Moving from the Tigers to the Rangers and their hitter-friendly ballpark was supposed to help get Prince Fielder back on track after a solid but unspectacular 2013 season that saw him set career-lows in homers, slugging percentage, and OPS.
Instead he’s off to a terrible start in Texas, hitting .200 with two homers and a .643 OPS through 26 games. Not surprisingly Rangers manager Ron Washington told reporters that he’s confident Fielder will turn things around soon:
I don’t lack confidence in Prince Fielder one iota. I don’t care about average. I don’t care that he has two home runs. I don’t care that [catcher Robinson] Chirinos has one RBI more than him. I know you guys are searching to find out. If we knew, we’d have fixed it. We’ve just got to wait. I’ve got patience.
That’s all reasonable and I’m certainly the last person in the world to portray a good hitter’s struggles for the first month of the season as a huge deal, but here’s the thing: Fielder hasn’t been himself for a while now.
Dating back to the beginning of last season he’s now hit .268 with a .358 on-base percentage and .438 slugging percentage in 188 games and 825 plate appearances. Those are decent numbers for some random player, but not for a guy with a $214 million contract and a .550 slugging percentage over the previous six seasons.
Detroit (and now Texas) paid Fielder huge money to put up huge numbers offensively and he’s nearing 200 games of not doing that, which is a big problem for a guy who brings nothing to the table defensively. He’ll no doubt get on track and start producing for the Rangers, but are we nearing the point where it’s reasonable to ask if Fielder’s days of being an elite slugger could be gone?
He’ll turn 30 years old in two weeks and Fielder is under contract for $24 million per season through 2020.
Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.
The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.
Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.
Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon hasn’t selected a fifth starter for his 2017 rotation yet, but told reporters that he could envision left-handers Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery sharing the spot throughout the year. Neither pitcher was stretched out to the full 200-inning threshold last year, Maddon added, and suggested that the two could alternate innings out of the rotation and bullpen as needed (via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat).
Anderson, 29, was acquired by the Cubs in January on a $3.5 million deal. He’s coming off a rough 2016, during which he underwent back surgery and missed all but 11 1/3 innings of his last season with the Dodgers. His last full, healthy year in the majors yielded a 3.69 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 over 180 1/3 innings with Los Angeles in 2015.
Montgomery, meanwhile, is vying for a rotation spot after pitching almost exclusively from the bullpen during the second half of the Cubs’ 2016 run. The 27-year-old lefty put up a 2.82 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 38 1/3 innings for Chicago last year, returning in the postseason to post a 3.14 ERA during the Cubs’ championship finish.
Maddon also mentioned the possibility of throwing a sixth starter into the mix, which would help prevent his other starters from getting overworked too early in the year. Either way, Anderson and Montgomery are expected to get a lot of looks early in spring training as rotation spots are finalized in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.