[Preceded, yesterday, by the case for signing Prince Fielder. This article will focus solely on the reasons not to sign Fielder.]
You can imagine my subtle smile when, a day after laying out the case for signing Prince Fielder, a report confirmed what we’d suspected since the new CBA came to light: the Chicago Cubs are pursuing free agent Prince Fielder.
The smile, you see, was more about the timing than anything else. Despite writing 1400 words on the virtues of signing Fielder, I remained unconvinced that it was actually a good idea. Maybe it’s the former lawyer in me, but I like to hear the best arguments for and against something before making up my mind – and even then, sometimes I remain torn.
What follows are the reasons the Chicago Cubs should not sign Prince Fielder, to the exclusion of the equally-relevant reasons the Cubs should sign Fielder, which were addressed yesterday.
Whatever positive gloss you put on Prince Fielder’s value, you cannot escape one fact: $25 million for Fielder, even for a large market club like the Cubs, means some 20% of the team’s payroll is tied up in one player. That leaves the other 80% to be split among the remaining 24 roster spots – or less than 3.5% per player. Fielder, again, would be getting 20%. On what planet is that justifiable?
Then there’s the length of time the team is paying that $25 million. Every year, it seems the top free agent(s) come(s) out with some outrageous contract demand that we all laugh at, and say, “yeah, and I want to date a supermodel.”
And then the player gets his ridiculous demand. Sometimes more. (Yet Adriana Lima remains nowhere near my Friday nights.)
So, when rumors circulate that Fielder wants to land an eight-year, $200 million deal, I no longer laugh off that possibility. The idea that the Cubs could be stuck with as many as four unproductive, $25 million seasons of Fielder doesn’t make me laugh, either.
The Weight and the Looming Specter of Mo Vaughn
After the 1998 season, a world-beating first baseman was up for free agency, and nobody doubted that he was going to get paid. He’d put up six consecutive seasons with an OPS over .915, had hit 35 or more homers in four straight seasons, and was a top five MVP finisher (including one win) in three of the past four seasons.
His name was Mo Vaughn, and he was a 29-year-old monster, whom the Los Angeles Angels signed to a six-year, $80 million contract – the biggest in baseball at the time. A burly, left-handed hitter with prodigious power (but light on the defense), Vaughn was to be the Angels’ middle-of-the-order pop for the next half decade.
He never put up another OPS over .866 – his first year with the Angels – and his numbers dropped steadily from there, except in 2001, when he sat out the whole year. By 2003, at age 35, and in the second-to-final year of his deal, Vaughn was out of baseball.
Now, Prince Fielder is not Mo Vaughn. No one is. But history’s lessons exist for a reason, and, in this instance, they exist to teach us one thing: big men don’t always age well.
Fielder says he’s in great shape, despite his visible size. Others – most of whom have a vested interest in his success – say the same. But there’s no denying that he’s a big man, for whom “baseball shape” is likely to become an increasingly difficult goal as he ages.
Remember everything I said yesterday about Fielder’s defensive abilities? Nothing but double-talk, lawyer crap.
Fielder’s defense is bad. His range is small, his ability to dig balls out of the dirt is limited, and his defensive athleticism is questionable. And these things aren’t likely to improve as Fielder approaches 30. An NL team, like the Cubs, will not have the luxury of parking Fielder in the DH role later on in his contract like an AL team will. That suggests AL teams can more boldly bid for Fielder.
The Impact on Players Around Him
Anyone remember when Prince Fielder got into a Carlos Zambrano-esque fight with pitcher Manny Parra in the dugout over what Parra viewed as questionable defensive effort on Fielder’s part? I do. And you can watch it here, if you’d like. Fielder drills Parra. Hard.
Maybe Parra deserved it, and maybe it wasn’t as bad as it looked. But to slam into a teammate, in the dugout, in the middle of a game demonstrates, at best, really questionable decision-making skills.
And then there was the time Fielder tried to fight opposing pitcher Guillermo Mota after Mota plunked Fielder. No, I’m not talking about a charging the mound situation. I’m talking about Fielder camping out, waiting for Mota, and then heading to the Dodgers’ clubhouse to try and fight Mota there after the game. Fielder’s teammates had to pull him away.
And then there was the time Fielder, in the middle of a pennant race, stated publicly that he didn’t expect to return to Milwaukee after this season, prompting some surprised and disappointed reactions from teammates.
If you ask Brewers’ players whether Fielder is a good teammate – hell, if you ask new Cubs manager Dale Sveum – I’m sure they’ll say yes. Maybe he is. I’m not trying to say he’s Milton Bradley, or even Carlos Zambrano. But, it’s not a total non-issue.