Prince Fielder, Free Agent Magnet?

Dave · December 13, 2011 at 9:31 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Earlier today, the always-worth-reading Larry Stone weighed in on the subject of Seattle as an attractive destination for free agents. This comes up almost every winter, as some player the team may be interested in signs elsewhere and the reasons given are generally related to geography, weather, and the team’s overall travel schedule. The M’s are in the corner of the country, so getting non-locals to go to an inconvenient place to fly from is seen as a challenge, and when you combine those logistical issues with a bad team, it makes sense that the Mariners would have a hard time luring free agents to sign on the dotted line.

And, as with every discussion about anything this winter, the topic turned to Prince Fielder. An argument often levied in favor of signing him is that he’ll give the team credibility with other players, and the fact that they’d have Fielder under contract would make this a more desirable destination, allowing the team to sign more and better free agents.

It’s a story that makes sense, but one of the things we like to do around here is look at the evidence of things that seem to make sense and see if they actually play out that way in reality. So, to that end, here are the free agents that have signed with the Brewers since 2006, Fielder’s first full year in the Majors.

2006 – Jeff Suppan, 4 years/$42 million
2007 – Eric Gagne, 1 year/$10 million
2008 – Trevor Hoffman, 1 year/$6 million
2009 – Randy Wolf, 3 years/$30 million
2010 – None

Honestly, I had to stretch the word significant a bit to include Gagne and Hoffman in there, as the team basically paid a premium for the proven closer label and offered each guy the ninth inning role, which almost certainly had more to do with attracting them to Milwaukee than the idea of being able to play with Prince Fielder. We can probably throw Suppan out of the sample as well, since he signed with the team when Fielder had a whopping 62 plate appearances in the big leagues. Also, I don’t know that “attracts the likes of Jeff Suppan” is something you want to argue as a positive anyway.

Essentially, the only free agent signing of any noteworthiness during Fielder’s career in Milwaukee is Randy Wolf, and they didn’t get any kind of bargain on him either. And remember, the Brewers have been mostly decent and occasionally good during Fielder’s time there, so they didn’t have to overcome the come-play-on-a-bad-team-with-me thing. One somewhat overpaid back end starter in five years… that’s not much in the way of evidence that signing Fielder will attract other free agents to join him in Seattle.

But, hey, maybe there’s something about Milwaukee that makes Fielder’s previous situation a bad example? So, let’s look at the other teams in the Mariners situation who have made big investments to try and gain some respectability.

2010 – Nationals sign Jayson Werth for 7 years/$126 million.

Last year, Washington tried this same tactic in buying respect by outbidding everyone for Jayson Werth. The only other notable free agent they landed last winter was Adam LaRoche, who they had to overpay to sign and is now a player they couldn’t give away. This winter, they’ve signed no one of note, and lost out on Mark Buehrle despite a public and aggressive pursuit.

2009 – Cardinals sign Matt Holliday for 7 years/$120 million.

This move was widely seen as an attempt to convince Albert Pujols of their willingness to do what it takes to put a winning team on the field, and was a big investment for a team that knew they were also going to have to pony up big bucks to keep Pujols around. We know how this story ended. They did manage to land Lance Berkman and Jake Westbrook in free agency last year, but Berkman essentially took the highest offer he got from an NL team since he didn’t want to DH, and like Suppan with Fielder, adding Westbrook is not really a feather in Holliday’s cap.

2008 – Dodgers sign Manny Ramirez to a 2 year/$45 million contract.

The Dodgers went on a big spending spree that winter, with Ramirez as the center of the plan. They also added Rafael Furcal (3/$30), Casey Blake (3/$18), Randy Wolf (1/$5), and Orlando Hudson (1/$4). In year two of the deal, their big addition was Vicente Padilla ($1/5). There’s not much evidence that any of these guys took less than market value to join Manny, or that these are the kinds of contracts you want to be able to sign.

2006 – Giants sign Barry Zito to a 7 year/$126 million contract.

With Barry Bonds at the end of the line, the Giants shelled out big bucks to land the supposed premier pitcher of the winter. They also landed Dave Roberts ($3/19), Bengie Molina (3/$16), Ray Durham (2/$14), and Rich Aurilia (2/$8). The next winter, they were able to land Aaron Rowand (5/$60). The only one of those deals that wasn’t a total bust was Molina, and he wasn’t exactly fantastic.

2006 – Houston Astros sign Carlos Lee to a 6 year/$100 million contract.

This was the big expenditure by the Astros, who were trying to energize their fan base and get back to the World Series, where they’d been just a year prior. Their other free agent that winter was Woody Williams (2/$12), who was a bust just like Lee. The next year, they were able to land Kaz Matsui (3/$16), and then 2008 saw Doug Brocail (1/$3) as the most significant free agent addition. No real significant free agents joined Lee in Houston, and they were pretty smart to avoid the situation, because the team’s massive overpay on an overrated hitter prevented them from actually putting a good team on the field.

I’m not trying to stack the deck against Fielder here, but I simply can’t find any recent evidence of a team signing a big free agent and then reaping the rewards of having other quality players join the team as a result. If there’s an example I’m missing where a player clearly took less than the best overall offer in order to become teammates with a certain player, I’d love to hear it. We do see players choose where to play based on family preferences, league preferences, odds of being on a contender, potential for playing time, geography-related decisions, and of course the most common “they offered me more money than anyone else” factor, but I don’t see much in the way of evidence that having a name value player actually attracts other free agents.

It’s a nice theory, and I get why people buy into it, but right now I don’t think we can say that it’s one that is supported by the facts. After all, the Mariners problem hasn’t really been that they haven’t been able to get free agents to come here – Adrian Beltre, Richie Sexson, Miguel Batista, Carlos Silva, Jarrod Washburn, and Chone Figgins all took the team’s money – but that those free agent signings have generally worked out horribly for the franchise.

Signing Prince Fielder won’t move the team out of the corner of the country, won’t make it rain less, and won’t reduce the amount of time the team spends on airplanes. The only way Fielder will help attract future free agents is if he helps the team win, as we know that contenders attract free agents that losing teams do not. If you believe that Prince Fielder will make this team a winner, then yes, he might help bring other players here. But there’s just no reason to believe that anyone the organization will want to sign is going to join a 75 win team simply because Prince Fielder is on it.

If you want to sign Fielder, do it for baseball reasons. Don’t do it for PR and marketing reasons, because there’s just no evidence that those kinds of ancillary benefits actually follow the player.


67 Responses to “Prince Fielder, Free Agent Magnet?”

  1. Pilate on December 15th, 2011 9:23 am

    Just tossing this out for consideration – Beltre came up with the Dodgers, and had a breakout season his last year with them, both offensively and defensively, but LA didn’t go after him in free agency even though it would seem they would have had the inside track in many ways. Sexson had very good years in Milwuakee, even making the All Star team twice while there, however the Brewers made almost no attempt to keep him, and Arizona seemed almost happy to show him the door. Figgins grew up in the Angels organization and played great while he was with them, yet two years ago they made no attempt to resign him that I’m aware of. Since the Brewers are basically saying to Prince, “If those are your contract criteria, see ya,” maybe Jack Z should be more than a little cautious about pursuing him. Those of you here that follow more than just the M’s might have further examples (or counter-examples) of this basic idea, but I’m thinking that when a player is supposedly in his prime or on the rise, and the last organization he was with makes, at most, a token attempt to keep him, maybe that should be a red flag. The fact that Milwaukee is willing to part ways with Fielder without so much as a how-dee-doo makes me more nervous than any other factors I’ve heard mentioned so far. What do they know that we don’t?

  2. make_dave_proud on December 15th, 2011 10:16 am

    > when a player is supposedly in his prime or on the rise, and the last organization he was with makes, at most, a token attempt to keep him, maybe that should be a red flag.

    Like when the Mariners basically let their shortstop, arguably the best player in baseball at the time, walk away? I’d say it has more to do with signability than anything else. The Brewers don’t want Fielder to leave, they just can take on the massive contract he’s going to sign. Letting him walk doesn’t make the Brewers a better team.

    Figgins is a different situation. While an effective player, the Angels also had a host of players coming up that could replace him. He was expendable.

    Sexson left the Brewers for more money (they didn’t want to sign him long-term), and the D-Backs let him go because he was injured a good chunk of the time he was there.

    Beltre? I think that was simply a mistake by the Dodgers.

    Original teams always have a good idea of a player’s value to their team, but that doesn’t necessarily affect a player’s value on other teams. Case in point: Ichiro and Jeter come to mind.

  3. bookbook on December 15th, 2011 1:57 pm

    Honestly, Fielder probably just had his career year. That doesn’t mean he’ll age badly, but this felt like a career year (and more players peak at age 27 than any other age, followed by 26, and then 28).

    As I’ve noted elsewhere, it’s easy enough to eat an unhealthy, white bread diet as a vegetarian (and genetics matter quite a bit-he’s evidently in better condition than his father was)

  4. mitchb on December 15th, 2011 3:25 pm

    I have a hard time with 2011 being quoted as being Fielder’s career year considering he put up OPS’s of 1.013 and 1.014 in 2007 and 2009 respectively compared to .981 in 2011.

    In terms of OBP it was his best year, but I wouldn’t say it’s his ‘career year’ or that he still couldn’t improve upon 2011.

  5. MrZDevotee on December 15th, 2011 3:58 pm

    So, if Yu Darvish ends up a Texas Ranger*, it will have NO INFLUENCE on Prince Fielder becoming a Ranger, right? (fingers crossed)

    *It’s being reported that the Rangers bid was in the $40 million range… (damn)

  6. JoshJones on December 15th, 2011 4:28 pm

    Munenori Kawasaki is rumored to be signing with Seattle at some point this offseason. The 30 year old japanese shortstop has a career .304/.355/.392/.747 average over 4 professional seasons. He’s shown steady improvement every year until 2011. He finished the 2010 season with 190hits, 30stl bases, and a .316 avg. With no real downside to a minor league deal. Maybe, just maybe, we have a leadoff hitter to replace Ichiro over the next few seasons IF we decide to go in that direction.

  7. Valenica on December 15th, 2011 5:46 pm

    LA didn’t go after him in free agency even though it would seem they would have had the inside track in many ways.

    Actually LAD offered him $60M, but we offered $64M so he signed here instead.

    And IIRC the Angels offered Figgins 3 years but I don’t want to check that.

  8. bookbook on December 15th, 2011 7:41 pm

    Good point about the career year. His OPS+ has actually been very similar the last three odd numbered years (157 in 2007, 166 in 2009, and 164 in 2011), because of course offense was down a bit league-wide in 2011. A more sophisticated metric than OPS+ would show 2011 as Fielder’s best year relative to league I believe, but certainly not by any meaningful margin. Of course, by the immutable law of sine waves, he’s due for a regression to the 130 OPS+ level in 2012…

  9. jamieandjoe1997 on December 16th, 2011 7:35 am

    Rumors are that he is wanting a 10 year deal? I am all for the Mariners signing him, but I wouldn’t go past 7 years @ about $22 million/year average. More than that and I think its a bad signing. I am really hoping we got the bid on Darvish as I would much prefer having him on the team!

  10. Chris_From_Bothell on December 16th, 2011 9:12 am

    At this rate, the only additions to the M’s this offseason will be a backup catcher, an Ichiro stalker, and Luke Scott.

    C’mon, Trader Jack, make something happen!!!

  11. MrZDevotee on December 16th, 2011 9:50 am

    This just in: Michael Cuddyer- 3 years/$31 million to the Rockies…

    The RH slugger, late in his career, decides… “Hmmm… end my career bashing blasts in Denver’s thin air… Or driving myself nuts, as the ball falls short of the left field Scoreboard again at Safeco Field… Hmmm, what to do?”

  12. stevemotivateir on December 16th, 2011 11:16 am

    ^Can’t help but wonder what kind of numbers Jack has had on some of these FA’s that have signed elsewhere. I liked Cuddyer, but topping 31.5 over three years for an aging outfielder (assuming money was the only factor), doesn’t sound too appealing. It’s hard to be sad about this news. Wonder if Kawasaki will be the next player the M’s sign?

  13. MrZDevotee on December 16th, 2011 11:21 am

    That was my initial impression too– glad to NOT spend 31.5 million on a “meh” free agent pickup. Someone said it yesterday, and it applies in this case I think– if his former team didn’t want to pony up (and in this case, replaced him with Josh Willingham, for $10 million less), there’s reason to question the value there.

    I would guess we probably were more in the ballpark of what the Twins offered Willingham (3 yr/$21 million).

  14. Mariners35 on December 16th, 2011 11:36 am

    Missed out on (or dodged, depending on preferences) Cuddyer and Willingham. I wonder if they will give Beltran a try?

  15. stevemotivateir on December 16th, 2011 12:09 pm


    My thoughts exactly, with the Twins lack of interest. The Phillies were rumored to have strong interest as well. We know they have a higher payroll, and they weren’t willing to shell-out that much either. I wont lose any sleep over this.

  16. JoshJones on December 16th, 2011 8:30 pm

    The tea leaves are reading Luke Scott, Jamie Moyer, Munenori Kawasaki and 2nd place to the Cubs for Fielder. yay.

  17. Pilate on December 17th, 2011 9:25 am

    The general idea I get from most people here is that whoever ends up with Fielder will overpay, probably by a lot, especially if they give him 8-10 years. So I say, let somebody else end up with a Soriano/Silva/Bradley/Figgins type contract, and instead continue to build primarily from within and with smart trades.

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