50, 34, 46, 32, 38, those are Prince Fielder’s home run totals from each of the last five seasons (2007-2011). He has compiled a WAR (wins above replacement level) of nearly 20 over the same period of time. .282/.390/.540, 37 HR, .929 OPS is Fielder’s single season average based on his seven seasons and 4,000+ plate appearances in MLB. 27, Fielders age, Prince is in his prime and likely will remain in his prime for another 4-6 years (roughly the expected life of his next contract). So why hasn’t a slugging 1B in his prime not signed nearly 3 months into free agency and with only 2 months left until spring training? I don’t know and the reasons given are mostly statements of opinion or pure speculation rather than anything that can be backed up by statistics like Fielders body of work in MLB over the past 7 seasons.
The only real explanation for Fielder not signing, which is a big one, is that there really isn’t a strong market for first basemen this offseason and none of the big market teams have a need/opening at 1B. But the other reasons for Fielder not signing yet are complete and utter bullshit. Some of those reasons are he’s fat and is going to decline, prove it. Since Fielder became a regular major league player in 2006 he has missed exactly 13, 13, games, and most of those games missed were given to Fielder to simply just rest as he has never had injury issues. So just because Prince doesn’t look good with his shirt off doesn’t mean he will decline any faster than a regular player or start facing injury issues, as he has played in more games than any other player in MLB since 2006. The next argument is that he is a terrible defender, yes Prince is nowhere close to elite on defense. But he isn’t awful either, the last 4 years he has poster negative defensive WAR ranging from -.3 to -.8, which means over the course of a season he costs his team less than one win on defense when compared to a replacement level player, his offense more than makes up for defensive inefficiencies. By all accounts Prince is a great teammate and leader so he has no character issues that are attached to him. Prince should be getting a contract with 4-6 years guaranteed that has an average annual value around $15-17 million.
Poor timing in the market is severely inhibiting Fielder from getting a big contract. Traditional big market teams either have 1B/DH filled (Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox, Angels, Braves, Phillies, Cardinals, Tigers), are going through rebuilding phases/have a young 1B in the minors (Cubs, Indians, Astros), or can’t afford him.
There are still suitors for Prince and someone will cave and give him a contract he deservers. The Rangers, Jays, Dodgers, Brewers, Marlins, and all make sense for different reasons. The Rangers have an opening at 1B and their new ownership group has money to spend as they recently signed a new TV deal and don’t have any huge contracts on their roster. Prince would mash in Texas and the have the DH to play him at once in awhile. The Jays also have an opening at 1B and with the addition of Prince could challenge for a AL Wild Card spot as the Jays are no longer a joke, but close to being serious contenders. The Dodgers are also a great fit, James Loney has been awful the last few years and they are a huge market team and Prince is a California guy. But the Dodgers owner, Frank McCourt, is going through a nasty divorce and deciding who gets controlling rights of the team between McCourt and his wife is a major issue and has hampered the Dodgers from being able to make a lot of moves. The Dodgers current owners also have the team in serious financial trouble, like bankruptcy trouble and hardly being able to make payroll, trough the release of documents during the divorce it has come out that Frank McCourt so badly managed the finances of the Dodgers that it appears he basically used the Dodgers as his own personal piggy bank, his dumb ass did things like borrowing massive amounts of debt against the team and its assets for non baseball uses, used team and baseball operations funds to purchase personal things like houses, cars, vacations, etc., and possibly setting up a charity in the Dodgers name and taking proceeds from donations and events and keeping that money for personal use. So yeah, if the Dodgers can get their ownership issues figured out fast Prince is possible there, but as of right now there are larger issues looming in LA. The Brewers, Prince’s former team, still shouldn’t be counted out if no team steps up and offers him a big contract. The Brewers have no real replacement for Prince at 1B right now and Doug Melvin and owner Mark Attanasio have shown they can get creative and bring guys in they want. Milwaukee is still in a position to contend for the next few seasons and Milwaukee needs Prince just as much as Prince may need Milwaukee. While the front office might be sick of Fielder and might not want to bring him back due to spite, Prince reportedly didn’t accept an extension towards the end of last season, I think the two sides could come together and agree to something if Prince continues to barely tread water on the open market. Finally there is the Marlins, they got their new stadium and have spent big money already on Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle, and Jose Reyes. They made a big push to sign Albert Pujols and Gaby Sanchez is replaceable at 1B. There are issues here though, the Marlins owner Jeffery Loria is a bigger slim ball than Frank McCourt and you can already see his new master scam he is putting into place with the Marlins. He got the City of Miami and State of Florida to foot the majority of the bill on the new stadium and he appears to be building up his team again to contend for a year or two and have a huge fire sale just like he did in 97’ and 03’. All three contracts to Bell, Buehrle and Reyes are heavily back loaded and don’t include no trade clauses. So it would appear if Prince wanted to sign with the Marlins he could get a mega deal, but would have to take a deal heavily back loaded and not have a no trade clause meaning he would likely be on a new team in 2-3 years.
The market is broken for Fielder and just about any other year he would have been signed a long time ago to a large sum of money. The potential for a big deal is still out there, but not likely. My advice to Prince is to take a 1-2 year deal for as much money as you can get ($19-22m per year), this would likely add some teams to his list of suitors and would allow him to produce like he always does and in a year or two when the market for him has hopefully corrected itself he can go for his mega deal at age 28 or 29. When the offseason started Prince was probably more worried about what color his new Ferrari should be or if he should buy a house with 5 or 8 bedrooms with his inevitable new big contract, now he’s probably worried about just getting a fair market deal. He’s young, productive and durable, will some please pay the man!