Saturday January 28, 2012
Jonathan Hacohen: On Thursday it became official. January 26, 2012 will forever be known as the day that Prince Fielder came home. We all know the story. Hitting home runs out of Tiger Stadium at the age of 12, Prince Fielder was a baseball legend from a very tender age. The former Brewers slugger hit the jackpot though, as the Tigers inked him to a 9-year, $214 million contract. At the age of 27, Prince already has 230 career home runs. Think about that one. Six full seasons in the big leagues. Close to forty home runs average per year. A man who has taken 100+ walks each of the last three years. Career .282 AVG. .390 OBP. .540 SLG. Plus he is still 27-years of age. The time in a player’s life when they are just entering their prime. If Prince has not hit his full stride yet…then watch out American League pitchers!
For a homecoming that seemed forever in doubt, the end result was a signing that felt right. Given the strained relationship between father and son, most suspected that Prince would not want to come to Detroit. The connections and comparisons to his dad would just be too much for him to handle. For a man who seemed to be very private and low-key, a Detroit signing seemed to contradict what he was seeking. But yesterday, Prince’s childhood dream did come true. Father and son according to reports are repairing their relationship. While it would have been nice to have seen Cecil at today’s press conference, it was not to be. Once Victor Martinez got injured, the Tigers came calling. Mike Ilitch, who knew Prince from when he was a young boy, wanted the young slugger in Detroit. After missing Prince by 1 selection in the 2002 draft, Ilitch was not going to let Prince escape again. The result was the cleanup hitter behind Miguel Cabrera that the team has dreamed of and the lifetime contract of security that Fielder and his agent, Scott Boras sought.
With a contract of this magnitude, there will always be debates, speculation and doubt. To help shed some light and clear up the confusion, I went ahead and prepared my top-ten list of reasons why the Prince Fielder Contract will work in Detroit.
I see this as a very smart signing by the Tigers and here are my reasons why:
1) Health and Durability: In six full seasons, Prince has missed a total of thirteen games. That’s it. For all the talk of weight, this is the modern-day Cal Ripken. Prince is a lot stronger and athletic than people give him credit for. Some consider a contract to be paid based on past experiences, while some believe it should be on future potential. In five years, Prince will only be 32. Based on his track history, it is expected that he should continue his iron-man type legacy for at least half of his contract…maybe more. Until proven otherwise, Prince is reliable and comes to the park to play everyday. There is value in durability, especially in a slugger of this magnitude.
2) The Power Bat: As shown earlier, the numbers are there. Averaging close to 40 home runs per year for his first six seasons. With more to come. Looking at his home/road splits over the years, he varied year to year. I am not sold that Prince was entirely dependant on Miller Park, as he hit well most years away from home. While Comerica is a less hitter friendly park, it surely will not hold Prince back much. Playing in front of the home town crowd, Prince should thrive in Detroit as well. Prince could very well hit 400+ home runs over the next 9-years. Time will tell. But from what he has shown so far, there is no slowing down. Heck, even Cecil hit 17 home runs in his last season at the age of 35. Clearly it can be done.
3) Age: Prince will be 28 in May 2012. For a power hitter of his stature, we should still see 5-6 prime years from him, with the potential to put up strong numbers right up until the end of the contract. While many stars still sign big contracts well into their 30′s, Prince is still in the prime of his life. Compared to Albert Pujols (even without the age uncertainty), Prince is a young slugger playing in his key years. Perfect for a team that plans to make a playoff runs for the next few years.
4) Consistency: Look at Prince’s numbers every year since he started to play full-time in the majors. The numbers speak for themselves, he has been as consistent as they come with no signs of slowing down.
5) Legacy: Many felt Prince would not sign with the Tigers, with the rationale that he wanted nothing to do with his father and to as separated from him as possible. My theory is that Prince actually craves the notion of going onto his father’s turf and breaking all of his records. To become the #1 Fielder in Tigers’ history. The Fielder name on the back of a Tigers jersey is legendary. To have Prince in Detroit now, he will be cementing his place in major league history. Success in Detroit will lead to endorsements beyond Prince’s wild imagination and a greater chance at the hall of fame. Not many people would have remembered Washington once Prince retired, had he played there. But after his career is done in Detroit, few will likely remember him as a Brewer. That is how powerful the Detroit and Fielder connection is.
6) Father and Son: If you haven’t done it already, check out the video at the top of this article to view the full press conference. Notice something interesting? Prince has his son with him the whole time. Remind you of anyone? That’s right. Prince and Cecil. The two were inseparable. I like this signing on a personal level for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it allows Prince to come home and play for the team and city that he spent much of his childhood with. Prince will be able to share the same experiences with his own son that he got to experience as a youngster. But mostly, I can only see this move as a strong indication of the progress and repair to the relationship between Prince and his own father. Considering that his dad raised him, taught him the game and made him into the player and man that he is today, in a perfect world it would have been a beautiful moment to see Prince and Cecil together at the Tigers’ press conference. While that may not have happened, I expect to see the day when the two will be hanging out together at Comerica Park. Three generations of Fielders in Detroit. The way it was meant to be.
7) Miguel Cabrera: Probably the only person happier about this signing besides Prince, Scott Boras and Cecil, would be Miguel Cabrera. While he did enjoy good protection in the lineup from Martinez last year and Ordonez in previous years, having Prince hit behind him will take Miggy to another level. Miggy’s walks have been jumping like mad in the last couple years, given that he has been the Tigers main offensive threat and fave choice of pitchers to pitch around. With Fielder in Detroit, Miggy has the potential to put up even greater numbers if that is possible. Look at what Prince did for Braun. With Miggy and Prince batting 3-4, teams will definitely have difficult choices to make.
8) V-Mart and Alex Avila: Avila, who will turn 25 tomorrow (happy birthday Alex!) had a season for the ages in 2011. The Tigers pitchers were on fire and loved how he called games. Blocked pitches. Threw out runners. Then there was the offense. .389 OBP. .506 SLG. 19 home runs. 82 RBIs. If he wasn’t the best catcher in baseball, he was at the very least top three. This was all done for the most part batting near the bottom of the Tigers lineup. Now imagine him batting 2nd next year. Batting in front of Miggy and Prince, Avila could have a .450 OBP or higher. Avila, like much of the Tigers hitters will greatly improve by having Prince in the lineup. Then come 2013, when V-Mart is in the lineup, the Tigers lineup will become nearly unstoppable. Miggy, Prince, Avila and V-Mart…all in the same lineup? I am practically drooling.
9) The Price is Right: Once upon a time, Vernon Wells signed a 7-year $126 million contract. Approximately $18 million per season. Jayson Werth with nearly the same deal. Pujols signed for 10 years $240 million. Pujols is also 32 (in Dominican years). Even if he is only 32, when Pujols turns 36 he will only be 5 years into his deal. At age 36, Prince will be done his. Werth will be 38 when his deal is done. Wells will be 36. The point is that there are many worse contracts out there. Compared to Wells and Werth, Prince is younger and far more consistent and productive. While Pujols is Pujols, you have to feel a bit edgy about his chances of completing his monster deal. Prince is a slugger and still has many more key years left. Considering what some of the other top contracts looked like, Prince money is not far off to what the elite are supposed to receive. At least in the case of Prince, compared to Werth and Wells, he had the track record to earn what he received. Relatively to the other “stars” I mean.
10) World Series: The Detroit Tigers of 2006 and 2011 really stick out in my mind. Two ballclubs that really needed an injection of runs to get over the hump. Especially last year’s edition. The squad had Verlander and Fister to start, with Valverde and the bullpen to keep the team close in games. But the team needed far more pop, other than Cabrera, Avila and V-Mart. Now with Prince, the team has the potential to challenge for baseball supremacy for the next 5+ years. Few players are difference makers. Prince is one of those players. Look at the Giants with Barry Bonds in the lineup. They always a had a chance. That is the biggest reason I saw the Giants being the team to grab Prince. I got the orange color right, but not the league. With such a high payroll and great band of stars and supporting players, the Tigers were seemingly one piece away from going to the World Series last year. Now hopefully, Prince is that missing piece to complete the Tigers playoff puzzle.
Without a doubt, some people have concerns about this signing. Most of the criticism falls around the dollars involved, length of contract, Prince’s weight and defensive questions. Let me answer those questions quickly. Firstly, the pay is the pay. The going rate for an elite superstar hitter is $20+ million per season. The number is still rising believe it or not. Remember, Prince will be only 28 this season. If he became a free agent in say 3 years, what would the market price be then? The dollars per year is market rate, whether we like it or not. As far as length of contract, by year 6- Prince will still be 33. Still very young in baseball terms. So the question for me is not the total length of contract, but the production the Tigers will receive in years 7-9. But even in the worst case and the Tigers get superstar numbers for approximately 6 years and decent numbers for the last 3, the contract will still make sense. If the Tigers win it all in any of those years, then nobody will even remember the contract. All they will remember is the ring and trophy.
As far as Prince’s weight and defense, I will say this. I have already shown in this article Prince’s durability. Not one issue was made of Prince’s weight in the press conference or by the team. Prince is a big man, no doubt. But he is a good athlete who is in much better shape than he is given credited for. As long as he is not missing games and his production is of an elite level, people should not be concerned. We are not trying to sell jeans people…we are trying to win ballgames. Lastly, I think Prince gets an unfair label from a defensive standpoint. While he may never win a gold glove and has the occasional lapse, for the most part he does the job. He works hard on the defensive aspect of his game. Moving Miggy to 3B or the OF is not a reflection on Miggy being an inferior 1B candidate. Rather, Miggy has experience at other positions and is still young enough to conquer them again. Prince did not sign this deal to be a DH. Yes, it will be an advantage to have him DH in back-to-back night/day games and for occasional breathers. But Prince is still young and capable. Like most young players, you don’t want them to strictly DH, since it takes them off the field and out of the game in many cases (see Adam Dunn). Prince will get the job done and having him at his natural position will make him most comfortable and likely productive. That is a good thing for the Tigers. At the end of the day, I have one last message for any last doubters left. Mike Ilitch just spent $214 million of his money, without hurting his ballclub. It’s his money and he can afford it. At the end of the day, this is not my money or yours. It’s the Tigers cash. If they want to spend it on Prince, all the power to them. This article addresses why the signing will work and makes sense. But ultimately, the Tigers wanted Prince from the time he was 12 and now he is home. Welcome back to Detroit Prince. Enjoy him Tigers fans…you are getting a bona fide superstar coming to your town.
Jonathan Hacohen is the Lead Baseball Columnist & Editor for MLB reports: You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)
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