In the aftermath of a third consecutive season when the Tigers made it to the final four but did not win the World Series, the blame game has begun. Prince Fielder is at the end of much of the finger pointing. Cries from the bleachers are calling for the Tigers to trade Fielder, for whatever they can get for him.
At the center of the controversy is the fact that Fielder, who has put up All Star numbers, and has been selected as an All Star five seasons in his eight plus seasons in the major leagues, has failed to hit in the post season each time he finds himself playing in October.
Fielder, a career .286 / .389 / .527 .916 hitter during the regular season, has hit only .194 / .287 / .333 / .620 in 164 plate appearances during the post season. Hero in the summer, zero in the fall.
Add the fact that he’s coming off his worst regular season, hitting .279 / .362 / .457 / .819 for the Tigers in 2013, and the fact that he is making $24 million per year for the next seven years, and you see Tiger fans start to get anxious. Some are calling for him to be traded. Doesn’t matter where, or even for whom, just ship him out and spend Mr Ilitch’s pizza profits elsewhere.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that Miguel Cabrera, the much loved two time MVP on the Tigers moved from his first base position to third base, where he was seen struggling to stay on the field, while Fielder kept an "iron man" streak going at Cabrera’s former position, playing sub par defense.
Cabrera is a better fielding first baseman than Fielder, and he isn’t particularly good as a third baseman. Between the two, the Tigers’ infield defense leaves a lot to be desired.
But Fielder is not going to be traded, for a number of reasons:
1. Fielder’s contract calls for seven more seasons at $ 24 million per season. Based on recent production, he wouldn’t receive that much today if he were a free agent, so no team will pay him that salary plus give up talent for the privilege.
2. Fielder’s contract also contains a limited no trade clause, which permits him to select only ten teams that he can be traded to without his consent. His agent, Scott Boras, will see to it that the ten teams listed are the ten least likely to ever take on a contract that large.
3. By all reports, Tiger owner Mike Ilitch personally got involved in bringing Fielder to Detroit. Ilitch is hell bent on bringing a world Series title to Detroit, and he isn’t about to give up on that plan any time soon.
If the Tigers were interested in trading Fielder, they would likely need his consent. That would cost additional money, which is really the objective of a no trade clause. The Tigers would also either have to eat some of Fielder’s salary, meaning that they’d be paying him to play for another team, or they would have to accept another over priced contract in return.
Fans' disappointment with Fielder is only likely to grow if the Tigers don’t extend their probable Cy Young winner, Max Scherzer, beyond the 2014 season when he is scheduled to become a free agent. Or worse, if the Tigers don’t extend Cabrera past the 2015 season.
At the center of Fielder’s problems in 2013 is a divorce. That is a trying time for any player. The Tigers witnessed this in 2005 when Pudge Rodriguez was going through divorce from his wife, and reportedly made himself a general nuisance in the clubhouse and on the field. When Jim Leyland took over as manager the following season, one of the first calls he made was to Rodriguez, telling him how important he was to the team, getting him on board with the plan as a team leader.
Prince Fielder has often been seen with his kids, who are very important to him. In any divorce, parents have to go through the pain of splitting up their family, including the time that they spend with their children. While kids are in school from September through June, the time that many fathers have with their children is during the same time that baseball players are away from home. They can’t just pack up their kids with their equipment and take them on the road, so traveling with the team becomes that much more difficult.
We can’t pretend to know what Prince is going through off the field, but there’s a good chance that he had a difficult time adjusting. He will have to adjust, for himself, for his team mates, and for his career. Pudge Rodriguez pulled it together and had a few more productive seasons with the Tigers.
Maybe Jim Leyland needs to have a reassuring conversation with Fielder about his role and his importance to the team. Leyland may not be with the Tigers for many more seasons, but Fielder will be. Seven more seasons. For better or worse.