How will Jim Leyland work it out with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the same lineup? I’m glad you asked.
There was a day many years ago when a baseball writer kept throwing questions at Sparky Anderson about Lance Parish. It was the usual stuff about his catching skills versus his offensive skills, how he fit in, all the good stuff Sparky answered a million times. Finally, though, Sparky got agitated.
“Listen,” he said, “his position is cleanup hitter.”
“That’s his position,” he said. “None of that other stuff matters.”
That’s how I feel about Prince Fielder joining the Tigers and the challenge for Jim Leyland to find a place for both of them on his lineup card. In the hours since news of Fielder’s signing broke, that topic has become a hot one in blogs and on talk radio. For some reason, there are people who think Leyland may have a problem.
He does not. He’s elated. I haven’t even spoken to him and can tell you he’s elated. He’s wearing an ear-to-ear smile. In fact, he might be the single happiest man in hardball today.
He now has 68 home runs and two of baseball’s top five OPS guy in the middle of his lineup. Both Cabrera and Fielder batted cleanup last season, and it’s highly unlikely Leyland will have two cleanup hitters. So he can bat one third and one fourth. He can draw the names out of a hat.
Or he can bat one second and the other third. He hasn’t phoned me for advice, but that might be the way I’d go. Moving them up a spot would get each of them around 15 additional plate appearances a season, and that’s a great thing for the Tigers.
Where will they play? To quote Sparky, they’ll play in the middle of the order. To quote Jim Leyland, he just became a lot smarter manager. Players like Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera tend to raise the IQ of the manager.
He’s likely to open the season with Fielder at first and Cabrera at third. Cabrera made 23 errors in 2007, but he is familiar with the position. If he’s serious about the switch, he’ll do fine. There’ll also be some at-bats for both of them at DH, and down the line, it’s not out of the question Cabrera could play some outfield.
Let’s not sweat the small stuff. The Tigers got a lot better on Tuesday. They’ve now good two of the game’s 5-10 best offensive players in their lineup. They’ve got a very good rotation and a closer who was perfect last season. They’ve got that Leyland guy who’ll someday be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
To sum up, all’s good in Detroit.