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I was reading a piece at Fangraphs regarding Prince Fielder and his imminent departure from the Milwaukee Brewers in the offseason given the impasse between management and Fielder’s agent, the vaunted Scott Boras. Rumours peg the asking price for Fielder’s next contract between 120-150 million over 6-8 years and I am not going to argue that a defensively challenged overweight first basemen is worth that type of long term investment because very clearly he is not and even more clear is the Jays would never be able to sign a player to that type of contract.
My argument today is that Alex Anthopoulos and the Toronto Blue Jays should at the very least inquire into the asking price (from the Brewers) to bring in the powerful left handed hitting home run machine for the 2011 season. I am not sure what the cost would be but one would have to assume it would likely be fairly high and it could ultimately cost the team their top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek. Although everybody is extremely high on this kid I think this could be a move worth considering.
Consider me a contrarian in the valuation of Drabek but I am not a huge buyer of his stock and I think his value will never be higher coming off a successful (at first glance) minor league season. The 23 year old posted a 2.94 ERA in 162 ‘AA’ innings in 2010 allowing 126 hits, walking 68 and striking out 132 while improving his ground ball tendencies slightly. Like I said, at first glance it appears to be one heck of a season for a kid his age.
But glancing beyond the shiny ERA there are some red flags underneath the surface in terms of future success, at least for me. Drabek posted a pedestrian 7.3 K/9 (for a top rated pitching prospect) while his BB/9 rose to nearly 4 walks per nine (3.78 BB/9) giving him a mediocre 1.9 K/BB. Drabek was slightly aided by a low BABIP (.260) and his FIP was a more telling number of his actual season, coming in at a respectable but not spectacular 3.87.
Now you would have to be a fool to think he is even close to a finished product and chances are he will improve, and could possibly improve a lot but at this point I don’t feel the peripherals match the expectations or scream ‘future star’. Not that every pitcher requires a strikeout an inning to be successful (think Halladay, Roy) but the minor league strikeout numbers for a young pitcher are normally one of the indicators of future success in the big leagues and I think the jury is out on Drabek developing into a true number one or two starter.
Another reason I wouldn’t be too hesitant if Milwaukee were warm to this type of deal is the Jays would be dealing 100% from a point of strength as they are currently fairly loaded with a plethora of major league ready arms under the age of 28. Their current rotation is among the best in the game with Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and whoever they decide to slot in at the number five spot. There is a chance Drabek never develops into the type of big league starter who is capable of usurping one of the top 4-5 starters the Jays currently possess and the more he is exposed at the big league level without a lot of success the more his overall value takes a dive.
Another motivation for a move like this is Prince Fielder would instantly give the Jays there first legit power threat at 1B since Carlos Delgado left town, no offense to Lyle Overbay but he is barely a league average bat at this point in his career. Fielder will be entering his 27 year old season (historically one of a hitter’s best overall years career wise) and even with a slightly off year (for his standards) Prince has still been a beast in 2010. Currently slashing 267/403/486 with 32 HRs, 80 RBI and a cool 106 BBs, Fielder has still managed a .388 wOBA and .218 ISO. For those curious Lyle Overbay in 2010 currently has a .335 wOBA.
Fielder’s career slash line is impressive to say the least at 281/385/538, to go with a career .258 ISO and .389 wOBA. Fielder has patience (career 12.9 BB %), power and could help energize a city that is slowly starting to come around on the young and promising Blue Jays. I liken this situation to what Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s did when they traded for outfielder Matt Holliday at the beginning of 2009.
The A’s hoped Holliday would be the answer for a moribund offense and place them squarely in contention in the AL West, however when it didn’t quite work that way, they flipped him again to St. Louis to recoup some of their losses in prospects (unfortunately they dealt Carlos Gonzalez to acquire him) though they could have just let Holliday (like the Jays could with Fielder) play out the season and leave in the winter and receive two highly valuable compensation draft picks for the next Amateur draft.
The A’s got unlucky that they dealt a big package of Carlos Gonzalez, Huston Street and Greg Smith and Holliday’s value took a hit (only due to playing in one of the worse offensive environment’s in baseball) but I have no doubt that Fielder would flourish at the Roger’s Centre in an improving and powerful Jays line-up. I am not sure what the price would be but if it is only the cost of a player who is not a guarantee (say a Kyle Drabek) and a couple additional fringe prospects I might be intrigued.
Worst case scenario Fielder doesn’t put the Jays over the top in the AL East in 2011 and Kyle Drabek develops into an ace starter, seems unlikely but nothing in baseball is guaranteed. However, the Jays would at least be able to start over with the two strong draft picks or attempt to flip Fielder to a contending team looking for a 2 month rental and regaining some of the lost youth and prospects it took to acquire the Prince.
On the flip side the potential upside to having one of the top young 1B/DH in your line-up for 162 games and rolling into Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park with another powerful left handed slugger is truly appealing. Renting Prince Fielder for 2011 could be a win-win for the Toronto Blue Jays and I wonder if it has sparked any curiosity or interest within the Blue Jays brain trust and the wonder kid Alex Anthopoulos?
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The Jays would still need to address a longer term solution at third base (preferably not E5) although it doesn’t appear they have any real in-house candidates (Jose Bautista should remain in the outfield) and as much as I would love to see Adrian Beltre bring his magic glove and trusty bat (and strange quirk of killing any man who dares touch the top of his head!) the competition for his services will likely be fierce and I see the Boston Red Sox doing everything in their power to retain him.