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.
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.”