Hours before the finale of a three-game series against the Red Sox Wednesday night at Fenway Park, Miguel Cabrera had a bold prediction for his Tigers teammates.
“I’m going to win it again this year,” he said.
No, the slugging third baseman wasn’t referring to repeating as the Triple Crown champion, although he’s not far off with his league-leading .355 average and 130 RBIs entering the game.
As the reigning champion of the Tigers’ fantasy football league, he has another crown to try to defend this season.
“He won it last year, which is odd,” joked outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo, who joined the 10-team league this season. “But that’s about right. Maybe he needs to sponsor my team.”
Cabrera washes his hands of the dirty work, leaving all of his roster moves in the hands of video coordinator Jeremy “Grumpy” Kelch.
“It’s great because I can talk [smack] with my teammates,” said Cabrera, whose favorite NFL team is the Patriots.
Interest in fantasy football has spread like wildfire over the years; according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, more than 33 million people played fantasy sports in the United States in 2013, with the majority playing fantasy football.
For the Tigers, it’s no different.
After Monday’s 3-0 victory against the Red Sox, the Detroit players walked over to the Baseball Tavern, led by a security escort, and promptly held their fantasy football draft.
“It’s fun, especially in the offseason because we have nothing to do,” Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander said. “A lot of us enjoy the game of football, and fantasy football is what got me into liking the NFL. It gets that competitive nature going in the offseason. It makes the NFL weekends that much more enjoyable.”
Max Scherzer has emerged as the ace of the Tigers staff this season, with a dazzling 19-2 record and a 2.88 ERA. He is also the commissioner of the fantasy football league, which he started when he joined the team in 2010.
Prior to Cabrera’s victory, Scherzer won back-to-back titles the first two seasons, prompting his teammates to accuse him of arranging a conspiracy.
“I heard this league, the last couple years, has been pretty sketchy,” Tuiasosopo said. “A lot of sketchy moves. We’re not even through Week 1 and the league is already in uproar with commish Scherzer.”
The uproar, according to Tuiasosopo, unfolded after Scherzer swapped his second overall pick in the first round with catcher Brayan Pena, who had the seventh overall pick.
“Any trades have to go through a trade analyzer, we paid money for a trade analyzer,” Tuiasosopo said. “We didn’t do this trade analyzer for his swap from two to seven, and [Scherzer] goes, ‘I said it was OK to swap picks.’ ”
With the newly acquired second pick, Pena selected Detroit Lions receiver and fantasy stalwart Calvin Johnson, who is one of Scherzer’s favorite players.
“They already had a premeditated deal,” Tuiasosopo continued. “[Pena] would take Calvin, because that’s who Scherzer was going to pick. And Scherzer will just give him some running backs [to get Johnson].”
Pena, who also joined the league this season, defended the swap.
“Max and I, we have a pretty good relationship,” Pena said. “The collusion war is coming out from everybody in the draft. It’s hard to come to work and focus with all these guys all over you.
“I just listened to some offers. They say we have a collusion, that I give him all the players.”
But when pressed about the trade, Scherzer scoffed at the conspiracy allegations.
“They like to think that, but it’s all right in front of them,” Scherzer said. “They just want to pick a fight. They’re just being stupid.”
Some of Scherzer’s favorite players this year include Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, Giants running back David Wilson, and Dolphins running back Lamar Miller.
Scherzer’s team is called “Love the blue eye.” The Detroit pitcher has heterochromia iridum, a rare condition that causes one iris to be a different color than the other. His right eye is blue, his left is brown.
“Hey, you got to love one of them, right?” Scherzer said.
But aside from all the alleged insider trading and trash talking, the league provides the Tigers with an amusing way to keep track of the NFL.
“It’s fun, you get to compete with the other guys and talk trash to each other and that makes it more fun, just having that competitive environment,” said catcher Bryan Holaday.
Each year, the champion earns bragging rights in the clubhouse, and Holaday is keeping his nose out of the sideshow distractions. His focus, instead, is taking the title from Cabrera, and of course, to stay in the commissioner’s good graces.
“It’s ruffled a few feathers,” Holaday said of Scherzer’s trade with Pena. “There’s a lot of stuff going around, but I’m in no place to point fingers.”