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The Prince Fielder contract: all kinds of crazy

Jan 24, 2012, 5:15 PM EDT

Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks

For almost every big free agent deal there are (a) the financial implications; and (b) the baseball implications. Often a deal is good on the baseball side of things but not so good on the financial side of things.  In the case of Prince Fielder going to the Tigers for nine years and $214 million, it makes very little sense on either side of the ledger.

This is not to say that signing Prince Fielder makes the Tigers a worse baseball team in 2012 than they were in 2011. Far from it.  With Victor Martinez out all year following knee surgery and the Tigers’ lineup already looking suspect beyond MVP-caliber first basemen Miguel Cabrera, Fielder’s bat is going to pay immediate dividends and should make the Tigers the favorites to repeat in the AL Central.

But what helps the lineup in 2012 creates both roster problems and financial problems going forward.

Victor Martinez will be back in 2013 and will be owed $13 million. And he’s still under contract for 2014 to the tune of $12 million. Thanks to the presence of Alex Avila and his own balky knees, Martinez’s days at catcher are basically over. That means that in Fielder, Cabrera and Martinez, the Tigers will have three expensive men for two positions for at least two years after this one. And to be honest, come 2014, all three of them should probably be playing DH anyway, as both Cabrera and Fielder are among the worst defensive first basemen in baseball.

But the roster problems extend beyond next year, and they become combined roster/payroll problems.  The $214 million owed Fielder, as well as the money owed Cabrera and Martinez, already represent a lot of cash owed to very few players.  Then you figure that Justin Verlander is going to need a pretty massive extension before the end of the 2014 season and you have a very top-heavy payroll.

And finally, there’s the contract for its own sake. Prince Fielder turns 28 early this season, so he is younger than your average big-splash free agent and thus nine years for him isn’t as bad as nine years for a 30 or 31-year-old. But it’s hard to envision a world in which paying him $40 million for 2019 and 2020 is going to pay off for the Tigers.  Such contracts have rarely if ever paid off for anyone.

But that’s the future. For the present, this deal does make the Tigers better.  Not perfect. The Tigers still have many holes in their lineup.  The team’s strength is still its pitching. Justin Verlander is the best in the AL, but it’s not like he can get better than he was in 2011. Jose Valverde was fantastic in 2011, but he’s actually, you know, gonna blow some saves at some point. Maybe Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer improve. Maybe they don’t. The point is that there are way more moving parts on a team than the well-appointed third and fourth slots in the 2012 Tigers’ lineup.

Signing Fielder likely ensures another AL Central crown. So, if you’re a Tigers fan, yes, you should be happy. But it doesn’t guarantee anything more than that and may hinder the Tigers’ competitiveness in the future. So try to keep your excitement under control.

  1. jpeterson4743 - Jan 24, 2012 at 9:24 PM

    Prince has not played in LESS that 157 games in any season, when was the last time Reyes did that?

  2. whittle79 - Jan 24, 2012 at 10:29 PM

    Cabrera new this was coming that’s why they told him last yr to get ready to I’ve to third base !!
    All I can say is haters !!!!
    Let’s go tigers !!

  3. weaselpuppy - Jan 25, 2012 at 12:02 AM

    The long term payroll management for Detroit is fine. They spent 2011 at about 115m, 2010 at 133m and 2009 at about 117m. With this signing they will be around 122m in 2012 or less since they have 6.5m coming back from insurance on Vmart).

    In 2013 Inge and Delmon Young and Valverde are FA unlikely to be retained, totalling $22m. 3b is already covered w Cabrera as far as replacement cost and LF looks to be as well between Dirks and the minors. Closer? They have been grooming a lot of guys, or could use Benoit, so replacement cost is minimum salary like LF. So a net $21m to Prince’s cost, or essentialy a wash. Now, Porcello, Scherzer Fister AJackson Avila and Boesch will start to get more expensive in the arbitration process as they hit it, but that was going to happen regardless. Say an extra $10m net for that group in 2013 and maybe $2m more net in 2014 (as I expect Porcello to be traded by then to mitigate some costs and Peralta will drop off and be replaced internally saving $5m)….so 2012-2014 will be lower payroll than peak. With more ticket sales and revenue uplift from playoff games and more merchandise sold.

    now as far as JV, he is a FA in 2015…but so is VMart, and he’ll be gone, with his $12m open to give JV a raise from $20m to say 24, and use the rest to pay for increases to the core guys….so again, about net even for 2015

    in 2016 Cabrera is a FA, but at 33 his annual pay on a new deal will drop from $23m to say 17ish for a 4/64 type deal at that age….so, the real long term impact is this;

    1) One of Porcello/Fister/Scherzer is gone, which was likely to be the case anyways. replacements from the minors in Turner Smyly Crosby Paulino can fill the 4 and 5 slots easy cheap and with talent.

    2) Peralta isn’t the long term SS (past 2013)…which was likelyto be the case as well regardless of Fielder signing or no.

    3) They have to develop hitters internally for the long term at 3B/LF/2B/SS/closer and as above 4/5 starter….that looks OK, as 3b (Castellanos) and the starters seem cued up for 2014-5 and they have some decent Lf prospects, no world beaters though, SS is bleak but Suarez is super young but has big potential and won’t be til 2015ish…

    What signing Fielder really means is that the flexibility to make a BIG FA signing from now to 2016 is pretty low. but on te other hand, they have a ton of top end talent controlled in that time span in a weak division….so non big whoop. There isnt a crippling payroll issue, they can re-up tyheir core and their superstars….just a flexibility limiter.

    Huge get for the Tigers,….and Fielder though big, has been extremely durable…even the early flameout big body DH/1B types have produced through age 33-35 ( Mo Vaugh, Belle, Ortiz etc) very few die out or decline at age 30…the issue on the “value” on this contract will be age 34-35 seasons for him…and Mr Illitch won’t care at that point because he’ll have 1-2 rings at that point and be either verry old or no longer with us….

    Lazy article by Calcaterra, who is generally a Tiger hater so draw your own conclusions…facts vs specualtion

    • godfatherd - Jan 25, 2012 at 2:44 AM

      I agree with most of what you said here but you are wrong on a few things.

      – There is no way Miguel Cabrera gets resigned for 17m unless its a long deal that ends when he is in his 40s. More likely his number drops to around 20m. Even after signing Fielder, Cabrera is still the best hitter on the team, and will most likely remain so well into his 30’s

      – Justin could get more than 24m when he hits the market in 2015 I’m not saying he will, but if you had told me three years ago that Prince Fielder would sign a $200m contract I would have said you were crazy. If the yankees or the red sox get in on the bidding, the contract could set records.

      Illitch mortgaged the future to create a 3-5 year window where this team could dominate, but its not going to be as easy as you make it out to be to fill the holes along the way.

      • weaselpuppy - Jan 25, 2012 at 11:32 AM

        JV could get more than 24, sure…but the idea still stands that VMart has $12m dropping off that year so they have the money to re-sign JV regardless. Ditto for Cabrera, his number will go down, not up…

        No mortgaged future, just an inflexible one…the 3 studs, the 2 and 3 starters and the core field players at CF,RF and C are all able to be signed for 5+ year stretches beyond their current contracts and the system looks like it will fill LF 3B 4th and 5th starter and maybe SS going forward young and cheap…2b and closer are the real long term ?s

  4. scoregasmic - Jan 25, 2012 at 12:35 AM

    Cabrera won a world series with the marlins at third base…he’ll be fine chilllllll, tigers are instantly al central favorites and verlander isnt the kinda guy that will demand 200 mil when his contract is up, dombrowski wouldn’t have pulled the trigger on this if he wasn’t absolutely positive this would workout, good time to be a Detroit fan I’ll tell ya that much…tigers world series this year lions get the super bowl next year…DETROIT IS HERE…u know other than the pistons

  5. barnesaintnoble - Jan 25, 2012 at 2:39 AM

    Yeah, probably not the most financially responsible deal but whatever. Mike Illitch, the owner of the Tigers (And the Red Wings, Little Caesars Pizza, Olympia Entertainment, Fox Theatre, Motor City Casino, etc.) has a lot of money. His Red Wings have become the model of what a successful and winning team looks like in the NHL, and he’s seen them win it all a couple times. Now he wants the Tigers to do the same, and he wants to be there to see it. And he has it, so he’ll spend the money. Pizza, Pizza! (No please, you have to buy some of this pizza its the only way we’ll be able to pay this guy!)

    And Prince will also have the added bonus of being able to break all of his father’s records. That might give him the extra push he needs to lose some of his plump. $214 Million and 9 years later, if they win the W.S. once, it would have all been worth it. If not? That sucks.

  6. buffalomafia - Jan 25, 2012 at 6:26 AM

    Just because a team looks good on paper doesnt mean they will win the division! Does Boston Red Sox & Atlanta Braves come to mind? Just saying!

  7. pack93z - Jan 25, 2012 at 9:26 AM

    A couple of quick hitting notes on this deal, from a Brewer fans perspective.

    1) For all the flak that Fielder takes for his weight around the web and in the press, the guy is durable as hell and takes great pride in playing day in and day out.

    2) Fielder isn’t as terrible defensive player as people make it sound.. his biggest liability is range, and there is little to argue there. He doesn’t have gre.. good range.. so it makes the metric numbers dip and classify him as a below average fielder overall.

    But within his range, the guy isn’t a poor fielding player.. and covering the bag.. he is average at worst.

    3) Some of the Brewer fans are labeling Prince this or labeling Prince that for leaving.. why? It is what the market would allow and the Brewers had started locking down players in other areas. The contract didn’t fit.. and it wasn’t going to after Prince and Boras turned down the offer a couple years ago when the Brewers tried to buy out the arbitration years and a couple of his free agent years. Boras gambled.. and it almost bit him in the rear.. but the gamble paid off this this contract. That is the way some business deals turn out.

    Same people point to Braun and him locking in for the next 10.. well the Brewers offered him enough to offset some of the Arb years that the deal made sense as a whole, timing being a part of that. Additionally.. Braun has other areas of income churning.. he has different motivations than Prince.. he enjoys the publicity. Prince doesn’t.. Prince would rather chill with his kids than be on the run 24/7. Braun isn’t going to be totally defined by just his baseball income at the end of his career.

    4) People are writing off the Brewers as a team because Prince is gone.. I really don’t buy into that notion. We still have the pitching the drove us much of last season, Krod for the entire season this year.. Prince’s production will be hard to replace.. but we have added a bat this offseason and we still have some sticks on this club. If the defense can improve with the rebuilt left side.. is it really that much of a stretch to say some of the lost offense is washed with improved defense?

    5) Most importantly.. I personally am happy for Prince the person, quality ballplayer that has earned the right to make his choice where to play and at what dollar the market will allow. Thanks for the entertainment and years of enjoyment watching you play.

    I might cringe at the ripple effect these 200 million / 10 year deals are going to have on the landscape of baseball.. but the big fellow has earned his place in the game.

  8. Dr. Kronner - Jan 25, 2012 at 10:23 AM

    “as both Cabrera and Fielder are among the worst defensive first basemen in baseball.”

    I totally disagree, Cabrera is an extremely underrated defender.

  9. klownboy - Jan 25, 2012 at 11:00 AM

    Hey, if this signing does not make the Tigers the team to beat, nothing will. Not good news for my Yankees, that’s for sure…

  10. streatordave - Jan 25, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    Yet another win for Boras! This guy is amazing at nailing down sucker contracts to desperate teams.
    Rangers said no way from the git go. KUDOS Nolan & Jon. Good pitching beats good hitting every game.

  11. mojosmagic - Jan 25, 2012 at 12:57 PM

    I am a Phils fan and I love Prince as a great player and all round good guy. I think the Pujos contract is far worse then Fielder deal. Pujos is 4 years older, the deal is longer more costly, and is heavily back loaded. If Fielder plays 1B for 5 years he is still only 32 when he makes the switch to DH. Everyone said Charles Barkley would break down because of his similar body type and he lasted a long time. Pujos was the better player time will tell if he still is. Good luck Tiger fans.

  12. otis52gsh - Jan 25, 2012 at 1:57 PM

    Huge mistake by Detroit. He will eventually be injury prone simply because of his weight. Bad bad move.

  13. dgrindsports - Jan 25, 2012 at 2:34 PM

    Ever seen little prince crave a triple cheeseburger? Check it out DAILY GRIND SPORTS 1/25
    for sports, google Daily Grind Sports

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