Prince Fielder's departure from Milwaukee began in October, when an opposing first baseman stepped back to allow the Brewers' slugger to receive a proper, if unofficial, sendoff.Perhaps it was a foregone conclusion before Albert Pujols' gesture at Miller Park toward the end of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, but that's when Fielder's imminent departure became real for many. Finally, it became official this week when word hit that Fielder and his powerful swing was headed for Detroit, where as Cecil's kid he famously hit homers at Tiger Stadium before he hit his teens. With Tuesday's stunning news that he'd agreed to a nine-year, $214 million deal with the Tigers, Fielder's road from Milwaukee reached its final destination. An offseason saga unto itself, Fielder's free-agent journey was a trip that didn't visit potential big spenders like the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies, because they already had high-priced first basemen. It's one that ended in a place no one had considered as a possibility until the journey's last days, and for good reason. Here's a look back at the offseason road that led up to Fielder's arrival in Detroit, based on MLB.com reporting: Fond farewell: As the Cardinals were wrapping up their NLCS clincher on Oct. 16, Pujols stepped off first base and called timeout with Fielder at the plate. That gave Brewers fans a few more moments to share their appreciation for Fielder, who showed his after the game.
New Prince of Detroit
"Every year has been a learning experience," Fielder said on what turned out to be his last day in a Brewers uniform. "I don't know, it's been cool, man, and hopefully, I'm here for more years to come. But if not, it's been cool."On the market: Fielder became a free agent on Oct. 31 and was available to all bidders as of Nov. 3. Like Pujols and Jose Reyes, he was making his debut on the open market after being with one organization his entire professional career. "We are planning on participating in the sweepstakes," Brewers owner Mark Attanasio said as the offseason began. First contact: The Brewers met with Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, on Nov. 17, when the market had yet to really materialize for Fielder. Brewers GM Doug Melvin didn't expect to exchange numbers, and they didn't. Other teams rumored as interested in Fielder at that time were the Marlins, Orioles, Nationals, Rangers and Cubs. Northwest calling: As possible candidates emerged, one that intrigued many was the Mariners, who certainly could use a boost and whose GM, Jack Zduriencik, drafted Fielder (No. 7 overall, 2002) when he was scouting director of the Brewers. As of Nov. 28, the Mariners weren't saying no, but like many were saying "whoa" to the potential price tag of eight to 10 years for more than $200 million. "There are so many factors there, and no one knows where that number will end up. As much as you might have desire to go down a path, the length and dollars tie into that," Zduriencik said. Lobby fodder: When it came time for the Dec. 5-8 Winter Meetings in Dallas, Fielder was not the first name on everyone's lips. Still, Boras said he wasn't alarmed at the seemingly slower pace of Fielder negotiations. "This is a negotiation that is really one of its own because he's 27 years old," Boras said the evening of Dec. 7. "He has a different place in the market, and the demands on his services are broader because you have teams that are not as playoff-ready that are interested, [and] you have clubs that are veteran that are interested. You have a whole variety of teams that are involved." Those teams remained a bit of a mystery, however. The Marlins and Rangers said at the time they weren't in, the Orioles essentially told folks not to get their hopes up and the Cubs were either favorites or completely uninterested, depending on which reports you believed. The Blue Jays were part of the buzz, even if they tried to quell it. The Tigers? Never came up. Why would they? The Tigers had an All-Star first baseman in Miguel Cabrera and a powerful DH in Victor Martinez. Return ruled out: By the end of the Winter Meetings, the one thing that was all but certain was that the Brewers would not be one of the teams involved in pursuing Fielder down the stretch. "I think we're at a point now where we have to consider moving on," Melvin said that same day before Boras held court with the media. Pujols goes big: As everyone was headed out of Dallas, the biggest bombshell broke when Pujols agreed to his 10-year, $240 million deal with the Angels and was introduced to Southern California on Dec. 10. It was a contract many saw as good news for Fielder, a player four years younger trying to get in the same financial ballpark. Wrigleyville wonders: Despite indications that the new Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer brain trust was inclined to build the Cubs in a more steady and thoughtful way than a blockbuster deal, the Brewers' NL Central rival remained the buzz pick for Fielder. But new manager Dale Sveum -- Fielder's hitting coach in Milwaukee -- said as of Dec. 16 he and the Cubs hadn't sat down with Fielder. "We haven't had any talks with Prince, and I haven't had any conversations with him," Sveum said. "It's more the media and other people bringing this to the table than what we're doing." Texas gets Yu: The Rangers bid a record $51.7 million for the rights to Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish, and that bid was accepted by the Nippon-Ham Fighters, Major League Baseball announced on Dec. 19. For many, that seemed to take the Rangers out of the Fielder bidding, at least until they knew whether they can sign the Japanese pitching sensation by the Jan. 19 deadline to do so. Nationals emerge: As the holidays concluded, the Nationals suddenly became the hot team in the hunt. On Jan. 3, MLB.com reported that Nationals ownership had in fact met recently with Boras in the Washington area. Still, GM Mike Rizzo had stated and reiterated the Nationals were expecting Adam LaRoche to be their first baseman in 2012. Countdown begins: With January into its second week, Boras was at the Owners Meetings in Paradise Valley, Ariz., still without a deal for Fielder. For many, it seemed to be getting late. The last nine-digit contract to go this late was Carlos Beltran's deal with the Mets, signed Jan. 11, 2005. (Eh, yeah, Boras was his agent then.) Boras remained cool. "Certainly we're going to have him signed well in advance of Spring Training," Boras told MLB.com on Jan. 9. Howdy, Rangers: Multiple reports said Boras and Fielder had met with Rangers officials at a Dallas area hotel on Jan. 13, a sign either that negotiations with Darvish weren't going well or that the Rangers were ready to take on both huge deals. Nationals bide time: MLB.com reports on Jan. 14 that the Nationals remain interested in Fielder and that while they won't go to 10 years like the Angels did with Pujols, they would include no-trade provisions. That keeps them as a steady suitor. Pain in Detroit: The Tigers announced on Jan. 17 that Martinez, half of the Tigers' power tandem with Cabrera, had suffered a torn ligament in his left knee and likely would be out for the 2012 season. "I would not use the word devastating," Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said. "I would say you're hit in the gut, you pick yourself up and you go." Yu in, Rangers out: On Jan. 18, the Rangers sign Darvish to a six-year, $60 million deal, and GM Jon Daniels says where that left his club and Fielder: "After going through this process, I'm intimately familiar with our budget. It's very unlikely." Of course, the rumors about the Rangers would not stop there. Here's an idea: The first publicized mention of Fielder being a possibility for the Tigers came in a Dombrowski interview with MLive.com's Angela Wittrock on Jan. 19. Said Dombrowski: "Of course we'd consider it, but realistically it's probably not a good fit. ... We anticipate Victor Martinez coming back in 2013 and playing at the level he was at last season." Prince joins Tigers: By the afternoon of Jan. 24, the stunning agreement started to hit the information superhighway, and the megadeal was out there. Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports and Jon Heyman of MLB Network and CBSSports.com first reported the talks and ensuing agreement. A source confirmed the terms to MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez. This was the ending almost no one saw coming, even down to the last several days. While speculation grew that Fielder might have to take a shorter-term deal, the Tigers went the whole nine yards, and years. And so it was that a journey that began with a tip of the cap ended with a news story that knocked everybody's socks off.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.