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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Decision to Sign Prince Fielder Should Weigh Heavy on Teams


Now that Albert Pujols has signed with the Angels and making the trek to Los Angeles on a road paved with gold, the top remaining free agent is Prince Fielder. Fielder is seeking to make a financial strike matching or exceeding the approximate 254 million dollars received by Pujols, but prospective buyers need to think long and hard before making such a commitment to the slugging first baseman. The elephant in the room (no pun intended) when it comes to this decision should be Fielder’s weight and his ability to hold up over the course of a long term deal.

Fielder’s weight has been picked at from the moment he entered professional baseball. Along with his enormous power, it is something he inherited from his father, Cecil, aka “Big Daddy.” There is no doubt that Fielder is a fantastic player who has put up staggering numbers in his six full major league seasons, but smart teams truly have to question how much they are willing to invest in him. Many baseball people say that Fielder’s weight is a tired subject, and point to his career production as the reason why there should be no issue. However, such rationale is flawed and not a good way to predict future success. 

Officially, Fielder is listed at 275 pounds, but that is clearly a driver’s license weight and not the true figure. There is little doubt that he is somewhere north of 300 pounds, and has been there for quite some time. He has always had a big body type, even when he was an 11 year old blasting home runs over the roof at old Tiger Stadium. While he has carried his weight about as well as could be expected thus far in his career, how much longer can that be expected?

How many of who carry a few extra pounds of our own can honestly say that as we have gotten older we have gained agility and athletic ability? The answer is none of us. Although Fielder will enter the 2012 season at the age of 28, his athleticism will regress as he gets older, but to what extent is unknown, and a major reason why signing him to a rich long term contract is a very bad idea.

Fielder is already a below average defensive first baseman, and it can be reasonably surmised that by the time he reaches the end of a mega contract, when he is in his mid to late 30’s, he would no longer be playable in the field. These are fears teams even explored about Pujols, who is a good defender. Players who are going to get huge money can’t have the kind of doubt surrounding them that Fielder has. At least such doubts should prevent National League teams from making a serious run at Fielder, because of their inability to hid him at DH if the need arises.

You will not hear me say that Fielder is a bad player. In fact, I think he is one of the two or three most feared hitters in the game, and seems to be an all-around good guy. My opposition to a team giving him a big deal is because it’s clearly a bad business decision. Outside of sports, no other company would consider spending as much as a quarter of a billion dollars for an asset with so many doubts. Baseball is not known for savvy owners, but it doesn’t take a great deal of acumen to understand the risk posed by Fielder. 

Despite the red flags, Fielder will be signed prior to spring training by some team who is willing to take a financial gamble in an effort to improve their franchise. Sadly, such moves are rarely worth it. Here’s hoping that Fielder gets his money and lives up to the contract, but if I was running a team, it wouldn’t be coming from me.

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