Prince Fielder signed with the Detroit Tigers for $214MM over nine years – was this a wise move? 

My first thought when I read the initial “rumours” about this signing that there is no way the Tigers would be dumb enough to pay a bad-bodied DH in the making 200+ million dollars.  Yet it is being confirmed that this is indeed the case. 

Let me get the obligatory “this player is great” out of the way early, because it is easy to appreciate what a great hitter Prince Fielder has been over his career.   

998 282 390 540 391 141 230 23.4

 Yeah, as I already stated you can see that any team would be dying to add a player with those types of numbers but ultimately I feel this is simply a waste of resources for the Tigers.

First, the Tigers didn’t need to make this move right now.  Fielder’s value and production will be at its highest over the next two to three seasons but the Tigers (with or without Victor Martinez) are favourites to win their division for at least the next three seasons in my opinion when looking at the landscape of the division.

This signing will absolutely affect nothing in the grand scheme of things other than the Tigers will clinch the division a week earlier.  The playoffs are a crap shoot and adding one player to your line-up is not going to give you a huge advantage over a short best of seven baseball playoff series.

 Fielder will be a huge help in the regular season playing 160+ games a season, without question but again the playoffs can have unlikely heroes all the time (Jim Leyritz for example) and the stars don’t always shine (Alex Rodriguez I’m looking at you).

By the time Fielder is starting his decline the divisional outlook should look quite a bit different with the Kansas City Royals presumably starting to make their presence known with a plethora of top quality minor league talents hitting the big leagues soon.  Minnesota has had too strong a track record of player development to continue their recent swoon and Cleveland and Chicago have only one way to go.

When the division is starting to toughen up the Tigers will have two fat DHs with monstrous, bloated contracts saddling their operations and payroll.  Good luck selling a team on a declining DH with no defense and a horrible physique if you are thinking they have an ‘out’.  A Vernon Wells salary dump happens only once in a baseball lifetime.

Second, and probably the most important point, there is almost no way Fielder will bring back the on field value (in terms of WAR) when he eventually (or possibly immediately) shifts to DH full-time.  The rough cost of a win on the free agent market is $5 million and with Fielder earning 24 million per season he will need to average 4.8 WAR per season.

Fielder, who turns 28 in May, has reached 4.8 WAR (or higher) in three of his past six full seasons, no easy task for a player of his age, position and limited defensive abilities.  But given his age it is safe to assume he has reached his peak and will not be improving over the duration of the contract and in fact is likely to plateau and/or decline in the next season or so given what we know about peak power and the age hitters start to see declining output.

For a quick comparison the currently reviled but once feared slugger DH/LF Adam Dunn had one of the most impressive runs a DH has had from 2004-2010.  His wOBA ranged from .403 to .365 in that span and his lowest HR total was a solid 38 – yet due to his awful defense, and left field status only managed a total of 18.9 WAR (or an average of 2.7 WAR).

There is no reason to think Fielder can’t produce upwards of 4.5-6.0 WAR for the next few seasons as his power is still extremely relevant but when he starts to decline there is little chance he can consistently produce that with his bat alone (if he moves to DH). 

We also have to account for the adjustment Fielder is going to be making with respect to his new team.  He is moving to a very friendly pitcher’s park that does not play nearly as offensive as the launching pad in Milwaukee.  He will also be moving to the tougher league and will be facing brand new pitchers (or guys he has faced less) on a nightly basis. 

Third, Prince Fielder is a large, large man.  There have been numerous studies done that have shown his body type will obviously not age as well as a slimmer player.  The absolute pounding his knees, ankles and joints take on a daily basis will eventually begin to catch up with Mr. Fielder and the natural decline phase every player goes through could be a more extreme one for him.

In closing, every team in the league would love to add a big time bat to the heart of their order and indeed Fielder might even push some of those teams right into contention (Washington, Toronto, Miami to name a few) if they were close to making a competitive push in their respective divisions. 

The Tigers are not one of those teams, there division is horrendous and that $214 million could have been spent on various pieces that will be needed to remain competitive over the next decade.  It was an unnecessary but impactful signing and maybe the real moral of the story is Mike Ilitch (Tigers/Red Wings owner) is among a handful of owners in sports that is never afraid to make a big splash – no matter the cost.

Dave Cameron at Fangraphs summed it up nicely when he wrote:

“And, if they win a World Series during that time, it will be easy to live with the cost to the future of the franchise while throwing a parade. However, that argument can be used to justify signing any player to any sized contract, and shouldn’t be how teams operate. At some point, the cost begins to exceed any potential benefit you could reasonably expect, no matter just how desperate you are to win or how much you think a single player will help you.

Fielder will absolutely help the Tigers. He might even be enough to help them get to the World Series and perhaps take home a trophy. But, in reality, if the team had $214 million to spend this winter, they should have been in on Jose Reyes and C.J. Wilson, who won’t make as much between them as what the team just guaranteed Fielder. As I wrote yesterday, the Tigers definitely needed to make an impact move, but because they got stuck in a position where there was only one impact bat left on the market, they found themselves having to vastly overpay in order to get that improvement.

For Detroit’s sake, I hope they win a title in the next three years, because the franchise’s ability to compete long term just took a serious hit. Borrowing from the future to win in the present isn’t always a bad idea, but at these prices, the Tigers should have explored options.

The cost was simply too high.”

  1. uoduckfan33 says:

    How about these stats from Statcorner:

    Miller Park Factors for lefties:
    HR – 118
    2B – 102
    wOBA – 100

    Comerica Factors for lefties:
    HR – 88
    2B – 92
    wOBA – 97

    However, Comerica’s triples factor is 121. Go crazy on the basepaths, Prince!

    • uoduckfan33 says:

      I like your take, by the way. They’ve got about 3 years of slightly improved WS chances, and 6 years of trying to piece together teams around a 2-3 WAR DH costing them upwards of $25M. The long-term cost is just too much, and I’d bet their overall chances of winning a WS in the next nine years just went down.

    • tdotsports1 says:

      Good numbers, thanks. According to DMB baseball (FWIW) Comerica suppressed LH HRs by 10% and Miller park increased LH HR by 6%. Not the greatest park to move into for a lefty slugger.

  2. Dave Domi says:

    First off I wish that Ilitch was the owner of the Blue Jays. Second, he is 83 years old and wants to win now and not wait until 2020 like the Jays. Whatever happens in 5 years is irrelevant when you’re trying to win now. Also, without the addition of Fielder there were no guarantees that Detroit would have made the playoffs. Last year it was the addition of Fister that propelled the Tigers ahead of it’s competition in AL central, Fielder cements them as an overwhelming favorite.
    Yes the Tigers overpaid for Fielder but calling them dumb is a bit harsh, ambitious is a better word. There is nothing wrong with trying to win now and quite frankly I wish that more teams (by more teams I meant the Jays) take the same approach.
    Last point, would you rather have Fielder on your team or would you rather play against him?

    • tdotsports1 says:

      Of course I would rather have Fielder, but you can say that about any good player. At some point you have to weigh the long term affect of such a horrible contract.

      Name one long term deal in any sport that hasn’t looked completely awful?

      They had 214 sitting around and didn’t get a good SS like Reyes? Or a young solid SP like Wilson or Darvish?

      If Fielder asked for.more than 5 years I am glad AA passed. Are we even convinced the Tigers are better? They are now among the worst defensive teams in baseball and Verlander, Fister, Avila, Peralta are all due for.regression. the rest of their lineup is suspect and I’d wager they don’t win as many games as last year.

      This contract is reminiscent of Vernon Wells. We all know how that turned out.

      • Dave Domi says:

        What are the long term effects of such a contract to teams that have/are willing to spend money? Nothing, nothing at all. They’ll just throw more money at a problem and fix it. But before I go any further, let me just say that Fielder to the Jays, for that much money, probably wouldn’t be a good idea since we clearly don’t have unlimited resources.

        This is clearly a desperation move by the Tigers since their second best hitter was lost for the season. If as you say their players regress this season than the Tigers would be in danger of missing the playoffs this season. The acquisition of Fielder makes sure that the Tigers don’t miss the playoffs. And as you posted in the original blog playoffs are a crapshoot and anything can happen. Who knows maybe a 3/4 punch of Cabrera and Fielder tear apart opposing pitchers and the Tigers win it all. After all, in the playoffs, an average player like Cody Ross can step up or an all- star like Joe Carter. If I’m gonna put my money on someone it would be an all-star. Good move by the Tigers.

        As for long term contracts in “any sports” that’s silly. I’ll just stick to Baseball and not mention NBA ones like Kobe, Shaq, Labron, Dwade, what Howard will be receiving in the summer. No let’s just mention the contract that never was. In 2006 Roy Hallady signed a contract extension with Toronto. He was 28,I believe, at that time. You give him what Prince Fielder just got and it’s a great contract.

        In closing so what if Fielder declines at the age of 33, if the Tigers make the playoffs 3-4 times and win the world series during his nine year tenure, the contract will be worth every penny.

      • tdotsports1 says:

        Decline at 33? Pujols is 31 and already declining. Power goes very quickly and Fielder has already hit his peak. The study linked in this article shows a CLEAR distinct drop off for players of Fielder’s girth. He will be in the decline phase this or next year. Another respected baseball mind Rob Neyer just wrote a piece stating that this might go down as one of the worst contracts in sports history. There is NO chance he is even close to earning that contract (based on WAR) and they had better win 1-2 World Series (at least) to at least make it “worth it” to the fan base.

        Actually it is a great piece – check it out.

      • Dave Domi says:

        I read the article but I still don’t understand how anyone can say that “his best days are behind him”. I did not see any evidence to support that. We can play Nostradamus and guess all we want but the reality is that no one knows how he’s gonna perform next year. At 28 players are in their prime so how can anyone say with confidence that his best days are behind him, to me that’s just absurd. Even the FanGraph article says “only time will tell if he continues to be productive into his 30’s like Ortiz and Thome or collapse like Vaughn or Dunn.”

        But anyway, the following quote from the same piece supports my argument
        “Unless I am running a team that is a serious World Series contender over the next three seasons, I am extremely reluctant to hand over the contract that Fielder and Boras are going to want.”
        The Tigers are a WS contender so getting Fielder makes sense. They lost V-mart for the year so instead sitting on their butt and waiting for someone like Bautista to fall in their lap they went out and got Firlder. Sure they overplayed but so what they’re trying to win and I applaud them for it.

      • tdotsports1 says:

        Check out the new Jays blog “AL Eastbound & Down” – a good take on the Jays current situation, AND bright future…

  3. uoduckfan33 says:

    Smart teams have shown time and time again that in the sport of baseball, you can make up for superstars in the aggregate. It is less risky for the club, more cost effective, and achieves similar results. Like tdot said, nab Wilson and Reyes for 5 years apiece, and the Tigers’ net gain over the players that would be replaced is probably greater than going after Fielder.

    Maybe Reyes and/or Wilson didn’t want to go the Tigers, but the point remains. There were other options for improving that lineup that didn’t require paying RolyPolyOly for 9 years at $214M.

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