Fielder signing has tremendous ramifications
Prince Fielder's unexpected contract agreement with the Detroit Tigers has resulted in quite a number of potentially career- and game-changing ramifications for teams in both leagues. By signing with Detroit, Fielder's new contract could easily influence the outcome of two division races, the All-Star Game and the World Series.To begin, there can be little doubt Fielder is one of the most feared power hitters in baseball. Few players have the ability to hit 38 home runs and drive in 120 runs, as Fielder did for Milwaukee last season. He and Ryan Braun combined to provide the Brewers with awesome power in the middle of the lineup. It was the type of power few pitchers have the ability to consistently overcome. With his departure, those impact statistics have been removed from the Brewers' arsenal. For most teams, the loss could be devastating. Give the Brewers' management credit. Anticipating the potential loss of Fielder, the Brewers didn't panic. They acted extremely quickly in signing free-agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez to a three-year contract with a fourth-year option. It was an outstanding transaction, as the Brewers did not have to sacrifice a player or players in trade and they came as close as possible to replacing Fielder's offensive ability. In fact, Ramirez is a lifetime .284 hitter with 315 home runs. Ramirez has averaged 30 home runs and 108 RBIs per season in his 14-year Major League career. Once it was determined that Fielder would likely leave Milwaukee, other than Albert Pujols, Ramirez was the best power hitter available to the Brewers. Ramirez, 33, signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1994 as a free agent from the Dominican Republic. In a trade that time has shown to be extremely lopsided, the Pirates traded Ramirez to the Chicago Cubs in July 2003 for pitcher Matt Bruback and infielders Jose Hernandez and Bobby Hill. Ouch! Ramirez consistently hit very well for the Cubs, but he left the lineup upon occasion to battle injuries. When healthy, however, Ramirez fought windy and blustery days at Wrigley Field with power to his right-handed pull side and an ability to drive in runs. He was a member of two All-Star teams, and last season he won a National League Silver Slugger Award. Ramirez now has the opportunity to hit in the middle of the Brewers lineup in the slot vacated by Fielder. Milwaukee's domed, hitter-friendly Miller Park should be an outstanding venue for Ramirez's short and compact swing. He is a patient hitter with a good knowledge of the strike zone and an ability to recognize pitches well. He has a strong upper and lower body from which to generate power. Ramirez will also be assisted by his knowledge of the pitchers in the National League Central, his former division with the Cubs. The transition to be faced by Fielder and Pujols to a new league will not come into play with Ramirez. The fact the Brewers took Ramirez away from their arch rival Chicago Cubs is another plus in the equation for Milwaukee. Granted, the Brewers still await the decision regarding the availability of slugging outfielder Ryan Braun, who faces a 50 game suspension for the use of a banned substance. Braun has appealed his situation. If he is not granted his appeal, Braun will join Ramirez in the lineup following the first 50 games of the season. Then Ramirez and Braun will team to provide a very powerful, very dangerous combination in the middle of the Brewers lineup. Not quite Braun/Fielder, but close. Fielder's departure also opens the door for left-handed-hitting Mat Gamel to be given an extended opportunity to play first base. Gamel, now 26, came to the Brewers in the fourth round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. He hasn't had much opportunity to play in the big leagues, but he has seen at-bats in parts of four seasons. Gamel has long been regarded as a potentially good hitter with defensive limitations at third base. Gamel has played both first and third in his professional career. Last season at Triple-A Nashville, Gamel hit .310 with 28 home runs, the best home run total of his career. His relatively low 84 strikeouts in 493 at-bats indicated an improved patience at the plate and solidified his reputation as a solid contact hitter with the ability to hit the ball from gap to gap. It may be a sign of maturity and development the Brewers have been waiting to see. Producing runs was to have been Gamel's role in baseball. He will now have the chance to do just that on a full time basis with Milwaukee. The Brewers will be playing in a division without the presence of Pujols. His departure to the American League's Angels will leave a void in the Cardinals' lineup. The World Series champs hope to recover some of their lost offense with the arrival of free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran. Along with the potent bats of Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, David Freese and others, their offense should be plenty potent. Considering the loss of Pujols and the loss of Ramirez from the Cubs to Milwaukee, the National League Central has been severely impacted. There are also ramifications for the Tigers and their opponents in the AL Central as a result of Detroit's signing Fielder. Facing Miguel Cabrera and Fielder back to back in any lineup can send shivers up a pitcher's spine. But Detroit may pay a hefty defensive price to obtain Fielder's bat. Fielder's arrival may mean shifting Cabrera to third base. Unless manager Jim Leyland wants to alternate Cabrera and Fielder between designated hitter and first base, Cabrera's playing time may come at the hot corner. It must be remembered that Cabrera arrived in trade to Detroit in December 2007 as a third baseman after having played that position for the Florida Marlins. After a brief trial at third, it was determined Cabrera was best suited to play first. Position changes certainly are not uncommon. If Cabrera is to move to third, it is far too soon to judge the potential outcome of the move. Cabrera may very well come to camp ready, willing and able to assume the role. Time and performance will dictate the team's decisions. Once everyone is in place during Spring Training, it will be important to see how well Ramirez, Gamel, Fielder and Cabrera adjust to the new roles. The Brewers could win the NL Central. The Tigers could win the AL Central. The presence of Pujols and Fielder in the American League could sway the outcome of the All-Star Game. (Fielder was last year's All-Star Game MVP.) And of course, either of the two teams impacted by the signing of Fielder could win the World Series. The Brewers and Tigers could both be in the mix for a World Series championship with their new marquee players.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.