As December’s Major League Baseball winter meetings in Dallas, Texas wore on, it seemed increasingly likely that nothing notable would happen at all. Day one saw Jayson Nix, Matt Capps, Aaron Harang, and Jerry Hairston find jobs, but was mostly filled with various agents and general managers kicking tires. It was more of the same on days two and three. On Thursday of that week, though, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim broke up the monotony–and broke Twitter–by inking deals with not only C.J. Wilson, but also the most notorious free agent on the market, Albert Pujols.
The latter signing was worth $254 million over ten years and was an extremely exciting addition for the Angels and their following. But critics rightly pointed to the length of the contract, which, assuming Pujols’ reported age is correct, will take him through his age 41 season. The late years of the deal will do much to tie the hands of Angels management financially as he nears retirement.
When the Detroit Tigers signed Prince Fielder for $214 million over nine years yesterday, the deal naturally drew many comparisons to Pujols’ due to the pair’s shared statuses as imposing sluggers and first basemen.
Fiscally irresponsible as the Fielder deal, born of desperation from Mike Ilitch and smart marketing by Scott Boras, may very well be, the Tigers got a potential steal relative to the price the Angels have committed to Pujols.
First of all, and many people seem to forget this, Fielder is just 27 until May. When he hits the market again after the 2020 season, he’ll only be 36 years old. The Tigers are getting him during the height of his career, whereas you have to assume that at 32, Pujols’ best years are behind him. Most studies on hitter aging curves conclude that hitters generally begin to decline around age 30, so by that measure, the Tigers should get three seasons of Fielder in his prime before his age and weight begin to catch up to him.
After that, the remaining six years of Fielder in Detroit may not see him as a perennial MVP candidate, but I believe it’s unlikely that we’re going to lament the money too much, especially if Ilitch gets a World Series championship or two. Besides offensive firepower, his club has the pitching to get it done.
The ZiPS projections run by Dan Szymborski look a little scary on Fielder; his results show no seasons above five WAR and an average value of 3.1 WAR per season. He estimates the total monetary value of the contract at $153 million. The same system applied to Pujols guesses a $203 million value for ten years and about 3.8 WAR per season.
However, I think Fielder is being grossly underrated and Pujols overvalued by those projections. Fielder’s impact on the Tigers’ lineup will increase greatly due to the players around him; Jayson Stark wrote today that the combination of Miguel Cabrera and Fielder is the best 3-4 combination in baseball and you would be hard-pressed to argue with that statement. Neither Howie Kendrick or Bobby Abreu, while good players, will match the production hitting around Pujols that Cabrera will see in the three-hole for Detroit.
Also, Fielder’s value increases when you consider that his left-handed bat will balance the middle of the Tigers’ lineup, a lineup which will now include four left-handed hitters with Brennan Boesch, Alex Avila, and the switch-hitting Ramon Santiago playing on most days.
Finally, it’s worth noting Fielder’s durability; he’s missed just 13 regular season games over six full seasons, and in the last three years has only been out for one. Pujols doesn’t have a particularly alarming injury history either, but his capacity to stay on the field can’t touch that of Fielder to this point in his career.
If I’m wrong about all this–and I admit that as a fan I really want to find reasons this will work out, not the opposite–and it turns out that we do immensely regret this signing, we’ll all at least be able to point and chuckle, if very quietly, at the situation playing out in Los Angeles.
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