There are so many questions with Prince Fielder signing a nine-year, $214-million contract with the Tigers that need to be answered. Originally I was going to do this burning questions style, but I think I'll just crank out a series of shorter posts to help keep conversation lines more organized.
Start with the obvious question: Nine years? $214 million?! Are the Tigers crazy? Are they going to regret this in the end?
That is the way the question has been framed by most in the baseball commentary world, as we covered in yesterday's links roundup. Rob Neyer's headline goes so far as to ask "Will Prince Fielder's contract rank among the worst ever?" in a headline on his story at Baseball Nation.
I'll be honest, I think it's all a bit of lunacy and breathless commentary from an industry that peddles in breathless commentary.
This is the era where top players are paid upwards of $20 million a season to play baseball. In terms of dollars per year, Fielder's contract currently ranks seventh at about $23.8 million a year. There are actually 15 contracts right now that average at least $20 million a year.
Fielder fits in roughly with Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Adrian Gonzalez and Joe Mauer in annual compensation and the length of the deal. Sure he's maybe a million higher a year, but I hardly find that to be a reason to freak out. On a shorter deals, you can add in names like Miguel Cabrera or Mark Teixeira. And what do these players all have in common? They more or less are all first basemen/designated hitter types, and some are fellow bigger-bodied players. It sure looks to me that MLB baseball teams have pegged a certain value to players of this ilk, and it looks appears like Fielder's fits in.
The two things that make Fielder's deal stand out to people are
No. 1) The fact the total figure come in at $214 million and places Fielder's take fourth overall in largest contracts ever handed out.
No 2) The fact that Fielder is a big boy, and those do not typically age well. Neyer notes that the aging curve ought to frighten Tigers fans.
The first, I say: Sure the deal is large, but that's because it's a nine-year deal and Fielder was the second-best player this offseason. Am I supposed to worry about nine years from now? Really? As economists say, in the long run we're all dead. I'm going to bet that nine years from now, Fielder is no longer among the highest-paid players. Nine years ago, $13 million a year was a whole lot of money. Now $13 million would be hard pressed to crack the top 50 list.
The aging curve has players of Fielder's size peaking during age 23-24. At age 27, Fielder shows no signs of being a worse hitter. If he's not going to have peak sabermetric value because he'll be a DH, well, so be it. As I've already shown, his contract is comparable to that type of player.
So the general story line, and I do subscribe to this, is that Fielder will not be worth what he's getting paid by the end of his contract. I'll cede the point.
I believe I speak for most fans of teams who sign $20 million a year caliber players when I say: OK, yeah, well, so what? The contract will not win any sabermetric deal of the year awards. I'm supposed to curl up in a ball and cry over that? Pennants are not given for efficiency. Wins and titles are how clubs are measured, and a move like this certainly seems preferable than signing a washed-up veteran and hoping for the best.
Baseball may be a team game, but it's a game of stars and personalities as well. As Phil Coke's Brain pointed out,the average family going to a baseball game doesn't know anything about sabermetrics, and they probably wouldn't recognize the greatness of the sabermetric all-stars. But you can be darn sure they know who Prince Fielder is.
And you know why? He plays daily (160+ games a year during his career, gets on base (3 consecutive seasons with an OBP of .400+), and most importantly, hits the ball really far, really often (.260 isolated power in 2009-11 is good for fifth in baseball during that period.) He's a guy pretty much everyone has heard of, and they're going to be excitedly talking about seeing him play. Sure, he's a bit fat, but looking at his career thus far he seems pretty durable, too.
Fielder's going to be the powerful left-handed batter the Tigers have never had -- I'm sorry but young versions of Carlos Pena and Curtis Granderson in Detroit do not count -- on the field, while being an instant fan favorite off the fielder. He's going to help the Tigers win a whole bunch of game over the next few years, help them when they get into the playoffs, sell jerseys, drive marketing and put additional butts in the seats. The fan buzz is already amazing.
Sabermetricians may -- and I'm not sure if they do -- try to claim all these numbers can be summed up nicely by saying each 1 WAR is worth $4.9 million a year, and that figure will raise with a minor inflation each year. I find that to be a highly simplified answer and a rather narrow view of the economic realities of the game.
In the end, it's a large deal, done by a team that is not afraid of large deals and one that does not like to play by the generally agreed upon rules of the pundits. Years from now, we'll have to see how the team chooses to act. It's already shown it can maneuver around as necessary. I mean, weren't the Tigers supposed to sell off all their players in 2009 when he bankrupt city and bankrupt team collapsed into a heap? I'm sorry it didn't work out for you that way, prognosticators.
Like it or not, the Central Divsion has a favorite for years to come -- and it's everyone's feel-good Royals.
As a fan of the baseball team that plays in Detroit, that suits me fine. As it does plenty of other Tigers fans -- and the team's owner -- too.
In the end, that's all the accounting that matters.