It was made official on Friday that Prince Fielder signed a two-year, $18 million deal with the Brewers. The deal, worth $6.5 million in 2009 and $11.5 million in 2010, includes a $1 million signing bonus.
Averaged out, the deal actually works out to more than the $8 million per year Fielder requested.
The two-year deal actually leaves Fielder one year short of free agency, where he’ll likely sign a contract for 2011 and be able to enter the market for a big payday at just the age of 27.
While it’s easy to look at the short contract and see it as a part of the growing trend of big-name stars signing short contracts and trying to control their free agency years, don’t overlook the positives the contract gives the Brewers.
The short contract gives the Brewers security in knowing that Fielder must continue to maintain his numbers, and his weight, if he’s going to make any kind of money in the free agent market.
Fielder’s weight has been a topic of discussion and concern among fans, especially after last season’s highly publicized switch to vegetarianism.
Fans worry that Fielder is on the fast-track to becoming an AL team’s designated hitter. His size has, at times, seemed to have an affect on his base-running and fielding skills at first base.
Fielding errant throws from Ricky Weeks on a daily basis can make anyone look bad, but combine his size with his lack of height, and it has seemed obvious that Prince is destined to be nothing but a bat in the coming years.
However, looking slimmer than he has been since arriving in Milwaukee at last night’s Brewers Winter Warm-Up program, when asked if he was happy about the signing, Fielder gave a succinct, “Hell yeah.”
The signing comes as a bit of a shock, as it was assumed by most that Fielder was being dangled as trade bait this offseason, as the Brewers tried to find another starting pitcher.
While youth has stepped up in Milwaukee with the impressive one-two starters of Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parry, the loss of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets to free agency have left the Brewers with a less-than-stellar three-four-five of Dave Bush, Jeff Suppan, and a PTBNL (possible Seth McClung).
Fielder’s image was noticeably absent from any and all Brewers off-season promotion materials, only serving to fuel the fires of speculation.
Not only does the signing put those rumors to rest, but it also likely ends any hope Brewers’ fans had that the team could sign a free agent starter.
Owner Mark Attanasio told The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that the Fielder signing, along with money budgeted for Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks (who are still in the arbitration process), puts the team at their budget ceiling for 2009.
Arguments for and against the Fielder signing that look purely at stats miss the point. His 2007 with 50 home runs and a .618 slugging percentage is unlikely to be repeated. Likewise, his “slump” of just 34 home runs in 2008 will not be the norm.
With Fielder joined by Ryan Braun in the middle of Milwaukee’s batting order, the Brewers present a formidable problem to opposing pitchers. This signing ensures that Milwaukee enjoys at least two more seasons of that combination.
It’s possible that Braun is the best thing that ever happened to Fielder’s career in Milwaukee.
Never at ease in front of the camera, and always trying to win the game with one swing of the bat, Fielder has not seemed comfortable with the sole spotlight shining on him.
Braun, however, is articulate and well-spoken. He thrives on the attention and seems to be the natural, public leader that Prince is not.
Now that Fielder feels that the expectations of the team and city do not sit solely on his shoulders, he seems much more at ease at the plate.
While he’ll always be a power-hitter, fans can look for more clutch hitting and RBI. Instead of always slugging for the fences, it will be nice to see him finding more finesse and placement in his swing.