Mike Ilitch Goes All-In On Prince Fielder, Gives Out Largest Contract In Tigers History
Tigers Owner Mike Ilitch yesterday "shocked the baseball galaxy when he gave the richest contract in club history" to free agent 1B Prince Fielder, according to John Lowe of the DETROIT FREE PRESS. A source said that the Tigers and Fielder agreed to a "nine-year contract worth around $214 million, an average of $23.8 million per year." It is "not known whether Fielder's deal contains any opt-out clauses that would allow him to become a free agent before its nine-year term is up." Fielder's signing "completely upends what Tigers officials had characterized all along as a low-key off-season without any big-name acquisitions." The Tigers last week likely lost DH Victor Martinez for the '12 season to a torn knee ligament, and the club replaced him in the lineup by "giving out the fourth-largest contract in baseball history." Lowe writes, "Never underestimate Mike Ilitch's desire to win the World Series." The deal indicates that Ilitch "decided to bust the club's budget in an all-out bid for Fielder." For the Tigers to "make money this season, they probably will now have to draw at least 3 million fans and host some postseason games." The team "drew 2.6 million last season." Ilitch, who turns 83 in July, "yearns for a World Series title for the Tigers and has a vast personal fortune of an unknown magnitude." Yesterday "more than ever, his attitude appeared to be that if the baseball club must lose money in order to win the title, he's willing to write that check" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/25). Lowe notes the Rangers and Nationals "also pursued Fielder." Tigers President & GM Dave Dombrowski recently said that he "didn't see Fielder as a fit with the Tigers." Dombrowski repeatedly has said this offseason that the team "already has two $20-million-per-year players" in 1B Miguel Cabrera and P Justin Verlander, and it is "tough to have a third." Lowe notes that "might mean this signing is something owner Mike Ilitch wanted to happen." Fielder is "represented by agent Scott Boras, who previously struck deals" with the Tigers on C Pudge Rodriguez and RF Magglio Ordonez. Fielder's deal is "only the fourth $200-million contract in baseball history" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/25). ESPN's Buster Olney said, "One of the strengths of Scott Boras as an agent is a lot of times he really develops the relationships with owners, and that has been the case with Mike Ilitch” ("Mike & Mike in the Morning," ESPN Radio, 1/25).
SCORE ONE FOR BORAS: ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick wrote as recently as Monday, Tigers officials "were telling agents they weren't going to be a player for Fielder." Crasnick: "What happened? At this point, we can only speculate, but it's easy to surmise Boras did a skillful job of circumventing the chain of command and going all the way to the top. It's no secret Boras has a productive history of cultivating ownership in deals of this magnitude" (ESPN.com, 1/24). Fielder played his first seven seasons with the Brewers, and Brewers VP & GM Doug Melvin said, "Scott said from Day 1 he wanted $200 million. When you see this kind of number, we couldn't get involved in that." He added, "It's somewhat of a sad day. Prince is one of the best young players in the game. You try to build teams around young, star players" (MIILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 1/25). In Detroit, Tom Gage notes across baseball, the signing "was met with outright admiration -- with the Tigers being described as 'coming out of nowhere'" to make the deal. The signing "ranks as another coup for agent Scott Boras, but it's not the first time a late knock on Ilitch's door has paid off" (DETROIT NEWS, 1/25). NBCSports.com's Chris Calcaterra said, "Scott Boras is a magician, and he pulled (the Tigers) out of his hat. We had heard all winter that Scott Boras was not having a great offseason for his clients. I don't know why people started doubting this guy" ("NBC Sports Talk," NBC Sports Network, 1/24).YAHOO SPORTS' Kevin Kaduk named Boras a "winner" in the Fielder deal. Kaduk wrote, "Just when we were starting to doubt him, the super agent turns what we wrongly guessed was a dwindling market for Fielder into his first 200-plus million contract since A-Rod. All with one of his infamous mystery teams, no less!" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/24).
ANYONE SEE THAT COMING? FOXSPORTS.com's Ken Rosenthal cites a rival exec as asking yesterday, "In what other industry do companies make $200 million decisions seemingly on the spur of the moment?" Another exec said of the Tigers' roster, which now includes Fielder, Martinez and Cabrera, "They're paying three guys who should DH $168 million over the next three years. So, what's the big deal?" (FOXSPORTS.com, 1/25). In L.A., Steve Dilbeck wrote Fielder's deal is "not only a stunning amount of dinero, but a stunning number of years too" (LATIMES.com, 1/24). ESPN.com's David Schoenfield wrote, "Scott Boras always gets his clients the money. Always. But I don't believe anybody saw this deal coming. ... Speechless? Indeed" (ESPN.com, 1/24). Fielder's father and former MLBer Cecil Fielder said of his son's deal, "That just shocked me. ... I didn't even see Detroit in the picture. I didn't even see that happening. I never seen Detroit making a move like this." Cecil Fielder, who played nearly seven seasons with the Tigers, added, "I know Mr. Ilitch is probably excited, because he's wanted that kid since he was a little kid. So he finally got his wish" (DETROIT NEWS, 1/25). In Chicago, Phil Rogers notes the Tigers have "joined the Angels, Rangers and Yankees as the cream of baseball's deepest league." Few "saw the Tigers coming in the Fielder sweepstakes," but Ilitch "might be as aggressive as any owner in baseball" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/25).
GO BIG OR GO HOME: In N.Y., Tyler Kepner notes Fielder's deal is the "richest Ilitch has given." Tigers LF Don Kelly said of Ilitch, "You think about everything he’s done for that city, with the Red Wings and the Tigers, and now he steps up and we get Prince. He’s a Detroit guy, through and through.” Kepner notes the deal is "mainly about Ilitch’s passion and Boras’s strategy of shopping his best clients directly to owners, persuading them to exceed their stated budgets" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/25). Tigers P Max Scherzer said Ilitch "deserves all the credit for this." Scherzer: "Given the market we're in, you wouldn't see too many owners go out and be as aggressive as he is" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/25). In Detroit, Lynn Henning notes the deal "was an incredible gesture by an owner who has succeeded George Steinbrenner as the boldest, most financially adventuresome man in the game." But Henning writes, "This contract has a chance to go bad deeper into Fielder's tenure. ... Going for broke in a win-now mission doesn't always work" (DETROIT NEWS, 1/25). Also in Detroit, Bob Wojnowski writes, "Go big, go now, or go home. That's the philosophy for Ilitch's Tigers these days, with the owner openly wondering how long he can wait for a World Series championship" (DETROIT NEWS, 1/25). ESPN's Jim Rome said, "They were about a bat away and they got a huge bat, but that is a huge swing financially” (“Jim Rome is Burning,” ESPN2, 1/24). The DETROIT FREE PRESS' Drew Sharp writes, "For eight or nine years, it's fiscal insanity" for the Tigers. Ilitch will "pay now and worry about cleaning up the mess later." It makes "absolutely no sense paying two guys [Cabrera and Fielder] who basically are the same player more than $45 million annually" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/25).
COMMITMENT TO WINNING: CBSSPORTS.com's Danny Knobler wrote Ilitch is "82 years old, and he's every bit as determined to win a World Series as Arte Moreno is in Anaheim, every bit as determined as the Steinbrenners are in New York." In this "wild winter, where the Yankees and Red Sox really do seem to be operating under some sort of budget concerns, the other AL superpowers (or superpower wanna-bes) were the ones operating under the 'make it fit' theory" (CBSSPORTS.com, 1/24). The FREE PRESS' Lowe wrote the Tigers "can afford any player owner Mike Ilitch really wants" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/25). In Detroit, Michael Rosenberg writes Ilitch is "one of the most impressive men in sports," and Dombrowski is a "spend-now, worry-later kind of guy." Rosenberg: "Boras steers Ilitch's thoughts with a remote control. Boras has now sent Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordoñez and Fielder into Ilitch's open arms. All were a surprise. Let's try to not be surprised anymore" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/25). In Ft. Worth, Gil LeBreton writes Ilitch "must be more desperate than we thought" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 1/25). In Detroit, Mitch Albom writes, "Big money. Big risk. Big upside. Big story." It is a "fantastic signing, and puts the Tigers right back in the title conversation." Albom writes, "Perhaps that is all Ilitch wants now. He is close. His team is a contender. He is 82. And we all know how passionately he wants a World Series champion in his lifetime" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/25). YAHOO SPORTS' Tim Brown wrote the "fit was as perfect as the timing." Fielder gets "a relevant franchise that helps lift a city, a contender that now boasts the best three-four pairing in the game." The Tigers get "a great ballplayer and a stronger man." Ilitch gets "another summer of hope for a World Series championship" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/24).