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[To be followed by, you guessed it, the case against signing Prince Fielder. This article will focus solely on the reasons to consider signing Fielder, and a subsequent article will focus solely on the reasons not to consider signing Fielder.]

With Carlos Pena likely off to greener pastures in free agency, the Chicago Cubs have a gigantic hole at first base, and in the middle of the lineup. Might it take a gigantic first baseman to fill that hole?

Setting aside the Disney dream story that is Bryan LaHair, it’s hard to view (gigantic) free agent first baseman Prince Fielder as a non-option for the Cubs. Yes, he’ll cost a lot of money. Yes, he’s beefy. Yes, his defense is not the top of the top. But the Cubs need a big bat at first, and Prince is a currently-available big bat at first.

It must be considered.

What follows are the reasons the Chicago Cubs should sign Prince Fielder, to the exclusion of the equally-relevant reasons the Cubs should not sign Fielder, which will be addressed later.

The Production

The first reason to sign Fielder almost pass without discussion: the guy is an offensive force.

Some folks like to point to the yo-yo’ing of Fielder’s numbers through his career, calling him inconsistent. Here’s the thing about Fielder’s offensive numbers: even when they yo to the downside, they’re still pretty damn good. Fielder’s worst season since his rookie year was when he was 24, back in 2008. That year, he hit “only” .276/.372/.507, with 34 homers and 102 RBI. His OPS+ of 130 that “bad” year would have placed him first or second on the Cubs every single year since 2005.

The rest of the time, Fielder’s been a monster. His career .282/.390/.540 line places him among the best hitters in baseball over the last half decade. He averages 37 homers, 32 doubles, and 106 RBI every 162 games. He’s been in the top 16 in league OPS every season since his rookie year, and has three times been in the top three.

If the yo-yo’ing criticism has some teeth, it’s this: Fielder appears to alternate awesome seasons with really, really awesome seasons.

The Impact on Players Around Him

Maybe Rickie Weeks, Casey McGehee and Corey Hart really are impressive hitters. I’ll grant that possibility.

But when your lineup features a couple guys like Fielder and Ryan Braun, a pitcher’s margin for error with respect to the other seven hitters gets a whole lot slimmer. Batters in front of Fielder benefit from a pitcher’s awareness that, if he doesn’t get this guy out (and throw him strikes), he’s going to have to face Fielder with a man or men on. Batters behind Fielder benefit from a near 40% chance that they’ll be hitting with a man on base, which also improves the pitches they see.

The Age

Prince Fielder is 27 years old. Most free agents hit the market in the middle of, or at the back end of, their prime years. Fielder is still at the outset of what is traditionally believed to be a player’s peak years.

Signing Fielder to, for example, a seven year deal may not be as egregious as you think: in the final year of the deal, he’d still be only 33 years old to start the year.

The Defense

No, Fielder’s defensive prowess is not going to convince any teams to sign him. But it turns out that it’s not quite the boogyman you may have thought. While Fielder’s range is limited, his fielding percentage is just about league average (he actually is sometimes at the back of the pack, but the difference between the best and the worst first baseman, in terms of fielder percentage, is in the one thousandths). In other words, Fielder doesn’t get to quite as many balls as the average first baseman, but neither does he make more errors – on a percentage basis – than the average first baseman.

Let’s talk about that range thing. Range factor, which is the number of assists and putouts a player accumulates per nine innings, isn’t a particularly useful evaluative tool when it comes to first basemen. The reason should be obvious: while it includes the plays a first baseman makes himself, it also includes the throws he receives at first. So, for example, if you were the first baseman on a team full of fly ball/strikeout pitchers, your range factor would be decidedly low (the fact that Fielder has been near the top of the league in zone rating (i.e., how well a player gets to balls in his “zone”) the last few years suggests something like this is going on). Even if you do believe range factor is an effective ding on Fielder, here’s the thing: he’s about 4% lower than average. That’s it.

Another big part of what a first baseman does defensively is save errant throws. Fielder is no Carlos Pena in that department, and his “scoop percentage” (the number of bad throws he saves) is probably below average. But, once again, he’s not terribly far off the mean – through August of this past season, Fielder’s 70% scoop percentage was just a bit lower than the league average 82%.

I’m not trying to make Fielder out to be a great defensive player. He’s not. Advanced defensive metrics, and the eyeball test, tell you he’s probably in the bottom half of the league defensively at first base. But is his defense so abysmally bad that he shouldn’t be considered? No way. Indeed, according to Bill James’ calculations, Fielder’s defense in 2011 cost his Brewers just one run.

The Wait and the Window of Competitiveness

A name you hear thrown around in discussions about Fielder’s expected contract is Mark Teixeira, who got eight years and $180 million from the Yankees. The reason for the comparison has less to do with the players’ respective track records at the time of free agency (Tex was Gold Glover who was also a very good hitter, Fielder is a great hitter) and more to do with the fact that Teixeira’s free agency represents arguably the last time a game-changing first baseman was available on the free agent market.

That was three years ago.

The point here? Guys like Fielder don’t come along in free agency every year. So, even if your team’s window of competitiveness is not for another year or two, you’d be wise to strongly consider locking a guy down when he’s actually there to be locked down. Don’t believe me? Take a glimpse at the projected potential free agent market at first base next year, courtesy of Cot’s: Travis Hafner, Aubrey Huff, Adam LaRoche, Carlos Lee, James Loney, Mike Napoli, and Ty Wigginton.

No. Guys like Fielder and Teixeira are a rare thing. And did I mention that Fielder is a year younger now than Teixeira was when the Yankees signed him?

The Money

It’s going to take a ton of money to sign Prince Fielder. There is no debating that point.

But, even if he gets the max of what he’s asking – $200 million over eight years – is that enough to make signing him out of the question? I’m not so sure.

According to Fangraphs, Fielder’s “value,” translated to dollars, over the last five seasons, going backwards, are: $24.6M, $13.5M, $28.8M, $7.6M, and $20.9M. That’s strictly what he’s been “worth,” mind you, and does not include the premium always associated with signing a player on the free agent market. That is to say: he was always going to get more than he was “worth,” but it turns out that what he’s “worth” is a lot closer to what he’ll get than we might have thought.

Will Prince be “worth” $25 million per year when he’s 33/34 years old? No. Probably not. But, you are, in some ways – to borrow a particularly apt cartoon analogy – paying tomorrow for a hamburger today. “Overpaying” Fielder in 2016 and beyond is part of the price of signing him today.

And, don’t forget: with the new CBA effectively capping what the Cubs can spend on the draft and in the international amateur market in 2012 at about $13 million or so, the team will have some extra money to shift to the big league payroll. In 2011, the Cubs spent about $20 million on the amateur side. Assuming that number was expected to hold steady in 2012 (I’ll be you a shiny nickel Theo Epstein had talked Tom Ricketts into upping that figure), that’s an additional $7 million per year that the Cubs have to work with. It should be put to work somewhere.

  • Mike

    The reason not to sign Fielder should not be because of the failures of Soriano or the money and years it might take to sign Fielder. Guys like Prince don’t grow on trees.

    Look at Theo’s track record. He has had more success developing pitching than he has a power hitter like Prince. Look at Lester, Bucholholz, Bard and Papelbon.

    I don’t know how long it will before Prince has a noticeable decline, but is there a clear cut 30+HR, 100+RBI left handed power option in the Cubs minor league system who is two or three years away? If there is wouldn’t you want to pair him up with Prince instead of rely on him to be the answer. Potential free agent power guys like Kemp and Hamilton are getting locked up or looking to be locked up before they hit free agency.

    I don’t think committing money to a guy like Prince prevents the Cubs from acquiring a front line starting pitcher in future free agent years. It might prevent acquiring two front line starting pitchers, but the Cubs are a large market club and have money to spend.

  • Lou Cub

    Per Tom Loxas and Bruce Levine, the Texas Rangers may be willing to part with 1b Mitch Moreland as part of a Matt Garza swap…expect Garza to be dealt somewhere at the winter meetings.

  • Incredibad

    Great piece, Brett.

  • Mike F

    To trade Garza, a top of the rotation arm at 28, when we don’t know if we can sign a decent pitcher, I would have to have both Perez and Scheppers as the main pieces. If they don’t get those two, they aren’t doing their job if they are determined to do that. In fact, Moreland is just a guy, maybe he develops into something more, who knows, but to trade an arm the quality of Garza, I have to get back the two best Rangers arms hoping they both make it, but who knows. Pitching is a premium piece and pitching in the majors like Garza isn’t as easy to replace as people think. I would begin to trade Garza for less than Moreland, Perez and Scheppers and would demand that and not budge.

    • Lou

      Sorry, man, Moreland’s not just a guy. He’s a player the Rangers covet at 1b for a long time. That being said the Cubs need to get an arm that’s ready for the majors in 2012 to fill at least the innings the Cubs will miss with Garza.

      • Lou Cub

        @ Lou, i’d love Moreland as part of that deal

        • MrCub73

          I would love to see Moreland traded to Chicago, the guy is much better than the numbers he put up last year. Plus, he can play some D at first. Moreland is a player, if traded to the Cubs, could be a key player for years to come, plus he is currently part of a winning culture that is so desired is Chicago.

          • Drake

            Sorry guys, I just don’t see what it is you like so much in Mitch Moreland. He’s a guy who had an OPS+ under the league average in a great lineup and has never had good strikeout-walk ratio. Don’t see the big appeal of Moreland.

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

              Keep in mind, his second half numbers were far, far worse than his first half because he was dealing with the wrist problem (for which he just had surgery).

              • Kyle

                Recent wrist surgery doesn’t make me feel better about a hitter. That makes me feel worse.

                • art

                  agree, remember D. Lee using his wrist (excuse) surgery for 2 years.

                • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                  My comment went only to explaining why his numbers declined in 2011. I said I was concerned about him for 2012 the day they announced his surgery.

    • Lou Cub

      The thing about Texas is that they’ve almost made it all the way twice and may pay a hefty price for Garza to get over the hump…Secondly if the Yankees and others are in the mix, the price will go up..Last offseason, Tampa never would have traded him within the division so our bargaining power is greater and I trust Theo, Jed and John McLeod’s assements of young talent more than Hendry’s..We’ll make out fine

  • CubFan Paul

    “If a Club does not sign a pick, its signing bonus pool is reduced by the amount of the pick. So, for example, if a Club does not sign its first round pick, and its first round pick had a slot of $1.5 million, the Club’s signing bonus pool would be reduced by $1.5. This is true of any unsigned pick, not just those covered by compensation. The main idea here was to not create incentive for a team to NOT sign a pick”

    we tallked about this earlier today (yesterday)
    http://minors.mlblogs.com/2011/11/28/more-cba-goodies/

    • CubFan Paul

      soup for me

  • Mike F

    Trades are really tough. Moreland is a guy who is 26, will hit for some power, not a big average guy, but nice player, but not to close to value for Garza. It should take at least the best 2 arms in the Rangers system to get Garza. Garza is a sure thing, and no position player who isn’t a guy who makes the whole team better, would remotely be enough for a pitcher of this quality. I don’t disagree that they have to get a minor league arm that is a major league prospect, in fact I think they would have to get at least 2 and less than Perez and Scheppers wouldn’t be enough. But if you’re wanting to boost your minors and get value that way, it may not be instant impact. There may not be a ton of sure thing cusp guys just waiting and if there were Texas wouldn’t be a buyer of Garza if these guys were ready anyway.

    And that’s where Brett had it right. You end up having to go out and bridge the gap by throwing a lot of money at a guy like Jackson or MB, maybe another fa like Darvish if posted. Sometimes you end up moving a lot to not get much better. So if they are determined to trade Garza, it has to be at the core for pitching and would have to bring back to players, even more considering the talent the Cubs are giving up than Kennny Williams got when he got two strong arms from Philly for an aging pitcher. You would be giving up a very good young arm for prospects, for the moment forget about the bat, it’s not the bat that’s important especially with 2 huge bats on the market and one clearly better and not much older in Fielder, so it’s abut arms, and I’m not certain for Garza they shouldn’t be looking for 3 arms given the risk with prospects.

  • BetterNews

    Why does everybody keep calling Zambonehead big “Z”? Big mouth,yes. Big instigator, yes. Big bully, yes. Big racist, yes. O.k., sorry, I see why now.

  • BetterNews

    And people want to call that “good” natured “competitiveness”, good for sports. Somebody let the dogs out so big “Z” gets bit in the arse and just walks away from the Cubs and all of baseball! I will then point at the sky, and thank the Lord!

  • Pingback: Report: Chicago Cubs Actively Pursuing Prince Fielder … AND Albert Pujols | Bleacher Nation | Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary()

  • BetterNews

    Brett— I agree on this one! LaHair is a “pipe” dream, or Disney “dream” as you put it. And I agree that Fielder is “beefy”, as I think you put it. But if you really look at Fielder and the way he is built, I would put him up there with an M1-Abrams tank! He has the means, and I don’t think he’ll stop, nor can he be stopped. He is not “fluff” as so many are saying now. C’mon now.

    Its not my money, but yes I would consider Fielder, for sure.

  • Pingback: The Case Against Signing Prince Fielder | Bleacher Nation | Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary()

  • Cubtown

    I see Prince being a marketing dream for the Cubs. If you put the money up. they will come.
    Sold Out
    Sold Out
    Sold out all season long.
    Stadium packed and Prince Tshirts, Prince Jerseys and Lil Cubby Crowns Being bought everywhere. If money is coming in, then cubs payroll will continue to go up.

    • BetterNews

      Cubtown—Yes, but does that mean the chance at the WS actually goes down?

  • Pingback: Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Cubs, Broxton, Garza | Forex News()

  • John Volkman

    the reason not to sign fielder is that pujols is an all time great player and should be signed in place of him. Granted fielder is younger but pujols is such a rare talent, you have to take a shot on him

    • ferrets_bueller

      …thats pretty horrible logic. Does Pujols even have three seasons left in which he’ll produce at a level worthy of his contract? Highly, highly unlikely. Look back through history, and see if there are any players who would have been worth of such a contract at age 32…(hint, theres really only one, Hank Aaron, outside of those who used steroids). he is a rare talent, but in the very near future, that will become “he WAS a very rare talent.”
      That contract WILL become an albatross, most likely before its even half over. The best possible thing for the Cubs is for the Cards to commit 200 million to Pujols, while only getting about 70million worth of production.

      Whatever the Cubs do regarding Fielder, they absolutely CANNOT sign Pujols. If they do, it’ll be a long, long time until they’re in a good position again…

      Fielder is another story, especially if the market really is only around 6 years, 120-150 million. I fully expect fielder to fall off the face of the earth at either age 31 or 32. But that is year 4 or 5 of the deal, meaning you’re only burning two years, tops, of his contract, while having a monster for the first part. If the cubs can land him for 5 or 6 years (ideally 5…) then its actually a good deal, as long as he’s not anywhere near 200 million…

      • Kyle

        Pujols’ 10 most comparable players, through age 31, from B-R:

        Foxx, two more productive seasons.
        Griffey, six more productive seasons
        Robinson, seven more productive seasons
        Aaron, 10 more productive seasons
        Gehrig, four more productive seasons (before ALS ended his career)
        Mantle, four more productive seasons
        Ott, five more productive seasons
        Gonzalez, no more productive seasons
        Mays, seven or eight more productive seasons
        Ramirez, seven more productive seasons

        I’m pretty iffy on giving Pujols an 8+ year deal, but history does tell us that truly elite hitters have far better aging curves than their counterparts, so I’d definitely expect a decent number of good years out of him.

        • ferrets_bueller

          While I am a fan of BR’s similar players lists…i think they should able to be filtered by era. IE, I don’t think guys like Foxx, LG, or mantle are legit comparisons.

          My point also wasn’t necessarily “productive” seasons, per se, but seasons worth of the contract.
          For instance, Griffey had, at best, only TWO seasons after 31 that are even anywhere CLOSE to justifying such a contract. Frank Robinson only had 1.

          The only two guys who show a precedent of coming even anywhere close to justifying a salary that high from age 34-40 are Aaron and Mays. Thats it.

  • Mike F

    I really think the key is who has the best now and 6 years from now as going in excess of 6 with either is nuts. Sticking to the paying for future performance, I feel very comfortable with Pujols 1-3, even more so than Fielder. I’m less in the 4-6 with either. And I have no comfort with either at beyond 6. The issue with Pujols to me is will he take a compacted contract to leave. If he will then to me he’s worth taking he risk. Guys like Pujols aren’t usually available. Fielder to me would be plan B. Bluntly he’s too fat. He’s nose tackle size and they destroy their bodies, knees, ankles and back. So if true, as Theo is rumored to see it similarly, I agree with his assessment. Finally Pujols takes pretty good care of himself. If indeed he doesn’t use steroids, I think there is less to worry about with his body and decline than people seem to concern themselves with. But I wouldn’t go 8-10 years on either of these guys.

    And here’s the key, I’d offer Pujols 215 M for 6 years, structuring a lot of the money up front. First, that moves the whole time value of money theory front and center. Second, that’s the kind of deal that tells you right away whether he’s interested or not. St. Louis offered him 198 M over 10 years, but a lot of that is deferred and paid with cheaper dollars. If he won’t take more compacted in more expensive dollars you find out now and equally important you severely handicap the Cardinals. Let’s just for arguments sake say the Cubs were to include a deal that paid him 120M in the next 3, that’s less than they would have committed for garbage like Zambrano, Pena, Soriano and Ramirez. Probably not much more than they would have escalated for Ramirez, Pena and take your pick.

  • Toosh

    The Winter Meetings could be very exciting. I believe some executives are arriving today. As for the FA 1st basemen, while Epstein might be talking with the agents for both Fielder and Pujols, I think he’s just being diligent and is really only interested in one of them. Which one I’m not sure.

    • Jeff

      I think you might be right, and I think that they want Fielder, but don’t want St. Louis to know. I am becoming more and more convinced that they need to land one of these two, or risk not having enough power in the lineup for the next couple of years to realistically contend. I know that there is a downside to both, but I think that the Cubs need to take a chance here and not sit this out just because of past experience with big contracts. I am looking forward to the meetings, there are more teams looking to make major moves than I can remember in recent history. Should be lots of fun. It’s too bad nobody could convince Brett to do a winter meeting blog a thon, it would have been great.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        If it were one day, or even two, I would have done it.

  • Oswego Chris

    Reading many of the papers from around the country this morning, so many teams are gonna be in a holding pattern until Pujols/Fielder is resolved…

    The winter meetings have been one of my favorite weeks of the year since I was a kid, and usually they end up as disappointing as a first date in high school was in 1984(now I get the feeling first dates are a little more….ahem…productive)

    I want some action this week!

     

     

    • Jeff

      Here’s to hoping the Cubs get to third base. (I assume that’s what you meant by “productive”)

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