On Friday, news broke that the biggest free agent left on the market, Prince Fielder, was having dinner and meeting with Ranger brass in a Dallas hotel. Although most saw (and still see) Prince as a pipe dream it’s becoming more apparent that there is some mutual interest between the Rangers and Fielder.
Prince Fielder is far from an unknown commodity even having spent his career in Milwaukee. He’s a mammoth 27-year-old left-handed power hitter of the highest order. A career .282 hitter that hit a career high 50 home runs in 2007. While some have claimed that Prince will wear down with such a large frame he has been very durable. He played in every game last season and showed no signs of slowing down. The guy has some of the most incredible pull power in baseball and would be a beast in The Ballpark. Whether you are an advanced STAT person (better WAR than that Albert guy) or an “Eye test” person (2011 All-Star MVP and Silver Slugger) he is a top 3 1st baseman in MLB. While it’s still unknown what Prince will get in free agency, he should be able to get somewhere in the range of $20M a year.
That’s a huge investment for any team, especially one that is on the verge of signing a player they paid $50m just to negotiate with in hopes of signing a contract. This opportunity is one that doesn’t happen often. It’s also become even more important that the Rangers get better this year with the interdivision rival Angels signing two of the top free agents available this year.
The question that has to be asked is, is Prince Fielder that much better than Mitch Moreland when Mitch is making $500,000 a year? Mitch had a breakout 2010 postseason when he had some of the best at bats of the playoffs against great pitchers like Mariano Rivera. Hopes were high last year that Moreland would improve on a promising first year in the big leagues. Unfortunately he didn’t live up to those expectations. He managed a .259 average and struck out 92 times in 464 ABs. Those signature Mitch ABs where he battled pitchers and got on base were farther and fewer between.
Although Mitch had a setback in 2011, does that mean its time to give up and invest big money in Prince Fielder? Well it’s not that simple. Signing Prince Fielder almost certainly means that you will have to lose Josh Hamilton in free agency as well. Josh is arbitration eligible this year and has a huge contract waiting for him after next year. Texas has several players they need to lock up and Prince and Hamilton contracts wouldn’t allow the team to keep the majority of the core together. In my opinion, a choice between a long-term Hamilton and a long-term Fielder is a no brainer. I love Josh Hamilton but the stress his body has been through and the durability issues he has experienced make it a much bigger risk to lock him up long-term.
The next month is going to be very telling about where the Rangers see the future of this team. It’s a great time to be a Ranger fan. Now, let’s go ahead and get that Yu thing done and let the chips fall where they may.