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.
A few weeks back the Washington Nationals designated reliever Shawn Kelley for assignment the morning after he threw his glove into the ground and glared at the Nats dugout in frustration after giving up a homer in a blowout win against the Mets. He was later traded to the Athletics. Nats GM Mike Rizzo said at that time that he thought Kelley was trying to show up his manager and that there was no room for that sort of thing on the team, offering an “either you’re with us or you’re working against us” sentiment in the process.
Today the Washington Post talks about all of the Nationals’ bullpen woes of late, and touches on the departure of Kelley as being part of the problem. In so doing, we learn that, on the night of Kelley’s mound tantrum, he and Rizzo almost got into a physical confrontation:
Rizzo headed down to the clubhouse and confronted Kelley, according to people familiar with the situation. The argument became heated, including raised voices, and eventually it almost became physical, according to people familiar with the exchange. Adam Eaton got between the two of them and separated them before things could advance further . . .
Might I point out that, the fact of this emerging now helps to vindicate Brandon Kintzler who, the day before, was traded away, some say, for being the source for negative reports from inside the Nats’ clubhouse?
That aside, the article does not make anyone look good, really. Rizzo had the backing of his team with the Kelley incident, but the overall story — how did the Nats’ bullpen, which was once a strength — get so bad? — does no favors for Rizzo. Mostly because he seems to have thought that they had so much extra bullpen depth that they could afford to deal away Kintzler, which he says was a financial move, not a punitive trade for being a media source.
Question: when was the last time you heard a baseball man say he had too much relief pitching? Especially today, in which the bullpen has assumed such a prominent role? Seems rather unreasonable to cut relievers when you’re trying mightily to come back from a sizable deficit in the standings, yes?