Tag: Vernon Wells

Prince Fielder

Prince Fielder, Ian Kinsler, and mouthwatering moves


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.

Tigers win big in shedding Prince Fielder’s contract

Prince Fielder

Give lots of credit to Dave Dombrowski; the potential nightmare back half of Prince Fielder’s nine-year, $214 million contract is no more.

Instead, Fielder and the $168 million he’s still owed is gone after two mildly disappointing seasons in Detroit, with Ian Kinsler’s more palatable deal coming back. The Tigers sent along $30 million in order to facilitate the deal, according to Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan.

Kinsler, who is owed $62 million for four years or $67 million for five if his option is picked up, supplants free agent Omar Infante as the Tigers’ second baseman. He won’t replace Fielder’s bat in the cleanup spot, but he can be just as valuable of a player, depending on how much of Fielder’s decline these last two years is for real.

Most importantly, the move shores up Detroit’s defense by getting Miguel Cabrera back to first base where he belongs. Now the Tigers can also return top prospect Nick Castellanos to his original position of third base. He was moved to left field last year because of Cabrera’s presence a the hot corner.

As of this moment, it looks like the trade frees up $8 million for the Tigers to spend this winter, though that depends on the schedule of the cash payments to Texas. If the Tigers aren’t confident in Castellanos, they could go sign Juan Uribe to play third base. They can also use some of the savings on their bullpen. For the long haul, that Fielder cash may be earmarked for a new Max Scherzer deal. Scherzer, the Al Cy Young Award winner, is a free agent after next season.

The Rangers get better on the field with the one-for-one deal, but it’s at a cost of inheriting one of the game’s worst contract. Most likely, Fielder will put up a better line next year than the .279/.362/.457 he hit while going through a divorce in a career-worst 2013 season. He’s just turning 30 in May, and while his body type suggests an early decline is quite possible, he probably has at least one or two more .900-OPS seasons in him. Also, the Rangers now have their spot freed up for young Jurickson Profar, who will step in at second base and could be an All-Star come 2015 or 2016.

Still, the Rangers didn’t need to go this route. They could have signed Mike Napoli for something like $45 million over three years. They could have shifted Kinsler to the outfield or traded him for a youngster or two, perhaps without eating any portion of his salary. Going after Fielder instead looks like an ownership move more along the lines of what we’ve come to expect from the Angels (Vernon Wells, Albert Pujols). It should work out fine for a couple of years, but what comes afterwards could get ugly.

So, what’s the market for Billy Butler anyway?

Josh Phegley, Jerry Meals, Billy Butler

This kind of doubles as a “what’s the market for Kendrys Morales?” post, too.

Anyway, the Royals have let it be known that Billy Butler is available, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney. Had they done this a year ago, they would have been in line for a nice return. Now? Probably not so much. Butler will make $8 million next year, and his deal includes a 2015 option worth $12.5 million-$14.5 million, plus he’s due a little bonus if traded. For a pure DH, that’s a substantial sum. Also, Butler is also coming off his worst season since 2009. I assume he has better seasons in front of him, but since he’s a zero with the glove and a big minus on the basepaths, he needs to hit .300 with 25 homers per year in order to be a major asset.

So, what teams might be in the market for a rather costly DH this winter?

Baltimore: A strong right-handed hitter to plop behind Chris Davis in the lineup would do the Orioles a lot of good.

Seattle: I tried to get behind a Butler-to-Seattle deal last year before the Mariners acquired Morales. Maybe it could happen this winter, but only if Morales rejects a qualifying offer and leaves in free agency. That’d be a dangerous gamble for him.

Texas: The Rangers gave Lance Berkman a whirl last winter, but it didn’t work out.  They could still use a true DH, but a left-hander would be nice considering that Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler, Alex Rios and Adrian Beltre all swing righty.

New York: The Yankees have preferred to bargain hunt for DH options of late, and they may not be able to take on a pure one unless they decide to release Vernon Wells. Depending on how the outfield shakes out, it may be Alfonso Soriano’s spot.

Tampa Bay: Tampa Bay figures to add a part-time DH to replace Luke Scott, but they’ll be looking into the bargain bin.

Oakland: GM Billy Beane seems to be prizing versatility and flexibility with his lineup, and on the off chance he does look to add a big bat, it’d probably be a left-hander to hit between Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes.

Minnesota: The Twins could certainly use the offense, but they’re not in any sort of position to give up talent for an $8 million DH.

Cleveland: The Indians intend to bring back free agent Jason Giambi, and they’ll probably continue giving Carlos Santana starts at DH with Yan Gomes behind the plate.

Los Angeles: Between Mark Trumbo, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, there’s no room for a full-time DH in Anaheim.

Houston: There’s better way for the Astros to spend if they’re going to loosen the purse strings.

That’s maybe three legitimate suitors for Butler in Baltimore, Seattle and Texas. NL teams aren’t really any sort of an option; Butler can play first base when necessary, but no team is going to want him as a full-timer there. Given the limited market, I’m not sure it makes much sense for the Royals to move him. They still have a whole lot of use for his right-handed bat for one thing. If they could get a top prospect in return, it might be worth going in a different direction. But that return probably isn’t out there.

Morales faces the same sort of problem if he turns down the Mariners’ $13.5 million-$14 million qualifying offer. No, a team won’t have to trade for him, but it will have to forfeit a pick to sign him, which could be just as bad. Perhaps a couple of NL teams will consider Morales as a first baseman — he’s more viable there than Butler is — but I’m really skeptical he’ll get a three- or four-year deal.

2013 leads the way in spectacularly bad offensive performances

B.J. Upton

By OPS, the 2013 season boasts three of the six worst offensive seasons since 2000:

.545 – Cesar Izturis (2010 Orioles)
.559 – Alcides Escobar (2013 Royals)
.562 – Nick Punto (2007 Twins)
.564 – Neifi Perez (2002 Royals)
.565 – Adeiny Hechavarria (2013 Marlins)
.569 – Darwin Barney (2013 Cubs)
.576 – Ramon Santiago (2003 Tigers)
.588 – Michael Bourn (2008 Astros)
.592 – Angel Berroa (2006 Royals)
.593 – Brad Ausmus (2006 Astros)

Yes, the Royals have had some shortstop troubles through the years.

Now, those are just the guys that qualified for the batting title. It doesn’t count Pete Kozma’s .548 mark in 410 at-bats or B.J. Upton’s .556 in 391 at-bats. Upton, though, does have the very worst OPS for an outfielder minimum 400 plate appearances since 2000.

.557 – B.J. Upton (2013 Braves)
.559 – Willy Taveras (2009 Reds)
.560 – Peter Bergeron (2001 Expos)

And how about Blue Jays J.P. Arencibia? He finished six plate appearances shy of qualifying for the batting title or his .595 OPS would have put him 12th on the first list. What’s amazing is that he managed the sub-.600 OPS while hitting 21 homers. That’s far and away the worst OPS ever for a 20-homer guy:

.595 – J.P. Arencibia (2013 Blue Jays)
.649 – Willie Kirkland (1962 Indians)
.654 – Marquis Grissom (2001 Dodgers)
.660 – Vernon Wells (2011 Angels)
.663 – Tony Batista (2003 Orioles)

And what’s a “spectacularly bad offensive performances” article without a Yuniesky Betancourt cameo. With his .595 OPS, Betancourt didn’t rank among the very worst hitters this year, but he was spectacularly bad for a guy who played first base half of the time.

Here are the worst OPSs for first baseman (min. 400 plate appearances) during the expansion era (1961-present):

.566 – Ed Kranepool (1968 Mets)
.591 – Dan Meyer (1978 Mariners)
.595 – Yuniesky Betancourt (2013 Brewers)
.600 – Enos Cabell (1981 Astros)
.602 – Pete Rose (1983 Phillies)


Alden Gonzalez explains why no Mike Trout extension is forthcoming

Mike Trout

Many have assumed that the Angels will try to work out a long-term deal with Mike Trout this winter before the price tag becomes even more overwhelming, but there’s a very good reason that won’t be happening. And it has a lot to do with that hideous Vernon Wells deal still taking a toll. The Angels are just too close to the luxury-tax threshold to commit big bucks to Trout at the moment.

MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez lays it all out in his blog entry:

Well, let’s say the Angels sign him to a 10-year, $300 million deal (that’s just a number I’m throwing out, basically because it’s easy to divide — and perhaps because I’m thinking of Robinson Cano). Even if in that contract, Trout is making only $1 million in 2014, the figure for the CBT [Competitive Balance Tax] payroll would be the AAV [Average Annual Value] of that: $30 million.

It matters nothing what Trout makes next year if he signs a long-term deal; it’s his average salary that counts. And since the Angels already have Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Wells, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson combining for annual salaries of $100 million, with many more mid-range players also under contract, they can’t give Trout the kind of contract he deserves and stay under the luxury tax at $189 million.

(Yes, Wells still factors in to the tune of $18 million next year. Under the deal the Angels worked out with the Yankees this spring, the Halos got some relief from his 2013 salary, but they’re taking on nearly all of that responsibility for 2014, largely because the Yankees wanted to get under the luxury tax next year.)

The Red Sox used to run into this same problem, and the Yankees, too, have typically been shy about signing younger players to multiyear deals. It’s the hidden cost of operating in the vicinity of the luxury tax; whereas small-market teams can give their young players long-term deals and save a lot of money in the long run, it costs the large-market teams extra to do so.

In this case, Trout is so incredibly valuable that one could argue the Angels should ignore the consequences and try to get something done anyway. It’ll cost them extra now, but it might yet save them some money down the line. After all, that annual salary he’ll command in a long-term deal figures to be significantly smaller now than it will be once he hits arbitration.