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Updated: January 24th, 2012 9:56pm
Zulgad: Tigers' addition of Prince Fielder changes little for Twins

Zulgad: Tigers' addition of Prince Fielder changes little for Twins

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The Detroit Tigers seemingly came out of nowhere Tuesday to sign free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder to a reported nine-year contract worth $214 million.

Anyone monitoring the various social media outlets quickly picked up on the fact the Fielder move was far more of a gut punch to Minnesota baseball fans than the other big offseason surprise.

That would have been the Los Angeles Angels' decision in December to give Albert Pujols a 10-year deal that will guarantee him $240 million.

The move by Los Angeles owner Arte Moreno brought one of baseball's best sluggers from the National to the American League but it really didn't seem to hit that close to home for the Twins.

The Angels are residents of a different division, play their games on the West Coast and while they will face the Twins nine times this season, the teams will not meet after May 9.

The Tigers are a different story.

The Twins and Detroit both play in the AL Central, were frequently considered to be evenly matched until this past season and will play 18 times in 2012.

And now the Tigers, who recently lost Victor Martinez for the upcoming season because of a knee injury, will replace him by adding the left-handed hitting Fielder to a lineup that already includes righty slugger Miguel Cabrera.

Fielder hit .299 with 38 home runs and 120 RBI last season for the Milwaukee Brewers and has averaged 40 homers and 113 RBI over the past five seasons.

Cabrera, who likely will move to third base to accommodate Fielder playing first, hit a career-high and AL-best .344 with 30 homers and 105 RBI last year.

But as Twins fans assess these moves, they need to keep one thing in mind.

The addition of Fielder doesn't help the Tigers pull away in a close race. The way the Twins have approached this offseason, the gap between these two clubs already was significant.

Yes, it got bigger, but with the way the Twins are operating these days, the Tigers might as well be the Yankees, Red Sox or Angels.

The Twins might have a fancy new ballpark and increased revenues, but they appear set on bringing the payroll down and seeing other teams spending their money isn't going to change that.

Privately, the Twins likely would point to the potential pitfalls of the Tigers' decision.

Detroit certainly is open to criticism for giving the 27-year-old Fielder such a massive contract. Fielder is listed at 5-foot-11, 275 pounds and might be heavier than that. It could be argued that seven years from now he will be collecting his earnings while no longer playing baseball.

Pujols is 32 and might not play out his contract because he will be too old by the time it expires. Fielder is more likely to be driven from the game by the fact his body breaks down.

But Tigers owner Mike Illitch appears far more focused on the short-term goal of winning a World Series than the possible long-term fallout of the fact that Fielder might not finish what he starts in Detroit.

Illitch, who also owns the perennial Stanley Cup contender Detroit Red Wings, is 82 years old and wants a baseball championship.

The Tigers added Fielder to a team that won its division with 95 victories last season and beat the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs before losing to the Texas Rangers.

They already had the 2012 big-league leaders in victories, Justin Verlander (24), and saves, Jose Valverde (49), to go along with a formidable lineup.

The Twins, meanwhile, lost 99 times in 2011 and finished 32 games behind the Tigers, winding up in last place in the Central.

Three-plus months after that finish, the Twins continue to have uncertainty across the board. Healthy and productive seasons from Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau will help, but they assure nothing when it comes to contending for the division.

As it stands, the Twins will enter spring training with question marks surrounding their lineup, starting rotation and bullpen. There are no offseason additions that have been made that can be considered a sure thing or breakthrough moves.

These Twins appear as if they will have to concern themselves with simply getting out of the cellar in the AL Central.

And that would have been the case no matter where Fielder ended up.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau
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