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December 27, 2011

The BP First Take

Tuesday, December 27

by Daniel Rathman

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On Saturday, Steven Goldman begged Prince Fielder not to sign during BP’s one-day Christmas break. Luckily, there was no Pujolsian contract offer under Fielder’s tree, and all of us got our wish. And as the calendar flips into 2012 and spring training approaches, it is looking less and less likely that the 27-year-old Fielder will come close to landing the 10-year, $254 million deal that Pujols got from the Angels. All of that could change with a single phone call to Scott Boras, but despite the agent’s 73-page overture to interested teams, the demand simply is not there.

Hitting free agency on the right side of 30 is every star player’s dream. For Fielder, though, a perfect storm has turned that dream into a nightmare. Four of the large-market teams—the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, and Tigers—are set at first base. Two others—the Dodgers and Mets—are in dire financial straits. The Blue Jays, Cubs, Mariners, Nationals, and Orioles would not become instant contenders simply by adding Fielder. And the Rangers are unlikely to break the bank for him after shelling out $51.7 million for the rights to Yu Darvish.

That raises an intriguing question: Should Fielder take a one-year deal to rebuild his value? Typically, players who settle for short-term contracts are looking to prove themselves, which certainly is not the case with Fielder. He is coming off of a 4.9 WARP campaign, has posted an OBP over .400 in each of the past three seasons, and is one of the league’s few consistent power threats. Any increase in Fielder’s value would have to come from a positive change in the market.

The risk of waiting an extra year for long-term financial security is relatively low for Fielder. His production is unlikely to suddenly plummet during his age-28 season, and the number of days he has missed since becoming a full-time player in 2006 can be counted on two hands. Boras should be able to find a suitor willing to commit $20-25 million to Fielder for 2012, since that team would get the short-term benefit of a slugger in his prime without worrying about his long-term durability and a possible move to designated hitter.

Next year’s market may also prove more favorable.

The current list of big-league first basemen who will be free agents after the coming season is: Aubrey Huff, Adam LaRoche, Carlos Lee, James Loney, Lyle Overbay, Ty Wigginton, and—factoring in a position switch—Nick Swisher. Not one of those players is in Fielder’s class.

There may also be a greater demand for his services. The aforementioned quintet of interested teams would be a year closer to contention. The Rangers could be looking to replace Josh Hamilton’s bat if he departs in free agency. The Dodgers, pending a successful sale, would be in better financial shape. The Red Sox—with Daisuke Matsuzaka and David Ortiz coming off the books—might be more willing to spend, even if Adrian Gonzalez’s presence would force Fielder to DH. The Giants, who continue to show little faith in Brandon Belt, could turn to Fielder if their thus-far fruitless negotiations with Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum turn sour.

 Some of those scenarios are admittedly farfetched, but with no legitimate competitor on next year’s free-agent market, only one of them would have to create a need for a star first baseman to get Fielder the deal he wants. Boras will undoubtedly keep his ears peeled for blockbuster offers in the coming weeks. If no one caves, though, reentering the market next winter may actually be best for Fielder in the long run.  

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

12 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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fatted

It's like advising a first NFL draft pick to stay in school an extra year based on the rest of his class. It sounds good and does seem to work out, but it must be nerve-racking to even think about taking such a risk.

Turning down a contract in the $150-200 million range for one worth under $20 million is not something many of us would be able to do.

Dec 27, 2011 04:52 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

There's definitely a parallel between the two scenarios, but there are also two exceptions that could make it more palatable to Fielder:

1) The risk of injury is significantly lower for Fielder than for, say, Matt Barkley given the difference in their positions and the sports.

2) Fielder would be getting $20-25 million to forgo the longer contract, whereas Barkley would essentially be getting nothing in the meantime.

Dec 27, 2011 11:01 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

Well, it does it make it more likely that he'd stay in Milwaukee on a four or five year deal.

Dec 27, 2011 09:19 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

I'd love to see Prince return to Milwaukee, but a 4-5 year deal would seem to be a poor outcome for him if in fact he's looking to cash-in. He'd be far less attractive hitting the market again at age 32-33 than at 29-30. I could see him returning to Milwaukee for 1-2 years but, unless the AAV is higher, I don't think a 4-5 year hitch makes sense for the player.

Dec 27, 2011 10:58 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

I'm just not sure Fielder is the type of player to sign a one or even a two year deal.

Dec 27, 2011 14:52 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Or, to clarify, the type of person to sign a one or two year deal.

Dec 27, 2011 14:53 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Besides, if Fielder signs a one or two year deal, will the market really change all that much? The Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies, Tigers, Angels, White Sox etc still have their first basemen locked up for awhile. The Rangers will have more money tied up in arbitration. Unless it's a team like the Rockies or the Marlins or maybe Tampa if they decide to go for broke, I'm not sure the market for a first baseman really changes in the next year or two.

Dec 27, 2011 14:59 PM
rating: 0
 
ObviouslyRob

Ah, but the Red Sox will be shedding the salaries of both Ortiz and Matsuzaka. Fielder as a DH is something we all expect will happen eventually anyway.

Dec 29, 2011 07:44 AM
rating: 0
 
nberlove

Boras/Fielder is looking for an average salary of over $25M on a multi-year deal. I doubt they would take $20-25M for a single season. Right now, I suspect it would take closer to $30M to sign him to a 1 year deal.

Another option would be to sign a multi-year but include a player opt-out clause.

Dec 27, 2011 11:16 AM
rating: 1
 
ddufourlogger

Yeah, I think the idea that Fielder may need to consider "rebuilding his value" is the key here. He doesn't. He is what he is right now; an overweight slugger with an average glove who will give you 4-5 WARP a year for at least the next few years, but how he ages after 30 is anyone's guess. AND is the reason he's still a free agent. Waiting a year to enter FA again is only making his "long term signing viability" to a team, so to speak, shorter. At 27, a team has the MOST to gain from his services with a long-term deal. I'm just not sure he's any better a bet...or should REASONABLY expect to get....more $$ than Ryan Howard got, which is about $25M a year for about 5, maybe 6 years. There are teams that will go there right now. But $200M+ and more than 8 years, I think he and Boras are dreaming of too many sugar plums. He might be worth marginally more to an AL team, but if I'm a GM he's getting nowhere close to Pujols money.

Dec 27, 2011 11:53 AM
rating: 1
 
seabass77

As a Brewer fan, having Prince back for one more year would get me to sign up for a season ticket package right away. Last year was so much fun going to the games. I wouldn't want to miss it.

Dec 27, 2011 14:01 PM
rating: 0
 
nolansdad

As a Mariner fan, I'm hoping that he ends up "settling" for six years with a seventh year vesting option.

Dec 27, 2011 14:16 PM
rating: 0
 
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