There were two major questions that people were asking after news of Prince Fielder signing with the Tigers came out. We could make assumptions -- safe ones it turns out -- but we didn't have answers before today. The first: Does this deal get done without Victor Martinez being injured? Answer: No. The second: Was this deal hatched by Mike Ilitch? The answer appears to be that he didn't hatch it but he a played a big part in it.
During the press conference today, owner Mike Ilitch, CEO/President/GM Dave Dombrowski and agent Scott Boras all shed angles on the story. Piecing those angles together, this is the rough timeline we get. It may not be quite perfect as not everyone recited their activities in perfect running diary form. But this seems reasonably close.
January 11 -- Prince Fielder is renewing his wedding vows with his wife Chanel. Agent Scott Boras said that because of this, he and Prince were not ready to begin any discussions about contracts around this time.
January 12-13 -- Somewhere around here, Victor Martinez injured his left knee while doing lateral movement drills. His right knee slipped, and his left knee absorbed too much weight, tearing the ACL.
January 16 -- Dombrowski receives word that Martinez has had an MRI in Florida and will likely need surgery and miss the season. Fans and team alike are hit by a punch to the gut.
January 17 -- Dombrowski breaks the bad news to others in the organization. The Tigers announce the Martinez news to the public, and Dombrowski holds a press conference to talk about it. Dombrowski is already thinking about possible replacements. Around here, the front office team and Ilitch begin discussing solutions. Ilitch: "I got a little dizzy because this person would move here and this person would move there. We got (Ryan) Raburn here, to fill in for this one, for that one. I got thinking, they're all going to have pressure on them to be able to mach that .320 (actually .330) batting average and 100 RBIs (of Martinez), and we're going to feel pressure filling that slot. I don't want to run into that, I was telling Dave. I'd feel a lot better if we could just totally solve it." Tigers negotiator and baseball legal counsel John Westhoff, while negotiating with Boras to avoid arbitration with Max Scherzer, asks if Fielder would be interested in a one year deal. "I said, yeah, he would, for nine years. We both laughed." Tigers announce they signed Scherzer.
January 18 -- Dombrowski heads over to Grand Rapids for the West Michigan White Caps Hall of Fame induction and dinner, and puts together a list of names. When the Tigers talk to Boras about Fielder, he realizes Westhoff wasn't just making a joke. (In trying to make sense of the various quotes, it appears the initial offer was made this day.)
January 19 -- When asked by local media about Prince Fielder, Dombrowski says they'd consider it, "but realistically it's probably not a good fit." He keeps working on his list of names. However, when he is speaking with Ilitch about the possibilities, he tells the owner that the only real difference maker on the market is Prince Fielder. Remembering Prince from both his childhood at Tiger Stadium, and missing out on him by one spot on draft day in 2002, Ilitch tells Dombrowski, "Why don't we try to get him?" Numerous phone calls bounce back and forth between owner and GM about details. They decide they have to talk to Miguel Cabrera, too.
The timeline is unclear about the exact timing of conversations, but Boras and Ilitch had this to say about what went on.
Boras: "Dave (Dombrowski) and John (Westhoff) always initially contact me and let me know they have an interest in the player.
"The Ilitch family and Mike's involvement, way back when we have a history. He let me know in 2003 what he wanted to do for his community, what he wanted to do for his family and what he wanted to do for his team.
"A few years later (in 2006) we have a team (that goes) from 119 losses to the World Series.That type of success travels in the player community. When people talk about the Detroit Tigers, they talk about a family business. In driving all that forward the aspect of it is, you can tell players when they're young that (they) can look at the Detroit Tigers as a destination for you when (they)'re a free agent."
Ilitch: "(Boras) knows this team better than I do. He knows every player, what their averages are, where they're from, what they did during their career, who leads the team, what areas are necessary: He just knows everything about the Deroit Tigers. I was flabbergasted. Utility players,everything.
"He went through a big discussion and pointed out to me some of the things he thought were necessary to win a World Series. He explained to me why and so on and so forth.
"There's great salesmanship involved in that, but the guy is an encyclopedia when it comes to knowing the teams and knowing the people that are associated with the organization. I put the sales aside and listen to the commonsense he has and the knowledge he has about the game."
Over the weekend, the Tigers, apparently through manager Jim Leyland, spoke with Miguel Cabrera about moving from his position at first base. Reportedly Cabrera was thrilled at the prospect of adding Prince Fielder to the team.
January 24-- The deal is essentially in place. Nine years and $214 million are the terms. Some stuff has to be figured out still. At approximately 3 p.m., Yahoo! Sports' Tim Brown posts news of the agreement on Twitter. Jon Heyman follows up with the figures. Not a lot of people knew about it yet, and Leyland says he was not authorized to speak about it so most Tigers players didn't know either. That includes Brandon Inge, who hoped to be the starting third baseman. Leyland: "I'm sorry (Inge) had to hear it other than from the horse's mouth. I have talked to Brandon. He's not the happiest camper. He certainly understands." The Tigers fanbase goes nuts with excitement.
January 25 -- Dombrowski checks in on how ticket sales are going in Lakeland, home of the Tigers' spring training facilities. Dombrowski learns they are at five times the normal figures. Team ticket sales offices in Detroit also stay open late, as season tickets are in sudden demand.
January 26 -- The Tigers announce the deal and hold a press conference. Prince Fielder debuts his new jersey, which has a 28 on the back -- the same number he wore in Milwaukee. Ilitch, in his excitement, shouts "A TIGER!!!" Ilitch gives a bouquet of flowers to Prince's wife, and later on makes sure to introduce his own wife. Ilitch talks about the money being a large sum, but says his gut feeling as a businessman is that it will work out. Ilitch is bubbling with joy the whole time.
What we can take away from this: This may not have been a deal that started with Ilitch, but when it became a possibility his mind started racing. The possibility of getting Prince Fielder in Detroit excited him as a fan, and I think he anticipated the incredible reception Fielder has received from the fans as well. With ticket sales already increasing and the team's sudden improvement, Ilitch is pretty happy with how it turned out, I think. Everyone associated with the Tigers seemed to be. Not that you expect anything else when a team calls a press conference to introduce a player. But there just seems to be an extra spring in everyone's step thanks to this deal.
Also, the long relationship between the Tigers and Boras paid off for both sides. Some might say it paid off more for Boras, who was able to get his client the nine year deal he wanted and one of the largest contracts in MLB history. But Ilitch was also able to get the player he wanted at a price he felt comfortable paying. All parties seem happy with the transaction.
Now we need to get to the baseball.
As a reminder, there are plenty of angles left in this story that we at BYB will continue to tackle over the coming days. Right now, Tigerdog1 is working on the implications of Cabrera moving to third. So newcomers, we thank you for visiting. The rest of you, we thank you too, and hope you'll all keep coming back!