When the Tigers signed Prince Fielder this week, the best team in the American League Central got better. Bad news for Royals fans, but there could be a silver lining to this signing. Detroit was already stacked at first base – a position that has been filled by Miguel Cabrera since 2008. Cabrera was an All-Star last year & was at or near the top of almost every offensive category. He led the Majors with his 48 doubles, .344 batting average, and .448 on-base percentage. A more conservative front office would have looked at their current situation and passed on trying to sign a big hitting first baseman.
Not the Tigers though, because Miguel Cabrera was willing to move across the diamond to play third base. This was his home for the last two years that he spent in Florida. He started at third when he came to the Tigers in 2008, but early in the season he swapped positions with Carlos Guillen. Carlos took over at third and Miguel has played first base ever since. His willingness to make way for an equally shining star shows an admirable trait in Cabrera, and a very aggressive nature in the Tigers organization.
The end result is one of the most powerful corner infields ever to button up a polyester double knit jersey.
Here in Kansas City, we feel pretty good about the future of our corner infielders too. It seems a bit naive to try and compare Eric Hosmer & Mike Moustakas to the Cabrera/Fielder combo that now resides in Detroit. The truth is that the KC duo is an average of six years younger than the two Tigers. They have a lot to prove to get to the point of the two All-Stars, but they definitely have the potential.
Looking around the AL Central, the Tigers corner infielders are now the cream of the crop. They upgraded from last year’s duo after losing the AL Championship Series to the Rangers. In 2011, Cabrera played 152 games at first base and his offensive prowess has already been stated. It should be noted that he also had a .991 fielding percentage, showing good range for his size. Third base was a big question mark for the Tigers in 2011, as a number of players played the position. Even former Royal Wilson Betemit started 34 games after being traded in July. Brandon Inge had the most starts at third – 77 – but hit just .197 with 3 home runs. It was a revolving door at third, so the proposed solution of moving Cabrera across the diamond to fill this hole seems like it could be a legitimate solution. Cabrera’s vacancy at first would be over-filled by Fielder, who fielded .990 in 159 starts at first in 2011. Fielder hit .299 and was the NL all-star at the position (and the MVP of the 2011 classic).
Before Eric Hosmer finally arrived in Kansas City, the first base side of the diamond had primarily been occupied by Billy Butler. The previous two years, Billy did an adequate job at first base, but his limited agility and endurance made Hosmer a welcome addition. In 2011, Butler slid back into the dugout as the DH & Hosmer started 127 games. He was great all year at first and made Royals fans realize what they’d been missing in the field. Hosmer made just 8 errors and was a part of 101 double-plays. At the plate, Hosmer was able to adjust to big-league pitching and wound up hitting .293 with 19 home runs. He finished 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting and has set himself up to do great things here.
Third base was a bit of a mess for the Royals in 2011. A position that was once Alex Gordon‘s saw him struggle enough to prompt a change to the outfield (and a Gold Glove…). Fans were hoping that Mike Moustakas would make the opening day roster, but he didn’t and instead Mike Aviles began the year at third. However, his struggles gave way to Wilson Betemit. The two of them rotated, neither with a ton of success until June 10th, when Moose showed up to save the day. Things were not a cakewalk for Moustakas though, and he struggled mightily for a good chunk of the summer. Ned Yost stuck with his new third baseman, and Moustakas rewarded his manager with a fantastic mid-August & September. He brought his average up from .182 to .263 at season’s end. Despite his hitting woes, Moustakas continued to play good defense, and I think he made good progress there too. The confidence and experience that was gained by going through those struggles should pour right into 2012.
The Tigers were awesome last year & are going against conventional wisdom by bringing in Fielder. With Cabrera sliding over & Prince taking over first, their infield is stacked. So is the middle of their lineup. We can only hope in KC that our corner infielders can someday have the clout that Cabrera/Fielder has in the middle of the Tigers lineup.
As for now, the Tigers are the best in the Central, but the Royals will chase them all year. They will play each other a total of 18 times this season, with the first trip to KC coming on April 16th. I know that the Royals are looking forward to keeping pace with the Tigers, which is better than just trying to keep out of the cellar.