GM confident in Prince Fielder longevity

DETROIT -- Dave Dombrowski is showing no sign of buyer's remorse.

The Tigers' general manager spoke Tuesday as part of a Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association luncheon, expressing confidence new first baseman Prince Fielder can stay productive through most if not all of his expensive nine-year contract.

Detroit signed the hefty slugger to a $214 million deal last month. Dombrowski acknowledges the risk but points out that the hefty slugger is only 27.

"The prime of your career is what, through 32, 33?" Dombrowski said. "That's seven of the nine years already, and my gut reaction is that this guy will continue to swing the bat. How his body will look in nine years or seven years, I really don't know. He is a heavy-set guy but he's also become more aware of trying to keep himself in the best shape he possibly can."

The Tigers acquired Fielder to help them try to defend their AL Central title after designated hitter Victor Martinez went down with a severe left knee injury. Fielder and Miguel Cabrera should form a potent middle of the batting order, but the move did create some complications. Detroit is set to shift Cabrera from first base to third to make room for Fielder.

"There's very few guys that are Gold Glovers and are batting champions and All-Stars from an offensive perspective. They're called Hall of Famers -- and even some Hall of Famers have had some shortcomings of one area or another," Dombrowski said. "We think Miguel will be adequate at third base from a defensive perspective. I don't mean to say he's going to be a Gold Glover. ... He's got good hands, he's got a strong arm, he wants to play there and he'll work very hard at it."

With the two power hitters both slated to play the field, the Tigers don't have anyone lined up to be an everyday DH. For now, they're not inclined to put Cabrera or Fielder there with too much regularity.

Martinez made the transition to DH last season, but not everyone is comfortable in such a specialized role.

"Usually when players are younger, they want to play. They want to be out there," Dombrowski said. "They want their juices flowing."

With spring training a couple weeks away, perhaps the biggest unanswered question for Detroit is who will be the No. 5 starter. Dombrowski mentioned a half-dozen in-house candidates to replace Brad Penny -- including Jacob Turner, Drew Smyly, Andy Oliver, Casey Crosby, Duane Below and Adam Wilk.

Dombrowski acknowledged that the 20-year-old Turner appears to have impressive potential, but none of the pitchers he listed have proven they can perform consistently well at the big league level.

"I'm not really sure if he's ready or not, and I don't know that we'll know that until we get down there and see him perform and see some of those other guys perform," Dombrowski said.

Turner allowed 12 earned runs in 12 2/3 innings with the Tigers last year, although his performance wasn't much different from what another Detroit pitching prospect went through back in 2005.

Justin Verlander allowed nine earned runs in 11 1/3 innings that year. In 2006, he won AL Rookie of the Year honors in his first full season.

"When they get a cup of coffee here and they're not quite ready at that time, it's going so fast," Dombrowski said. "All of a sudden in the wintertime, they digest that, they come back, and they pitch very well."