Dave Cameron of FanGraphs recently finished his 2013 version of the Trade Value Series in which he ranked the 50 players (in order) who would be most prized in a trade. It’s not simply a ranking of the best players in baseball – it takes into account other factors such as contract value and years remaining of team control. Anyway, Detroit Tigers to make this list include Austin Jackson (50), Justin Verlander (49), and Miguel Cabrera (12) – all players whose actual value exceeds (or could be reasonably expected to exceed) the amount they’re being paid. It’s not that the Tigers are looking to make any of these players available, but, if they were to, they could expect a considerable return package.
In conjunction with this list, Cameron today released an anti-trade value post which serves as his summary for what he sees as the five worst contracts in baseball. Checking in at number five is Prince Fielder.
Fielder is among the worst defenders and worst baserunners in the sport. He’s only good if he’s mashing, and right now, he’s not mashing. One dimension players making $24 million per year have to be among the game’s best hitters to have value, and while Fielder might get back to that level, a team would have to have a tremendous amount of confidence in a rebound in order to take him off the Tigers hands.
He certainly isn’t untradeable, especially given the lack of bats on the market right now. I’d imagine Detroit could even get another team to pick up most of the rest of his deal. Even coming off a mediocre season, I could see Fielder getting $120 million over seven years from a team desperate for a cleanup hitter. But that is still well shy of what Detroit is paying him, and the Tigers would have to kick in a lot of cash in order to move his contract.
Estimated Cost to Trade: $48 million
The point here isn’t whether or not Fielder will continue to be an All-Star level hitter, I think Cameron concedes that he can be for a number of years, but whether or not he can provide enough overall value to be worth the $168 million he’ll be owed over the life of the deal (which includes seven more years).
He was worth his money last year as a 28 year old when he put up 4.8 WAR for the Tigers while hitting .313/.412/.528, but his OPS this year is down 125 points and he’s clearly not getting any better in the field. So far this year Prince has only been worth about 1.0 WAR. He’ll almost certainly hit better in the second half than he did in the first half and bump that number up a bit, but he needs to be in the 4-5 WAR range each season (that’s solid All-Star level) to make the deal “worth it”. The fear is that if he can’t hit that mark as a 29 year old, then what is he going to be like as a 34-36 year old?
The Tigers clearly signed the deal with eyes on the 2012-2014 seasons – they’ll gladly eat the money on the back end if it results in a championship – but this contract could force some lean years at the end of the decade unless Fielder somehow ages more gracefully than anyone expects.