In the eighth inning of yesterday’s otherwise meaningless game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Florida Marlins, Prince Fielder received a standing ovation after being removed for a pinch-runner. It very well could have been the last thing he ever did at home as a member of the Brewers, and everyone in attendance knew it.
Fielder is probably the most likely big name player to be traded this winter, as the Brewers have come to the conclusion that they’re not going to be able to sign their first baseman to a long term extension. Talks with Scott Boras earlier this spring apparently ended after the team’s offer – reportedly for 5 years and $100 million or so – was rebuffed, and it seems unlikely that either side will have a change of heart now. Fielder is looking for a market rate paycheck, while the Brewers are just not going to give him one.
So, the Brewers face a choice – they could keep their slugging first baseman, hope the 2011 team performs well in the first half of the season, and evaluate their potential playoff chances before deciding whether to move him at the deadline or collect two draft picks next winter, or they can trade him this winter and retool their roster. If they keep him, they run the risk of having to compete with San Diego next summer, who may be shopping Adrian Gonzalez if their season doesn’t work out so well. They also run the risk of Fielder getting hurt or having a down season, or potentially few contenders needing a 1B/DH type at the deadline, which would create diminished demand for his services.
The smart decision seems to be to move him. However, that might not be as easy as it sounds. Fielder is going to be a 5th year arbitration guy coming off a $10.5 million salary and with strong numbers in traditional categories, so he’s looking at a $15 million plus paycheck for 2011. And, while he’s a good player, that isn’t all that much of a bargain.
In five seasons as a big leaguer, Fielder has hit .281/.385/.538, good for a .389 wOBA. That’s very good, of course, but the only place he adds value is at the plate. UZR has consistently rated him as a below average defender, as he averages about -7 runs per season as a first baseman. While he moves pretty decently for a guy his size, he’s not any kind of asset on the bases. He’s a hitter, and a good one, but that’s all he is. And there are a lot of those available in free agency this winter.
For instance, most teams that would be interested in Fielder would probably also take a look at Adam Dunn, whose .251/.381/.522 career mark is very similar to Fielder’s. They have similar skillsets, and while Dunn is older, teams can sign him without surrendering prospects in their system or have to worry about the long term contract that Boras is seeking for his client. Even if you have to give up a draft pick to sign Dunn, he’ll look like a pretty attractive option at 4/40 compared to giving up premium talent to sign Fielder and then having Boras ask for six years and $150 million at the negotiating table.
While Fielder is a good player, he’s not a huge asset, because his annual salary is already pretty pricey and his lack of value beyond his bat is nonexistent. He’s a good player, but not a superstar, as his career +3.5 WAR per 600 PA shows. Even if we called him a +4 to +5 win player, he’s probably not worth $20 million per year, and Boras has already demonstrated that the expected price tag of keeping him is over that mark.
Realistically, the Brewers are probably better off finding a team who would see Fielder as a rental – a club that needs a big time slugger to put them over the top next year, and is willing to switch out prospects for present value and some long term draft picks. Rather than focusing on finding Fielder’s permanent home, it’s probably in everyone’s best interests if he’s a hired hand for one year, and then lets the market determine his landing place next winter.
How much is a one year rental 1B/DH with an expected salary of $15 million worth? Probably a lot less than Brewer fans are hoping for.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.