The Future of a Prince
With the trade deadline approaching, the biggest bat still available is Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder and speculation is rampant on where the young star will end up – for both the next year and a half and beyond. Fielder is currently under contract through this season and is under team control for next season. The Boras client will likely command something in the neighborhood of 15 million dollars in arbitration next year before hitting the free agent market where he is believed to be seeking a mega-deal similar to the ones given to Joe Mauer and Mark Teixeira.
As is usually the case, the reasons for why he might be traded revolve around the state of Prince’s current team. The True Blue Brew Crew currently sit 8 games out of first place in the NL Central after play Monday, when they won the first of a 3-game set against the division rival Cincinnati Reds (currently in 2nd, just a game off division leading St. Louis). At 48-53, the Brewers wish they were either much closer to the Cardinals and Reds or a little further back so that this decision would be easier, but barring an incredible run of .700 ball or so, they will not be making plans for October. On top of that, the Brewers are a small-to-mid market team and very likely would have a tough time meeting Fielder’s financial demands come 2012.
Also worth considering is what the Brewers can get for Fielder. Recent rumors have involved Prince going to the White Sox in exchange for Gordon Beckham and some low-level minor league pitching. Frankly, I believe GM Doug Melvin should hold out for some high quality (either AAA or major-league ready) pitching, but it’s unlikely that a contending team would be willing to part with that down the stretch.
Prince Fielder’s playing record speaks for itself. From 2007-2009, he amassed a line of .288/.393/.575 for an OPS+ of 152 and an average of 33 doubles, 43 homeruns, and 121 RBI’s per year. He has also proved exceptionally durable, missing a grand total of just eleven games in four and a half major league seasons. He started this season very slowly, hitting just two homeruns in the month of April, but since May 1st he has put up an OPS of .955 and has emerged second in the National League in dingers to MVP candidate Joey Votto.
When deciding what to do with #28, the Brewers need to consider the kind of deal Prince Fielder will command when he becomes a free agent after the 2011 season. In spite of his incredible success so far, Prince does have a few factors “weighing” against him in his search for a big payday:
1) The obvious elephant in the room, so to speak. Prince Fielder is huge. He is listed at 5’11, 270 pounds and that’s likely generous. And while his weight hasn’t stopped him from being a dominant force in the National League so far, gentlemen of his stature don’t age well in the big leagues, with some exceptions. Visions of Mo Vaughn or, for that matter, Cecil Fielder, come to mind when considering the big man for a long-term deal.
2) Even with Ryan Howard now off the market, Prince Fielder still hits the free agent market at the same time as fellow NL first-sackers Albert Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez. Albert is Albert; Gonzalez is very close to Prince with the bat and easily his superior with the glove, which brings me to my third setback….
3) …defense. The irony of Prince’s last name is not lost on anyone. As good as Fielder is with the bat, he leaves something to be desired with the glove.
4) Of the 6 teams with payrolls of 120 million or more in 2010, four of them (Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, and Tigers) are set at 1st base. This severely cuts down the demand for Mr. Fielder.
Besides his obvious offensive prowess, Prince Fielder does have one major advantage when he looks for his big-money deal: age. Fielder may not project to age well, but he’s going to be 27 when he becomes a free agent, much younger than a lot of his peers.
In the next few days, Doug Melvin is going to have a tough decision to make. There’s a reason he makes the big bucks and I supply Dugout Central with free articles, but I’ll throw in my two cents with two words: keep him. At least for now.
The odds of the Brewers coming back in the NL central are slim, but not zero yet. So don’t trade Fielder this season. Unless some team offers an absolutely ridiculous deal, I see no reason to part with him right away. Feel out offers in the off-season, when all 29 other teams are trying to build their teams and you can get a more competitive deal for him. Melvin has done this before; after the 2003 season, he traded fan-favorite Richie Sexson for most of an infield as well as starter Chris Capuano.
As a Brewer fan though, I want to play for 2011 – and that means keeping Prince Fielder. This season has been disappointing for sure, but the Brewers still have control of most of their key contributing players under team control, plus they’ll have over 20 million dollars from bad deals to Jeff Suppan, Bill Hall, and David Riske coming off the books.
After the 2011 World Series has concluded at the I-94 Cathedral that is Miller Park, Prince becomes a free agent. He will more than likely be disappointed. He wants a Mauer/Teixeira deal; I predict the deal he gets will be closer to Jason Bay’s. If Melvin can get him for around 4-5 years, 60-90 million dollars, it would be worth the gamble. But if some team wants to horrendously overpay for him? Let them. Remember how bad the Rangers were when they crippled their flexibility by signing A-Rod (who was, by the way, a better hitter than Prince at a premium position)? No – be smart. Let him go, and take your draft picks, because a National League team in one of baseball’s smallest media markets cannot afford to spend 22 million dollars on a 1st baseman likely on his way to becoming a DH.
Just make sure he never becomes a Cub.