Prince “The Statement” Fielder

Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (and latent Detroit Tigers homerism) has a post up this morning suggesting that the Toronto Blue Jays could make a statement this off season by signing Prince Fielder to a multiple year contract.

I’m assuming that statement would be: “Hey, look, we just signed Prince Fielder to a multiple year contract.”

Okay, that’s maybe a bit harsh, especially to someone who quite rightly supports Alan Trammel’s bid for the Hall of Fame, but Morosi is making an obvious statement. And one that we’ve gone over several times before.

If we look at the combined numbers over the last three seasons, Prince Fielder has been the fifth best first baseman in baseball according to fWAR. The players better than him are all perennial MVP candidates: Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez. Not that this is at all surprising, but Fielder is a very good player. Any team that signs him this off season will be making a statement, because he would be an improvement for more than 83% of the teams that comprise Major League Baseball.

So, what’s so special about the Toronto Blue Jays? Morosi describes four characteristics specific to the team to back up his claim:

  1. Payroll flexibility;
  2. Roster construction;
  3. Competitive window; and
  4. Attendance impact.

Let’s take a deeper look at these characteristics.

Payroll Flexibility

Sure. The Blue Jays have the richest owners in baseball and play in one of the largest markets. And despite what fans might assume from the small amount of money the team has committed to payroll, they’ve already shown a willingness to spend on the international free agent market, on draft picks and on trades in order to bring back better prospects.

Roster Construction

Probably. While Morosi might be overstating things a little bit when he suggests:

In Jose Bautista, they have a superstar. In Ricky Romero, they have an ace. In Brett Lawrie, they have a stud prospect.

He could have also said that in Adam Lind, they have one of the worst first basemen in the league. Or at second base, they have no one at all, and in left field they have a massive question mark. And that’s not even tackling the back end of the rotation or the bullpen. However, Morosi’s point stands that:

A 3-4 of Bautista and Fielder would be about the best wheelhouse anywhere. The Blue Jays would be able to mash with the Red Sox, Yankees and any other lineup in baseball.

The team still has holes to fill, but those holes would be easier to fill with Fielder already a part of the lineup. That’s not going to happen as Morosi suggests, by trading Lind. His value is at an all time low, even with double the number of RBIs that Morosi quotes. It means that lesser options are more acceptable given the amount of production that Fielder can provide.

Competitive Window

Definitely. Jose Bautista is 31 years old, and probably at the peak of his value. If you’re not going to trade the best position player that the franchise has had in a long while, then it would be ridiculous not to build around him right now. Like it or not, Bautista’s talent level is going to decline, and his numbers will go along with it. To use a metaphor I don’t really understand, but seems fitting: Why not strike while the iron is hot?

Attendance Impact

Not really. I don’t believe that Morosi has the grasp he thinks he has on the people of Toronto when he suggests that:

It will take a massive event for many Canadians to believe the economic conditions in baseball are such that their lone national team can win the World Series again. The signing of a top-of-the-market free agent like Fielder — or Albert Pujols, for that matter — should convince them.

Missing out on the playoffs for the last two decades has far more to do with the general apathy toward baseball than bitter feelings from the labour dispute in 1994. In fact, if recent television ratings are anything to go by, that apathy is turning to empathy even without the addition of Fielder.

Even if you believe Morosi has his fingers closer to the pulse of Blue Jays nation than me, history tells us that new additions to a lineup don’t bring greater attendance. Wins remain the only thing that brings bigger crowds to the ballpark.

Conclusion

So, it’s obvious, right? The Blue Jays and Fielder are a perfect match.

Not even close.

All of the accurate claims that Morosi makes here could be applied to the Texas Rangers. Let’s take a look at that team.

The ownership has the money, thanks to purchasing the team in bankruptcy court and immediately turning around to sell the team’s television rights to FOX in a lucrative deal. Their roster, basically as is, has twice made it to the World Series. The one glaring hole in their lineup is at first base where Mitch Moreland was one of the few regular first baseman worse than Adam Lind this past season.

And their competitive window might not be as open as some think. In addition to Michael “Heart and Soul MVP” Young’s declining skills, the team is going to have to seriously question the necessity of locking up the often injured Josh Hamilton to an extension that keeps him from free agency. Signing Prince Fielder might make that decision a whole lot easier.

Consider this: Prince Fielder has missed 12 games since 2006. Josh Hamilton more than three times that number this year, two times that number in 2010, and six times that number in 2009.

If Fielder would consider the Blue Jays over the Seattle Mariners because of the difference in competitiveness, then what about the Rangers, or for that matter, what about the Washington Nationals, who also share several of the characteristics that Morosi attributes to the Toronto.

It’s swell to think that the Blue Jays are the most viable option for a player of Fielder’s ilk, but the reality of the situation is that despite all being quiet on the free agent front, there are several teams that would be just as good, if not a better fit for Fielder’s services.