The Detroit Tigers were already the class of the AL Central Division. Now they're likely going to stay in that position for the next few years with the announcement that the Tigers have signed the best free agent bat left on the market by a country mile with Prince Fielder's nine-year contract.
Last year, the Tigers won the division with 95 wins -- a startling 15 wins more than the next closest with the Cleveland Indians. In fact, the Tigers were the only team out of five with a winning record. If you go by Pythagorean record, the next closest should have been the Kansas City Royals and that record stands at only 78 wins. In short, everyone was really worse than what it looked like they were.
Now that they've signed Prince Fielder, the loss of Victor Martinez will definitely not be felt in his wake. In fact, the Tigers line-up has more juice than ever before. If they can somehow add Martinez near season's end (or next year), the Tigers will only be that much more formidable.
The reality is that the rest of the division is biding their time. The White Sox both traded performing assets and then acquired some and it's hard to tell just what Kenny Williams is doing in Chicago. The Minnesota Twins bottomed out last season and have a lot of work to do to return to the days when the small market team ran the division. The Cleveland Indians are promising and have a nice ground ball rotation of pitchers who could come through. But the lack of experience and few holes in the line-up will make it hard to win consistently.
As for the Royals there's some hope there, but those signs of life won't come for a while. The line-up was much better and will continue to move forward in 2012 with names like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas manning the middle. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler will continue to set the tone overall, but the pitching staff isn't there to even begin to compete with the Tigers this season. Arms need to develop and many of them haven't even made their big-league debut yet.
Fielder has 200 home runs over the last five seasons and will continue to be good for 30 to 35 every season, if not a few more than that. He's a premiere power hitter who will be a force for years to come. With the word that MLB is expanding their wild card playoff spots by one, there's no need for any team to feel they're out of it. But an AL Central division crown will not be leaving Detroit for at least a couple more seasons.