KANSAS CITY -- First, it was Alberto Pujols muscling his way onto the Royals' American League schedule. Now, it's Prince Fielder. When Pujols signed with the Los Angeles Angels, it meant that the Royals would face the former St. Louis slugger in nine games during the 2012 season. Yes, the Royals were lucky enough to have three series, instead of the usual two, against the AL West Angels. However, when Fielder's reported nine-year, $214 million deal with the Detroit Tigers is official, the Royals' pitchers can look forward to dealing with him twice as often as Pujols this year. The Tigers, also in the AL Central, have 18 games against Kansas City.
Does the addition of Fielder secure the Tigers' spot as division favorite? "Who won the division last year?" Royals manager Ned Yost said, well aware that Detroit won by 15 games. "So that alone puts them in the position of guys that can certainly contend for it. But we're not going to concede the division to them yet." Pitcher Bruce Chen, the Royals' top winner last season, put a positive spin on the development. "It's good for us. We want to face the best and be able to say we beat the best. Nothing is going to be given to us," Chen said. "The Tigers are a very good team and they were the favorite and, with Prince Fielder, they automatically cemented their position as favorites. But we want to go out there and beat the best."
New Prince of Detroit
How much of an impact can Fielder have on the Tigers' lineup?"It's hard to tell, but he's a dynamic offensive player, he always has been," Yost said. "He's a kid that plays every day, he's extremely intelligent. He plays like Alex Gordon does -- plays every pitch with intensity and he's a phenomenal player. So he's going to improve their club quite a bit." He noted that the addition of Fielder would provide Miguel Cabrera and others in the middle of the Tigers' lineup protection that they lost when designated hitter Victor Martinez was knocked out by a knee injury. Yost, while manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, handled Fielder in his formative years. "Great kid, plays hard and just wants to win. That's it," Yost said. "He plays with a tremendous amount of passion and a lot of intensity and just wants to win." Yost has kept track of Fielder and believes he's become a better fielder at first base. "He's gotten much better. He's a big guy, but for a big guy he's extremely athletic," Yost said. "There's so much that goes on behind the scenes with that kid and what he does to play every single day. There were times late in the season when he'd get on the treadmill after a game and I'd have to go into the weight room and tell him to get off the treadmill. He works very hard to be the best player he can be." At the plate, there's no question about Fielder's ability. "He's a premier offensive performer and I say 'performer' because he gets the job done," Yost said. "He's one of the top 10 best hitters in the game and you can probably narrow that down to the top five." Chen, a left-hander, has never faced the left-handed-hitting Fielder. "It's a good thing he's left-handed but he's one of the best hitters in the big leagues right now so I'm not going to take anything for granted," Chen said. "He's going to be a big help to the Tigers, especially now that they've lost Victor Martinez." Royals general manager Dayton Moore took the news of a new force in the AL Central quietly. "He's a good player," Moore said, "[but] Martinez was pretty good, too. There's nothing really that I can say, we've just got to focus on what we do. I can't control what any other club does." There had been a lot of speculation about Fielder signing with Washington, or perhaps Texas or Baltimore, but there was little mention of Detroit. "There was no talk of that," Yost said. "It was kind of like when Pujols signed with the Angels. It kind of caught everybody by surprise, and this is definitely a surprise. It's sure one that will excite the Detroit fans."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.