Prince Fielder of the Milwaukee Brewers reacts after he flied out for the third out in the bottom of the third inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game Six of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
This, from Fox Sports' Jon Morosi, is intriguing:
The Cubs are pursuing both Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, and not simply because the free-agent first basemen are difference-makers.
No, the Cubs also are acknowledging two emerging realities – a dwindling number of sluggers available in future free-agent markets, and the restrictions on spending in the amateur draft under baseball’s new collective-bargaining agreement.
New Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have made it clear that they intend to rebuild the team. However, the Cubs are indeed showing interest in both Pujols and Fielder, major league sources say.
Pujols, 31, is nearly 3½ years older than Fielder, but sources say the Cubs are more willing to go long-term with Pujols, who is the better defender according to advanced metrics. Some teams, concerned by Fielder’s body would prefer him on a shorter, high-dollar deal.
I wrote here about why the Cubs should be interested in Pujols almost two years ago (note: that post says Pujols would be a free agent after 2010; that was before the Cardinals exercised the option on his deal keeping him for 2011); before the 2011 season started I wrote that Tom Ricketts couldn't afford not to sign Pujols.
Well, things are a bit different now. Tom Ricketts has hired Theo Epstein to run his baseball operation and, as Morosi notes, it's Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer that will be making this decision.
Personally, I still think Pujols would be a good signing, even at the money and the number of years he wants. As I wrote earlier, I think he's a once-in-a-generation talent like Ty Cobb, Stan Musial or Ted Williams, all of whom had productive seasons into their early 40s. If Theo & Jed do sign Pujols, it will not only be a great thing for the Cubs, but it will seriously hurt a division rival. That's always a good thing.
In this post, though, I'm going to make the case for the Cubs to sign Prince Fielder. Follow me past the jump for good reasons why the former Brewers 1B would be a great fit on the North Side. (I say "former" because although it's still possible Fielder could return to Milwaukee, he's essentially said he won't.)
There is going to be a lot of money involved in signing either one of these men, well north of $20 million a year. The most recent rumors regarding Pujols have offers somewhere around $210 million for nine years, or a little over $23 million a year. Incidentally, if I'm Pujols, given the lack of suitors lined up, I might just take that, even if it's not more than Alex Rodriguez makes. Pujols deserves to be the highest-paid player in the game, but even if A-Rod continues to be, Pujols will certainly be the more productive player for the next several seasons as A-Rod goes through his inevitable decline -- the Yankee 3B turns 37 next July.
So while the Cubs could sign Pujols for around that number, perhaps they'd be better off with Fielder, who is four years younger. (Yes, FOUR, despite all the rumors of Pujols' age not being what it's claimed, I don't believe any of that. I believe Pujols is 31 and will turn 32 in January, as listed.)
Ah, but here's the rub -- Fielder's ample body size. At 27, if he were a muscular specimen a la Pujols, you probably wouldn't hesitate giving him a nine-year contract.
But Prince Fielder is big. REAL big. And he's likely to get bigger. And slower. He actually plays a pretty good first base -- not as good as Carlos Pena, so if the Cubs signed him, they'd be losing something defensively -- but how long is that going to last? Prince's father, Cecil Fielder, listed at 6-3, 230 (Prince is listed at 5-11, 275, and is probably bigger), had seven big power years after his return from Japan, from ages 26-32.
And then Cecil fell off the table. His career was over two years later.
Since Prince will be 28 next May, I'd give him no more than six years, preferably five. Let's go with six for argument's sake. (But see below for a caveat.)
There's another issue. The Cubs still have two large contracts on the books, Carlos Zambrano's (which ends after 2012) and Alfonso Soriano's (up after 2014). It is possible that some of Z's deal could be taken by another team this offseason. It is less likely that someone will take any of Soriano's. Perhaps Fielder's deal could be backloaded so that it wouldn't put too much of a hit on the payroll until after 2014. Of course, if you do that, you are taking the risk that you will be paying $30 million (say) for a player in decline starting in 2015.
Or not. It does appear, based on Prince's numbers to date and the example of his father's career, that he could be productive until at least age 33. So let's say the Cubs offer six years at $135 million -- that would be slightly below the average cost of the latest rumored Pujols offer. Split it up this way: $20 million in 2012 and 2013, $22 million in 2014, $24 million in 2015 and 2016, and $25 million in 2017. Make the last year a mutual option if you think Fielder would be declining by then.
That's a lot of money. But Fielder is a lot of player -- both literally and figuratively. He should be entering his best seasons, at least for the next three or four. His career totals at Wrigley Field are a little better than his overall norms: .298/.424/.579 with 11 home runs in 178 at-bats. The Cubs haven't had a lefthanded power hitter like this since... well, maybe ever; the closest would probably be Billy Williams, and that goes back 40 years. The ballhawks might have to split their time between Waveland and Sheffield. (Pujols is just as good at Wrigley: .298/.397/.602 with 26 home runs in 319 AB; he's the leader among active visiting players with the 26 Wrigley homers.)
This would excite the fanbase in a way it hadn't been since the signing of Soriano in November 2006. Heck, sales of blue pinstripe "FIELDER 28" jerseys might pay for a fair chunk of the contract. And it would really frost Brewers fans. If the Cubs really want to make a splash in the free-agent market, and not give up on trying to compete in the 2012 season, and are willing to spend this kind of money, either Pujols or Fielder would be a fine choice. It just might be that Prince Fielder would be a better one, given his age.