The Inevitable Prince Fielder Rumors
Figure we might as well get this out of the way early – yesterday, Prince Fielder played what is probably his final home game in Milwaukee. The Brewers are pretty likely to move their first baseman this winter, as he only has one year left before he becomes a free agent, and Scott Boras is looking for a huge paycheck for the slugger, having already rejected an offer reported to be worth $100 million over five years. Fielder won’t exactly be a low cost bargain next year, either, as his final arbitration payout will probably come in a little north of $15 million for 2011. Given his cost and the fact that he’s going to sign elsewhere in a year, the Brewers pretty much have to shop him this winter.
And so, inevitably, he’ll be linked to the Mariners. Jack Zduriencik drafted Fielder when he was the Brewers scouting director, so there’s history between the two. The Mariners will obviously be in the market for some offense this winter, and Fielder will be one of the best hitters available. They have an opening at DH, and he could even provide some insurance at first base in case Justin Smoak gets injured or fails to pan out. His left-handed power would play well in Safeco, and he’d give the team a legitimate “big bat” that the traditional fan base has been craving for several years. There are enough reasons to think it makes sense to get the rumor mill churning, and churn it will this winter.
However, there are quite a few reasons it doesn’t make sense, either, and we need to keep those in mind when we read the speculation that will come over the next month or two.
The obvious problem is cost. At $15+ million for 2011, the Mariners might not even have room in the budget to bring him in. If they expanded the budget a bit (not a given by any stretch of the imagination), traded David Aardsma, and filled out the roster with league minimum guys, they might be able to make it work, but even then, it would be tight. He’d have to be the only significant salary addition the club made all winter, and they might have to shed some money beyond just Aardsma to make it work. Given that guys like Jack Wilson and Chone Figgins won’t be easy to move, that’s a pretty big challenge.
Beyond just next year, however, there’s the issue with Fielder’s asking price and his actual value. Yes, he’s a good hitter, but he’s not a legitimate superstar that is worthy of the contract that he’s asking for. He’s basically Matt Holliday without any defensive value or baserunning skills, more of a +4 win player than one of the game’s elite performers. The rejection of a 5/100 offer when he was 2 years away from free agency shows that they’re not interested in giving out any kinds of discounts. Boras has his eye on Ryan Howard’s ridiculous 5 year, $125 million contract, and will likely aim to come out above that, given that Fielder is the same kind of player, only younger.
He’s just not worth that kind of money. There’s no way the Mariners should be interested in paying $20+ million a year for Fielder in 2012 and beyond, especially as he’s likely to end up as a DH sooner than later, and guys with his body type have traditionally aged poorly. If Boras is really set on getting that kind of money for his client, teams in the market to trade for him this winter will almost certainly have to see him as a one year rental. And the Mariners just shouldn’t be making that kind of short term move.
Fielder would make the team better, but by himself, he’s not nearly enough. While the organization could use a bat like Prince Fielder in the line-up, they can’t afford to put all their eggs in his overweight basket, especially considering how much money he’ll want after next year. There will be other, more cost effective ways for the Mariners to bring in a DH this winter. Don’t just assume that it’s a fit just because Jack Z drafted him.