Prince Fielder

Prince Fielder, Ian Kinsler, and mouthwatering moves

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Opening monologue: How many players in baseball history have a name as incompatible as “Prince Fielder?” Crazy, right? It would be like Bud Harrelson being named “Crown Batter” or Randy Johnson being named “Elfin Junkballer,” or Alex Rodriguez being named “Innocent victim.” Am I right? And what’s the deal with all the questions they ask when you try to pay for your gas at the pump these days? I’m trying to get fill up my car not join a dating service. Do you have a discount card? Do you want a car wash? Are you using credit or debit? What’s your zip code? Who was your favorite member of the Monkees? Why did they make Grown Ups 2?

There was something about the Detroit Tigers the last couple of years that irked me. You can’t call those Tigers underachievers, not exactly, because baseball is now a playoff-based game and the Tigers have done pretty well in the playoffs. They went to the World Series in 2012, and they were only a couple of plays away from making this year’s championship series with Boston interesting.

Still … the Tigers seemed to me like major underachievers both years. In 2012, with the league MVP (who, of course, won the Triple Crown), the guy I think was the best pitcher in the American League (Justin Verlander), a complimentary array of All-Stars and near All-Stars, and a spectacularly bad division to beat up, the Tigers won just 88 games (seventh best record in the league) and took a staggering amount of time to finally dispatch the talent-challenged Chicago White Sox in the division race. I thought it was one of the great under-performances in recent memory, but it was mitigated when they beat Oakland in a Game 5, and crunched the bloated and almost helpless Yankees in the championship series to get to the World Series (where they were trounced by a San Francisco team I think was clearly inferior in talent).

This year, the Tigers were better — but again, they seemed to punch way below their weight. They had the American League Cy Young and MVP winner, three dominant starters, a high-priced lineup that finished second in the league in runs scored, and they still finished with the third-best record in the league and again found themselves locked to the end in a divisional race with a team (Cleveland this time) that did not have the means to buy in their neighborhood. The Tigers, again and again the last two years, seemed to me to be less than the sum of their parts.

In my mind — and I admit right up front that this is wrong and utterly unfair — I blamed Prince Fielder.

When the Tigers gave Prince Fielder that nine-year, $214 million deal before the 2012 season, it seemed like one of those lousy moves rich teams make only because they can. The Tigers had just won 95 games and they ran away with a terrible American League Central division (no other team in the division was even .500). They won the division by 15 games, they scored many more runs than anyone in the division, they hit more home runs than any team in the division, they already had Miguel Cabrera (who led the league in average, on-base percentage and doubles) at first base. Prince Fielder seemed like the last thing the Tigers needed.

But it wasn’t a question of NEEDING Fielder. The Tigers had the money to get him. They had the package to convince him to come. So they got him. Fielder was coming off a monster year in Milwaukee where he hit .299/.415/.566 with 38 homers and 120 RBIs and was a key player in the Brewers reaching the NLCS. The Tigers did not need him but the thought of a Cabrera-Fielder middle of the lineup was mouthwatering.

It was so mouthwatering, in fact, that the Tigers were willing to do drastic and unsound things to make it happen. There was, of course, the humongous and seemingly interminable contract they gave him. It’s pretty obvious to anyone paying attention that long-term contract to players in their late 20s or early 30s pretty much never works. Here are the biggest contracts ever given to everyday players 28 or older (the age represents how old the player would be in his first season of the contract)*:

*I chose 28 because, best I can tell, players peak at 26-27, and so 28 is often the beginning of the decline. But I should note here that by choosing 28, I did leave out a couple of good long-term contracts — the Yankees first big deal with Derek Jeter and the Tigers deal with Miguel Cabrera.

1. Alex Rodriguez, age 32, 10 years, $275 million.
– You want this contract? Anyone?

2. Albert Pujols, age 32, 10 years, $240 million.
– How about this one?

3. Joey Votto, age 30, 10 years, $225 million.
– This contract hasn’t even started yet and — I say this as one of the world’s biggest Joey Votto fans — I predict there’s almost no chance the Reds will be happy they gave it. I know my friend Marty Brennaman won’t be.

4. Prince Fielder, age 28, 9 years, $214 million.
– More on this to come — at least he was a couple of years younger than the others at the start.

5. Joe Mauer, age 28, 8 years, $189 million.
– Now playing in a theater near you as a power-challenged first baseman.

6. Mark Teixeira, age 29, 8 years, $180 million.
– One of the more overlooked albatrosses on the Yankees.

7. Manny Ramirez, age 29, 8 years, $160 million.
– Funny enough, this might be the best deal in the Top 10.

8. Adrian Gonzalez, age 30, 7 years, $154 million.
– Within a year of its start date, the Red Sox were looking all over America for a place to dump this contract.

9. Carl Crawford, age 29, 7 years, $142 million.
– And the Red Sox wanted to dump this contract even more.

10. Todd Helton, age 29, 8 years, $141.4 million.
– Fangraphs had him worth roughly $105.1 million over length of contract so it wasn’t disastrous.

Look at that Top 10. I’d say the only people who would GO BACK and give out those contracts again are: The Red Sox with Manny (for all the trouble he caused, there are still two World Series championships during the Manny years) and Colorado with Helton (as much for sentimental reasons as baseball reasons). Obviously you can’t count the Votto contract yet because it hasn’t even started.

Giving out big contracts to players coming out of their prime is a loser. It just is. Josh Hamilton. Ken Griffey. Alfonso Soriano. Vernon Wells. Carlos Lee. Ryan Howard. On and on and on. Just about every disastrous contract in baseball history was some long-term deal given to a 28-to-32 year old in the hopes that he would (1) Be one of the few to hold off the effects of time or (2) Would be so good in the early years of the deal that the late years could be written off as collateral damage. It almost never works out either way. Option 2 is what I have to believe the Tigers were thinking about Fielder. I can’t believe they really thought Fielder would age gracefully.

So, they gave Fielder the big contract. That was the first thing. Second, they moved Miguel Cabrera to third base to make room for Fielder — one of those rare moves that makes a team drastically worse defensively at two positions.

The first year, Fielder hit more or less like the Tigers hoped he would. He hit 313/.412/.528 — pretty stout numbers. There were a couple of small negative signs. His homers were down and his slugging percentage was down. And while he still reached base a lot, it was in part because he got hit by a lot of pitches and was intentionally walked a bunch and was probably got a bit hit-lucky. Such things have a tendency of turning pretty quickly. Anyway, it was a good offensive season for Fielder, about as good as the Tigers could have wanted.

But were the Tigers a better team because of it? It’s hard to find. They scored 51 fewer runs in 2012 than they did in 2011. This wasn’t Fielder’s fault, of course, but it wash’t something he could prevent either. They were a much worse defensive team. According to John Dewan’s “Team Runs Saves” statistic, the Tigers were a good defensive team in 2011, saving 14 runs. In 2012, they were one of the worst defensive teams in the league, their defense COST them 32 runs. (In 2013, they were even worse with their defense costing them 66 runs). Again, it would be wrong to pin too much of blame on Fielder. But, he is a subpar first baseman. And Miguel Cabrera is a subpar third baseman.

Point is, Fielder had a GOOD year and it was hard to see how this helped the Tigers much.

In 2013, Fielder did not have a good year. His on-base percentage plummeted by 50 points, his slugging by 70, he failed to hit 30 homers for the first time since he was 22, and then he topped it off with another terrible postseason, which did not endear him to the hometown fans.

I hear a lot of people saying Fielder’s struggles were largely because he was going through some personal issues and that might be the big reason. Then again, it’s not like Prince Fielder type players age well. He’s obviously a big guy. I think of Boog Powell — league MVP at 28, dramatic drop at 29, and he had one good year the rest of his career. I think of Greg Luzinski — a 5-WAR player at 27, never a 3-WAR player after that. Kent Hrbek didn’t age well. His Dad Cecil Fielder did not age too well either. It’s hard to compare a player listed at 5-foot-11, 275 pounds with anyone else because, believe it or not, there has never been another player listed at 5-foot-11, 275 pounds. But big, slow, defensively challenged first basemen are not great bets to stay young into their mid-30s.*

*Though it should be said in Fielder’s defense that he has proven to be remarkably resilient and prolific for such a big man. He has played every game for the last three seasons. Among players weighing 235 pounds or more, only Fielder and Carlos Lee have played every game in a full season, and Fielder has done it four times.

All of which leads to Wednesday’s trade: Fielder to Texas for Ian Kinsler. As a pure baseball trade, there are many fun elements to the deal. Kinsler is a soon-to-be 32-year-old second baseman (they don’t usually age well either, but who does?) who plays good defense and was a very good offensive player until about 2011. He’s dropped off quite a bit the last couple of years — his power is down and he’s not finding ways to get on base — and I suspect his offense will fall more once outside the happy hitting haven of Texas*.

*Even when he was a good player, Kinsler didn’t hit much on the road. His lifetime road split is .242/.312/.399.

Fielder meanwhile — it’s fun to think about how well he might hit in Texas. Friend of Blog Brandon McCarthy tweeted this after the deal:

“Wait. Why is the right field fence so close? Quit fooling with me you guys…what? Oh…oh my god” *maniacal laughter* – Prince Fielder

— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) November 21, 2013

The move allows the Tigers to move Cabrera back to first and get a proper third baseman. The move allows the Rangers some freedom to use super-prospect Jurickson Profar. The move frees up money for the Tigers. The move gives the Rangers a major star as their huge television deal gets kicking. It makes sense on many levels for both teams, and it’s a risk on some level for both sides, and that’s what makes it a fun trade.

But I think the Tigers won the deal. They had to throw in $30 million to make it happen, but I still think they won. I think shoring up that infield so it isn’t a sieve, I think having some spending flexibility to work on actual weaknesses, I think Kinsler’s solid all-around play will all help.

Also, I think that the years and money left on Fielder’s contract are radioactive. Brilliant reader Stephen tweeted that Fielder could get a 7-year, $138 million deal on the open market (the Rangers portion of the contract) and that’s probably true because teams spend money poorly. What I see here is that the Rangers brought in s a 30-year-old first baseman who can’t field or run or throw and is coming off the lowest OPS year of his career. Sure, he could rebound. Sure he could put up huge numbers in that hitters’ ballpark. Then again, he could keep on declining. And that contract goes on and on and on.

Video: Mike Napoli face-plants into third base after a triple

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 10.19.56 AM
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Indians DH/1B Mike Napoli has hit ten triples in his 11-year big league career, so sliding into third base after a long run is not something with which he has tons of experience. As such, the slide — and I use that term in the loosest sense possible — he executed — and I use that term as loosely as possible too — when he hit a triple last night against the White Sox was somewhat unconventional.

The best part, though, was that he didn’t even need to slide as the throw from the outfield was delayed due to the outfielder not getting a great handle on the ball and the relay throw which never came was dropped by the infielder. He could’ve gone in standing up.

Thank God he didn’t, though, because this was too good:

Matt Harvey unfairly slammed for snubbing the press

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 24: Starting pitcher Matt Harvey #33 of the New York Mets looks on after allowing a two run home run by Daniel Murphy #20 of the Washington Nationals (not pictured) during the fifth inning at Nationals Park on May 24, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Matt Harvey had yet another nightmare of a game last night in what has become a nightmare of a season for him. He’s been terrible all year, particularly terrible in his past three starts and there are legitimate questions about whether he’s hurt, should be shut down or should be sent down to the minors. It’s not hyperbole to say that his career is at a crossroads right now. He may return to form, as many struggling pitchers do, but for those who don’t, this is what it looks like as things skid out of control for good.

In light of that — in light of the fact that he’s worked his entire life to make the big leagues and now that’s all in jeopardy — it may be understandable if Harvey is at a loss for words. If he doesn’t have any answers about his current plight. If, like most of us when we face a personal or professional crisis, he needs to gather himself in order to make sense of it all.

Matt Harvey is a baseball player, though, and baseball players don’t get that luxury. No, when they face a crisis, they’re expected to talk to reporters about it and, if they don’t, they can expect 800-1,000 angry, critical words thrown at them. Mike Vaccaro from the New York Post throws his angry words this morning:

The joke, of course, is that any of this would be remotely surprising by now. The Mets have abided by the Harvey Rules from Day 1, have tread lightly around him, have allowed him the kind of leeway and latitude that should never be afforded someone with 75 career starts, no matter how promising he used to be.

So why wouldn’t he duck and run now?

Why wouldn’t he leave it for his manager and his teammates to answer for him, to speak on his behalf, after another humbling bell-ringing at the hands of the Nationals, another night when he was less Dark Knight than Pale Pawn, another night when he couldn’t recapture even a fraction of the old magic?

It gets no better from there on. The bile is palpable as Vaccaro catalogs all of Harvey’s foibles of the past three or four years, real or imagined, and lets Harvey have it, all because he left the clubhouse before talking to the media.

To be clear, there is a tiny seed of a point to criticism of a player who doesn’t speak to the press. I’ve written about this in the past, and players and members of the media have talked about it before. That seed: when someone ducks the press, it puts pressure on their teammates to answer for them and they don’t appreciate that too much. That situation is largely inapplicable here, however, and doesn’t defend this vile column, for a couple of reasons.

One obvious reason is that Vaccaro does not appear to be concerned with Harvey’s relationship with his teammates in this column. There are no quotes from anyone about Harvey other than the manager, who would be asked about his starter’s struggles anyway. There is a generic reference to teammates having to answer for someone else, but no suggestion here that Mets players were irked about it last night.

Rather, the ire in this piece was a long time coming. The press has been eager to put the knife in Harvey for years and there is something close to glee spinning off of every word here based on old transgressions, not awkwardness from last night or even a pattern of Harvey ducking the press, which he has not done. If there is any doubt about that:

Maybe that was Vaccaro who said that, maybe it was another columnist, but the notion that these sorts of anti-player screeds are solely about poor teammates who are left to answer for their absent friends is a convenient lie. The press, especially the New York press, likes to torch certain guys and this is a case in which a columnist is gleefully torching a guy with his snub of the press merely being a convenient pretext.

Context matters too. It’d be one thing if Harvey was having a little snit last night over a bad performance and just peaced out of the clubhouse and left others holding the bag. That’s not what happened. What’s happening is a guy’s livelihood and identity flashing before his eyes. A pitcher suddenly losing it and having no idea why or how to arrest his slide. That there is zero empathy for that — zero understanding that a guy may not know what to say or how to say it when he’s asked about it — is pretty sad. I’m sure most Mets players, even ones who may not like Harvey, have been in that situation before and are willing to give him more leeway than this acidic column would suggest. I’m sure they’re worried about their teammate on some level and are just as baffled and worried as he is.

Should Matt Harvey talk to the press? Probably. MLB and its clubs want players to do that and it’s the custom. If a player routinely ducks this responsibility or if he does so because he’d rather make it to the nightclub than be there for his ballclub, yes, he should be criticized. But that’s not what’s going on here. What’s going on here is a press corps that has jumped on Matt Harvey for every little thing, however benign it may have been — a press corps which even turned a scary medical moment he experienced into the basis for jokes — jumping on him once again.

The glee with which they’re doing it is pretty telling. Far more telling than a man not wanting to talk to that same press corps mere hours after a personal and professional nightmare grew even darker.

Yasiel Puig benched after he failed to run hard out of the box

Yasiel Puig
Associated Press
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On Sunday Yasiel Puig made a pretty significant base running blunder, failing to advance to third base on an bunt which, in turn, led to the Dodgers playing eight extra innings of baseball. Last night the Dodgers right fielder made another mental mistake, also involving lackadaisical base running, and it bought him a seat on the pine.

Puig hit a deep fly to right in the sixth inning. He clearly thought he got all of it and began slowly walking to first base out of the box. The ball didn’t go out, however. It hit the wall. For anyone showing even a bit of hustle that would’ve been a double but Puig’s lack of effort held him to a single. He would come around to score — ironically because of hustle on the base paths, reaching home from second on a headfirst slide — but it was too little too late for manager Dave Roberts who was upset at the earlier loafing and removed Puig from the game.

Roberts after the game:

“He needed to be on second base. We talk about playing the game the right way.”

Puig:

“I thought it was a home run, and then I didn’t run out the ball, obviously. It was [Roberts’] decision to take me out of the game. It was a decision well made, because all my teammates are out on the field working hard, and I should have run out that ball.”

Those are the right words to say in that situation, but it’s a situation that shouldn’t come up and words that should go without saying. Especially in a year where Puig has tried to recast himself as a hard worker. And especially in a year in which he’s been struggling at the plate overall.

Here’s Puig after the game:

Here’s Roberts:

Somewhere, Don Mattingly is nodding.

 

And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights

SEATTLE, WA - MAY 24:  Leonys Martin #12 of the Seattle Mariners reacts after hitting a two-run, walk-off homer to defeat the Oakland Athletics 6-5 at Safeco Field on May 24, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Rays 4, Marlins 3: The Rays won and guys did cool things and all of that but my favorite part of the game was how Kevin Cash brought in a lefty to face Giancarlo Stanton, who promptly homered off of him. Obviously Stanton has been struggling and obviously it didn’t matter to the outcome of the game but I do want to know what the thought process is to “I’m going to bring in a lefty to face the most powerful right handed hitter in baseball in this spot.”

Cubs 12, Cardinals 3: Jason Hammel allowed one run while pitching into the eighth and had a two-run double in the six-run first inning as Chicago ends a three-game losing streak. Michael Wacha gave up eight runs in four innings and has lost five consecutive decisions. Which isn’t really good.

Yankees 6, Blue Jays 0: The Yankees are back to .500 for the first time since April 14, which was the eighth game of the season. Carlos Beltran homered and drove in two and Nathan Eovaldi tossed six shutout innings. Only two hits in the whole game for the Blue Jays, who are near the bottom in the AL for runs per game this year. Last year they ran away with the Best Offensive Team in Baseball title. So yeah, there’s that.

Nationals 7, Mets 4: Yeah, so the Matt Harvey situation is getting pretty dire. The Mets’ erstwhile ace was lit up for five runs on eight hits in five innings. One of those hits was a Daniel Murphy homer. Two others were gopher balls given up to Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon. Meanwhile, Stephen Strasburg struck out 11 in six and two-thirds. Terry Collins on Harvey:

“We’ve got to think what’s not just best for Matt, but what’s best for us moving forward at the moment. There are a lot of things to consider. We’re not going to make any rash judgments tonight. We’re going to sleep on it.”

Sounds like someone has either a DL stint or a trip to Las Vegas in his future.

Pirates 12, Diamondbacks 1: Gregory Polanco had three hits including a three-run homer and drove in five. Dbacks starter Shelby Miller was lit up for six runs on eight hits in five innings and saw his ERA climb above seven. Even Matt Harvey looks at that and goes “damn.” Pittsburgh reliever Arquimedes Caminero was ejected in the eighth after hitting a pair of batters in the head, one of whom — Jean Segura — was sent to the hospital with concussion symptoms. Dude seems to have no idea where the ball is going and has no business pitching right now.

Red Sox 8, Rockies 3: Jackie Bradley Jr. extends his hitting streak to 28 games or, as we say in the business, .5 DiMaggios. OK, we don’t say that in the business. I’m not even sure what “the business” is, actually. I sit on a couch with my cats all day. Pretty good business but I’m not sure if it’s representative of a professional class into which I can even plausibly shoehorn myself. David Price won his seventh game, allowing three runs over seven innings. David Ortiz went 2-for-4 and drove in four. No that does not entitle you to ask him if he is going to reconsider his decision to retire.

Tigers 3, Phillies 1: Justin Verlander struck out ten over eight shutout innings. Francisco Rodriguez notched his 400th career save. Miguel Cabrera stayed hot, driving in two. When your ace, your closer and your slugger are the three dudes who get mentioned in a short game description, it’s pretty much the Platonic ideal of a winning baseball game.

Brewers 2, Braves 1Scooter Gennett hit a tiebreaking single in the eighth to put the Brewers over. Julio Teheran struck out 12 while allowing one run in seven innings but got the no-decision and his team lost because such is the hellscape that is the Atlanta Braves 2016 season. For what it’s worth, he’s got a 0.89 ERA over his last six starts while striking out 42. He’s 1-2 in that span.

Rangers 4, Angels 1: Martin Perez tossed six shutout innings and Nomar Mazara hit a two-run homer in the sixth. The Rangers got an insurance run when Mazara was caught stealing and stayed in the rundown long enough to let another runner score, so give him an assist or something.

Indians 6, White Sox 2: Chris Sale lost. I repeat: Chris Sale lost a baseball game. The Indians got to him for six runs in three and a third innings, in fact, which seems damn nigh impossible this year, but box scores don’t lie. Heck, Sale had allowed only six runs in his previous five starts combined. Josh Tomlin, meanwhile, remains undefeated after tossing eight innings and allowing two runs.

Royals 7, Twins 4Salvador Perez stayed hot, hittting a two-run homer, and Lorenzo Cain had four hits and two RBI. Wade Davis got the save despite loading the bases with nobody out in the ninth. That’s an interesting way to do things. Maybe he’s just lacking excitement in his life and is looking for ways to make the adrenaline surge.

Astros 3, Orioles 2: Carlos Correa hit a walkoff single in the 13th, ending the Astros’ four-game losing streak. It was set up by Tony Kemp hitting a leadoff triple over Adam Jones‘ head. Astros pitchers struck out 19 Orioles batters. Sixteen of those strikeouts came from the Houston bullpen, which didn’t enter the game until there were two outs in the sixth inning.

Giants 8, Padres 2: The Warriors are bringing everyone in the Bay Area down but at least they still have the Giants. Brandon Crawford drove in four runs and Jarrett Parker homered as the Giants win their fourth in a row and 12th of 13. The Padres have lost all eight meetings with the Giants this year.

Mariners 6, Athletics 5: The Mariners were down 5-2 after the A’s batted in the eighth inning but then they rallied for four over the next two frames, topped off with a Leonys Martin two-run walkoff homer. Robinson Cano hit a two-run homer of his own in the eighth. Brutal loss for the A’s.

Dodgers 8, Reds 2: Nine losses in a row for the Reds who continue to be a great opponent for struggling contenders to face. Eight straight for the Dodgers over the Reds. Mike Bolsinger got the win after allowing two runs in a little under six innings. Your Aunt Tilly could get a win against the Reds right now, even if she was having trouble locating her offspeed stuff.