How good do you think Prince Fielder is? Never mind his unique body type or questions about his durability. How good do you think Prince Fielder is right now?

This is the question that the Detroit Tigers would’ve not only asked themselves, but also answered, and done so definitively, before handing the former Milwaukee Brewers first baseman a $214 million contract to play for their ball club over the next nine years.

In order to financially justify paying him that much money, the Tigers’ front office would’ve answered this question with a firm belief that Prince Fielder is, at this very moment, a true talent 5.7 wins above replacement player.

This past season, at age 27, Fielder was evaluated at:

  • 5.5 fWAR by FanGraphs;
  • 5.2 rWAR by Baseball Reference; and
  • 5.3 WARP by Baseball Prospectus

Over the last three years, Fielder has averaged:

  • 5.1 fWAR according to FanGraphs;
  • 4.7 rWAR according to Baseball Reference; and
  • 4.3 WARP according to Baseball Prospectus.

So while the Tigers’ evaluation of Fielder may be ambitious, the following schedule of value and decline, with true talent declining at 0.5 WAR a year after age 29, is hardly impossible.

2012 – 5.7 WAR, $5.00M $/win, $28.5 million value.
2013 – 5.7 WAR, $5.25M $/win, $29.925 million value.
2014 – 5.2 WAR, $5.51M $/win, $28.652 million value.
2015 – 4.7 WAR, $5.69M $/win, $26.743 million value.
2016 – 4.2 WAR, $6.08M $/win, $25.536 million value.
2017 – 3.7 WAR, $6.38M $/win, $23.606 million value.
2018 – 3.2 WAR, $6.70M $/win, $21.44 million value.
2019 – 2.7 WAR, $7.04M $/win, $19.008 million value.
2020 – 2.2 WAR, $7.39M $/win, $16.258 million value.

The table shows that Fielder would need to accumulate approximately 37 wins above replacement from age 28 to 36. This has been done 78 times in baseball history.

Stop to consider how this Detroit Tigers team is built  to win now, with Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander in their prime and so much money invested in players set to decline, like Victor Martinez and Jose Valverde, and the signing becomes, if not justifiable, then certainly understandable as a means of ensuring those peak performances and those dollars already invested don’t go to waste.

However, there is one issue with all this, and it’s an issue that probably doesn’t come into play until next season when a healthy Victor Martinez is scheduled to return to the lineup. Suddenly, the Tigers will have three players that really have no business playing anything other than two positions.

There may be some minor issues this coming year with Miguel Cabrera, perhaps the slightly better defender at first base (and that’s more of a comment against Fielder than it is a credit to Cabrera), not wanting to be a full time designated hitter, but losing a bit of defensive ability to put him in at third base or left field every once in a while is a small price to pay for a happy superstar. But make no mistake, the most common lineup throughout this season will see Fielder and Cabrera splitting first base duties 60/40. And this isn’t even considering what it will now take to get Delmon Young into the lineup.

It’s also ignoring one of the more unique, and therefore interesting aspects of Fielder as a baseball player, and that’s his size. Not only is he a large man, he’s a relatively short man, so much so that no player comes close to matching his physical dimensions as listed at Baseball Reference. Mo Vaughn comes close with his height and weight listing at FanGraphs, but that and a mutually successful season at the age of 27 is where most of the similarities between the two players end.

Although I’m sure there are some Detroit front office staffers who have been waking up in cold sweats after nightmares involving career paths like this:

Source: FanGraphsMo Vaughn, Prince Fielder

Earlier I mentioned that 78 players in baseball history have done what Fielder needs to do to make his contract with the Tigers worthwhile. Of those 78, only one player had a listed weight of 250 pounds or more, and that was Jim Thome. The long time Indians first baseman is four inches taller than Fielder and weighs 25 pounds less.

Again, I stress that there has never been a baseball player quite like Prince Fielder. So, between this fact and the many difficulties in gauging an accurate weight from baseball players throughout history, it’s incredibly difficult to accurately suggest any accelerated declines for Fielder due to his body size.

Overall, the signing isn’t without a share of somewhat unreasonable expectations, but considering how definitively this single transaction puts an already competitive team ahead in their division, it’s a deal that’s much more forgiveable than it would be if it were agreed to by another organization, even one with fewer designated hitters on its roster.

Comments (62)

  1. It’s called playing to win. If the Tigers win one with Fielder, it’s a great signing.

    • It would be hard to argue that things didn’t work out if the tigers win a championship in the near future, but right now it raises a lot of question marks. Paying someone this kind of money to be the 2nd best first baseman on the team seems to be, at the very least, poor allocation of resources. I think that you could very reasonably argue that Jose Reyes, even at the same money, would be a better value for this Tigers team. So, while I understand the “win-now” attidude, it doesn’t seem like this was well thought out.

      • Whatever. All this talk of options and flexibility…I guess having 2 all-star 1st basemen/DHs is a problem. Maybe not as much as a problem as having none or letting a direct competitor get one for nothing (except money) but yeah, I see your point.
        The Tigers will be contending for the WSC for the next 4-5 years, good move if you ask me.
        Another thing about Fielder, he’s been hitting balls out of the park since he was 13. Yeah, he’s fat. He weighs a lot. He’s also as wide as a house, his frame carries the weight a heck of a lot better than you might think. Who’s to say he doesn’t rake for the next 15 years? He’s a prodigy with a bloodline.

    • Really? Win one World Series and it was all worth it? What if in the last 3-4 years of his contract he’s a total payroll burden to the team and they’re stuck in the middle of the pack?

      It is worth 1 championship and 4 odd years of mediocrity? I don’t see how.

      • Does that mean that San Francisco considers Zito and Rowand a win?!?

        • I’m saying it means they wouldn’t.

          Plus, the Giants one in spite of Zito, not because of him.

          • Same with Rowand. Torres was the CF by the end of the season.

          • Sorry, meant to reply to davesteibslider, just misplaced it. I was pointing out the flaws in his logic, both Zito and Rowand didn’t even make the WS Roster despite being healthy if I remember correctly.

          • Why compare fielder to the free agent busts that won championships, why not Arod and the Yankees, do they win that last championship without him? No. Was it worth it with the impending decline? Ya, I think they do that again.

        • They won didn’t they? Isn’t that the point? Here’s my take.
          If you want to be Pittsburgh and run a team on a budget and never win anything then that’s great. Keep signing crappy bullpen arms for fair value and then roll them over for future potential.
          If you want to have a reasonable chance at winning a championship, then take some risks, acquire some proven top-shelf talent and go from there.
          If your mindset is to not lose, you’ll never win. That’s quantum physics.

      • That’s because you are a loser. Winners take chances. What if the Mayans were right? Then the final 4 years of that contract don’t mean a thing. Today mutha@#$%….today is the only thing that matters.

        • If the Mayans were right, I’m pretty sure we won’t be making it to the World Series.

          I would bet any amount of money that you don’t live your life or spend your own money like today is the only thing matters. Or maybe you’re a hobo using Starbucks Wi-Fi on a stolen laptop.

          • ha! I wish I was a hobo, living the free life, McD’s cheeseburgers never go ripe and Im sure you can brew a decent cup with the grounds Starbucks throws away.
            But if I was a billion dollar corp with guaranteed income streams, I would certainly do my best to grow that stream by signing some stars to show on my media waves.
            Unless of course, I could somehow convince a bunch of english majors that they were actually statistical analysts.
            In which case, I would simply instruct my lackeys to sign whatever mediocre players they could get their hands on and then hold a press conference to explain how the long road is the better road while I count the money. Oh wait…

        • That’s not a real email address! You’re probably just one of those overreaction programs, scouring the internet for credit card details and fights about baseball.

      • One World Championship is, yes, worth four years of mediocrity. A thousand times out of a thousand. What a ridiculous thing for you to say.

        • You can never ensure that you’ve built a World Series winning team. You can ensure that you’ve built a team that stands a pretty good chance of making the playoffs. This is what Fielder does for the Tigers.

        • I’d rather have four+ years of play-off appearances without a guaranteed title, myself.

    • exactly right.

      winning is everything.

      point to a single club that’s managed to win championships over and over again with homegrown talent only.

      point to one team that’s one a championship that didn’t eventually face a salary issue.

      anyone who thinks you can do this on budget, all the time, infallibly is simply living in a delusional world.

      we needed to sign fielder. we needed a starter. we didn’t get either. we won’t win. not for the foreseeable future.

      anyone who continues to applaud AA/Rogers frugality in the name of hope is an asshole and is ruining it for those of us that really care about having a winner in this city.

      • Maybe go back and check how those winning teams perform with their home grown talent before they go out and spend on a free agent. Take a peek at the Texas Rangers the last couple of seasons.

      • I don’t see how thinking it’s unwise to commit 9-years to player is the same as applauding Rogers for their frugality.

        Anyone who thinks signing Price Fielder and a starting pitcher would’ve instantly made Toronto a contender is, likewise, an asshole.

          • Seriously? A +1 for that comment?

            SS Escobar
            3B Lawrie
            RF Bautista
            1B Fielder
            CF Rasmus
            2B Johnson
            C Arencibia
            DH Lind/Encarnacion
            LF Thames/Snider

            SP Romero
            SP Morrow
            SP Latos/Gonzalez/Darvish
            SP Alvarez, Cecil, McGowan, or possibly Oswalt

            RP any SP that didn’t make rotation – namely, McGowan
            RP Oliver
            RP Janssen
            RP Frasor
            RP Santos

            You seriously don’t think that team is a competitive one, even in the ultra competitive AL East?

            You seriously don’t think that that team would be even more competitive in 2013 and 2014?

            I generally respect your opinion, but your opinion here is ill thought out.

            Fielder is overpaid, but Fielder plus 1 of the starting pitchers on the market would have made the Jays a contender. No question.

            • First of all, no, I don’t think two additions immediately make that team competitive with the Red Sox or Yankees. Blue Jays fans seem to have a hard time dealing with the difference between everything going right and real likelihoods.

              Secondly, the team would not be doing a service to itself by spending right now before 1) it knows exactly what it has on its roster; and 2) attendance is in place to support such investment.

          • I know you meant that comment for Parkes, but seriously.

            I, seriously, don’t think after 160 odd PAs, you can assume Brett Lawrie will keep playing like he has.

            Seriously, I don’t know what to expect from Colby Rasmus next year.

            Same goes for Kelly Johnson. Seriously.

            We seriously need to wait and see on Morrow, Cecil, and Alavarez.

            So, yeah, seriously. Don’t see how Fielder and Darvish or Gonzalez (in the AL East, more so) or Latos instantly make the Jays definitely better than the Yankees, Red Sox or Rays.

            Because, seriously, what if Lawrie, Rasmus, Morrow, Alvarez, etc, don’t pan out? Then you’ve got just Bautista and Fielder providing offense and Romero and Darvish or whoever doing the pitching, while hinging everything else on prospects.

            We need to wait another year or two, for sure.

          • Over at Fangraphs they have the following projections re: WAR:

            HITTING = 34.9
            Bautista – 7.1
            Lawrie – 6.1
            Johnson – 3.8
            Encarnacion – 1.6
            Escobar – 4.8
            Thames – 1.4
            Rasmus – 3.4
            Lind – 1.6
            Snider – 2
            Arencibia – 2.8
            Davis – 0.1
            Mathis – 0.2

            PITCHING: 15.5
            Santos – 1.1
            Janssen – 0.7
            Morrow – 3.5
            Alvarez – 2.7
            Romero – 3.3
            Litsch – 0.6
            Villanueva – 1
            McGowan – 0.9
            Cecil – 1.2
            Drabek – 0.5

            The projections (which I admit seem pretty optimistic) = 50.4 WAR

            Last year Boston had a total WAR of 59.5 and the Yanks had a total WAR of 59.9.

            Fielder is a projected 5.5 WAR and Latos is a projected 4.2.

            Fangraphs obviously agrees with me. Fielder + Latos makes the Jays a competitive team.

          • As for the wait and see approach, I agree that there is uncertainty.

            However, I think a fairly conservative estimate would have Lawrie achieving a 3.5-4 WAR.

            We don’t need to wait and see on Morrow – you can pretty much bank a 3-3.5 WAR and he could achieve even better.

            A conservative estimate of Johnson is 2-2.5. The real uncertainty is in his upside. He could easily reach 4-5.

            There is the most uncertainty with Rasmus and Alvarez. But I don’t think that uncertainty leads to the belief that they wouldn’t be competitive with the addition of Fielder and Latos.

            Further, Fielder and Latos wouldn’t have just been around for next year. They would have formed the foundation of a very competitive team going forward.

            If you think otherwise, show me the support in numbers. I’ve seen the projections, and they support what I’m saying.

          • Drew, you don’t need to pencil him in for 6. That’s just a fangraphs projection.

            I will, however, comfortably pencil him in at 3.5-4. It doesn’t change anything in my belief that Fielder + Latos makes the Jays a competitive team.

          • Come on nes. How can you bet on a twenty two year old? That’s crazy! But let’s wait for two years from now when we have are super strong farm system finally breaking in, with the likes of D’arnaud, Gose, Marisnick, Syndergard et al. Oh wait those prospects will be in their early twenties too? Holy shit how can we project with any certainty then. Maybe in 5 or 6 years we might make a signing. Donkeys!

          • Fair enough on the Fans projection – and why they seem a bit optimistic. Still, not so optimistic that it rules out my general point.

            I’d also like to know who else is going to play first for us? Specifically, I want to know who is going to man 1B in 2013.

            I am very skeptical of Lind, and we have no potential replacement in the minors.

            I know Fielder was overpaid, but I don’t think it was a gross overpayment. And we desperately need a 1B.

            In sum, I wish I was a Tigers fan.

          • I like how you call people assholes if they have a different opinion than you, it’s very open-minded of you.
            I guess using projections is only valid if the conclusion reached is the one that agrees with yours.
            My opinion is that the Jays are a heck of a lot more likely to beat the Sox or Yankees with Fielder and Darvish in the lineup than they are without.
            Mind you, I didn’t want the Jays to sign Fielder. The term and price are too high for my liking and I would suspect that getting Fielder would lead to having to move Bautista.
            I would have liked to see the Jays try and do something other than tread water for another year but I guess that’s just the sports fan in me. The manager in me appreciates the value driven approach (entirely appropriate when running a shoe store or office, not so much when running a sports franchise) that AA applies to the organization.
            I am also of the opinion that you are an asshole.

      • Oh, I see where that came from. My bad. I apologize.

  2. Sounds like a classic example of a decision that was made by ownership rather than by the baseball people in the organization.

    I do think it’ll be great for the Tigers in the short term. And one World Series win might very well be enough to justify it. But the last three years of this contract might get kind of ugly. He’ll be very expensive with declining production and probably untradeable.

  3. Interestingly enough if he were to perform to that table he would still generate a surplus of $3.902 million based on an evenly distributed salary of approximately $23.8 million a year.

    Of course I think his WAR will take a hit with the number of games he’ll end up at DH by default now that he is likely to share first with Cabrera at some point during the season, not to mention the final years of the contract. Be interesting to see the numbers he’ll have to actually produce to generate an equivalent WAR with X amount of time at DH.

    Definitely a win now or at the least, the near future kind of move. Of course if I was 82 year old Ilitch I would have done the same thing, after all, you can’t take it with you.

    • It’s also possible that his poor fielding (he’s cost himself WAR value most years) means that moving to DH may not cost him much as far as you’d think (the positional penalty for being a DH is greater than 1B, I think, but not by a lot, whereas costing the team 5-10 runs per season as a poor-fielding first baseman hurts him more).

      • Makes me wish Ted Rogers was still alive.

      • You are forgetting the positional input adjustment that goes into the WAR calculation. Cameron did a great article on the subject regarding montero. Granted the one from first base – dh is smaller than catcher – dh but it’s there.

  4. in hindsight, would the Tigers not have been better served by signing Jose Reyes for less money than Fielder and moving Peralta to 3rd base?

    • Absolutely. If they had this kind of money kicking around, they shouldn’t have waited for a Victor Martinez injury to spend it. They looked at the free agent pool, saw only one name they liked as a replacement for Martinez and handed him a blank cheque. They probably could have found a more elegant solution if they had thought outside the box a little more.

  5. Somebody do the work for me. When does Cabrera’s contract run out? How many of the end years on this contract are with Cabrera not signed? The end years could be hidden at DH. No defense, no problem.

    This pretty much seals up the Central division for the next few years. I’d say that’s worth it alone. Revenue from winning + playoff games should make up for the contract.

    • Cabrera is signed through 2015 (4 years/$86 million)

      Martinez is signed through 2014 (3 years/$38 million)

      • So it’s not that crazy to say Fielder will be the only 1B/DH on the team in 4 years. Those 4 years when he’s expected to be most impactful. And as he’s fading he can move to DH not blocked by Cabrera and bring in another 1B. Yeah, seems ok to me.

        Still don’t know where Martinez fits in next year, but that’s a different beast entirely.

  6. Here’s an idea: how about the Tigers tell Cabrera to lose some weight so he can be more effective at third base? I mean come on, the used to look like this for god’s sake:

  7. With Cabrera at third (which is where he is reportedly going to play) and Fielder at first, bunting may be back in fashion. Like that night the Jays squibbed balls around Bartolo Colon last year (funny stuff). With Valverde on the mound, and Avila coming from behind the plate, that is potentially a Half Ton of Fun converging on a poor little helpless white ball. Seismic Shift potential.

  8. Doesn’t this assume that the ‘market’ value for each WAR isn’t bias to the Owners … doesn’t it compare solely against other salaries? That production may need to be met to justify against the market … but it doesn’t mean the Owner isn’t still doing better than a break-even in terms of adding value to his club…

    I hope the Tigers tank … an injury to Carbrera or Fielder and the house of cards is getting tipsy …

    • It assumes that all owners want to spend the least amount of money possible to attain the most wins. It then judges the value of a win based on what all owners have paid for in the past.

      It’s not perfect. It looks at one 8 WAR player the same as two 4 WAR players, when roster spots are finite. And it doesn’t account for the difference between an 85 win team acquiring a 5 win player vs. a 75 win team acquiring a 5 win player. However, I think it provides a good general idea of what a team’s expectations are based on what other teams have paid for in the past.

  9. If Cabrera has to play third base, that could conceivably cost the Tigers ~2 WAR over the course of a season, and could lead to injury (see what happened to Kevin Youkilis).

    • Did you do a projection to come up with those numbers? Or are you just saying things?

      • I don’t really know how you’d come up with that projection. During Cabrera’s last season with the Marlins, he played third base and cost the team 1.1 WAR (per baseball reference). He’s in worse shape now and hasn’t played third base in years.

  10. “In order to financially justify paying him that much money, the Tigers’ front office would’ve answered this question with a firm belief that Prince Fielder is, at this very moment, a true talent 5.7 wins above replacement player.”

    I don’t believe this is true.

    You make some good points, and this is a worthwhile exercise, but it’s far too narrow to draw any conclusions. There is no mention of inflation, added revenues etc. We as fans seem to want to assume that clubs DON’T know that they’re going to get killed on the back end of these deals. They most certainly do; they must. Fielder doesn’t need to accumulate 37 WAR, he needs to be worth his salary. There are numerous ways for this play out in the club’s favour. It’s certainly a calculated risk, but adding up his WAR at the end of the deal won’t tell us much in terms of knowing if this was a good deal or not.

    • 1. It includes 5% inflation.
      2. What added revenues will come from Fielder?
      3. History shows us that attendance only goes up with wins. This exercise is based on what teams are willing to pay for extra wins.
      4. The reason for this exercise is to show that teams are willing to pay for more value up front in exchange for worse value later. That’s why I included a column for value.
      5. His WAR is exactly what will tell us whether or not this will be a good deal. What else would you prefer?

      • 1. ok
        2. cross-promotion with Illitch’s other businesses, merchandise (shared I know), radio rights (even just 1 mil per year throws this way out of whack)
        3. agreed
        4. emotional decisions by owners = real world value (for better or worse)
        5. does the valuation of WAR include pre-free agent players whom are paid according to a systemically depressed market?

        Like I said I like this exercise, your tone is just so definitive, even with some qualifiers. You note 78 players that have accomplished this level of value, then drill down on the absurdly small sample of Mo Vaughn.

        Anyway, not trying to cause shit, just voicing my opinions/concerns.

  11. 2. The weight of these things have more to do with winning than acquiring an individual player. They’re also similar for all owners.

    4. I don’t understand what you’re saying. I’m saying that no one is pretending that an owner expects the player to outperform average annual value every year of the contract. That’s why I give the total WAR.

    5. No.

  12. If you read it again. I bring up Vaughn specifically because he’s the only player that has ever had anything close to the same body size as Fielder.

    • Mo Vaughn was a fat tall man, Fielder is a fat brick $hit house of a man. Weight isn’t the only metric to consider if your going to analyze body types. Look at Fielder’s shoulders, the dude would weigh 220 at 0% body fat.

    • They are similar of all owners (other than Rogers), and can justify some amount of over-WAR valuing.

      My point on Vaughn is that if there is only one vaguely similar player to comp, then the comparison is valueless. Sample sizes apply here too I believe.

    • Another HUGE factor neither of has brought up is insurance.

      For one, the contract costs considerably more than the $214 amount of the contract itself, so your WAR projections are probably light. Yikes!

      But also, if Prince were to miss (for example) one full year of the last three in this deal (a not unlikely scenario) the team would recoup a large amount of money. You would probably know more about insurance rates for contracts, but what if the team recoups $15 million (or more) in 2018? This would, ironically of course, reduce the number of WAR needed to justify the contract by your definition, no?

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