have some impact players at AAA who could push their way onto the big league roster by September. Should they find themselves in contention, they will be in position to deal for help, thanks to some payroll headroom and a good crop of highly regarded prospects at the lower levels. Whatever they lose in-season could largely be replaced by the 5 top-75 selections they'll make in next June's draft. And, outside of the M&M boys, they have relatively modest payroll commitments for 2013, giving them flexibility to do even more smart shopping next winter.

The Tigers are in the driver's seat for 2012. The Twins have avoided committing too many resources to what will likely be a 2nd-place campaign. 2013 is when things will really get interesting in the division.

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