Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder is two years, or 22 percent of the way, through a long and massive nine-year, $214 contract signed prior to the 2012 season. At first glance (.295/.387/.491, 364 consecutive regular season starts and two trips into deep October baseball), the marriage seems to be working out very well for both the team and player.
Yet, after a disappointing individual 2013 season (120 OPS+, worst since 2006), poor postseason performance (0 RBI in 40 AB) and cavalier attitude in the aftermath of defeat, questions will be raised about the next seven seasons of Fielder's career in Detroit.
After a Game 6 defeat in Boston that ended Detroit's 2013 season one stop from the postseason, Fielder did not seem to be willing to let the loss deflate him as the offseason began for the Tigers. His quote, via MLB's Alden Gonzalez, has not been well received in Detroit.
Asked if this loss is going to linger more than others, Fielder said: "I got kids, man."
"You have to be a man about it," he added. "I have kids. If I'm sitting around pouting about it, how am I going to tell them to keep their chins or keep their heads up when something doesn't go their way? It's over.
"It isn't really tough, man, for me [to move on]. It's over. I have kids I have to take care of, so, for me it's over, bro."
Told fans may be upset to hear him shake off a disappointing loss so quickly, Fielder said: "They don't play."
Fans are passionate, irrational and fanatical about their team. Regardless of Fielder's attitude in the moment, sincerity around the quotes or frustration about losing, Tigers faithful won't be happy with his performance (both in the regular and postseason) or reaction to the loss.
As paying customers, that is their right.
Yet, when assessing the remaining seven years on Fielder's contact, these factors will matter much more than his answers to the media on early Sunday morning: age, durability, consistency and recent history of long-term deals to first baseman.
First, the bright side: Fielder will play next season at the age of 30. By signing the power-hitting first baseman prior to the 2012 season, Detroit secured his age 28-36 seasons. While it's very possible he falls off the proverbial cliff well before then, the Tigers are not in a position to have to worry about what kind of performer he will be during his very late 30s.
Simply put, he still should have very productive seasons left in his bat.
With major production comes durability. Regardless of how good Fielder was, is or can be, questions will surround his ability to continue to perform at a high level while playing at such an extreme size. According to Baseball-Reference, Fielder is listed at 275 pounds.
Regardless of the accuracy of that number, he's a big man whose body won't ease gracefully.
On the other hand, until he begins to sustain physical issues due to weight, his durability should be highlighted, not critiqued. Since becoming a full-time player for Milwaukee in 2006, Fielder has averaged 160 games per season. No one has played in more baseball games than Fielder over the last eight seasons.
While age and durability point to a long, successful run in Detroit, recent long-term pacts for first baseman do not bode well for Fielder remaining a fan favorite at Comerica Park for long.
As Joel Sherman of The New York Post pointed out over the weekend in a great column, teams that have given out big pacts to first baseman have rued the agreements for years. From Albert Pujols to Mark Teixeira to Ryan Howard, when production wains at first base, it's a steep decline and limited return on investment.
With those factors, both good and bad, in play around Fielder, his legacy in Detroit will come down to two things: future play and some (if any) moments of postseason glory.
First, the latter. Even with Jim Leyland's sudden retirement, the window of opportunity for this Tigers group should remain open for next season and possibly longer. With Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez under contract for 2014, the Tigers can be right back in October next season.
If they arrive, Fielder will need to improve on a .194/.287/.333 career postseason line.
Fielder's subpar 2013 is more of an immediate concern in Detroit. If you look at his numbers in a vacuum, there's reason to believe a 121-point drop in OPS (940-819) from 2012 to 2013 is the dip that starts a decline reminiscent of other first baseman.
Of course, Fielder's career can't be put in a vacuum. A quick look at his career OPS and OPS+ marks show high degrees of variance from year to year. While Fielder's career isn't as simple as "good year, bad year," he does have a tendency to mix MVP-caliber seasons with off campaigns.
|Prince Fielder's Year-by-Year OPS and OPS+ (2006-2013)|
After a down 2013, awful postseason and PR nightmare in the post game (even if he was showing perspective when speaking about family life), Tigers fans will enter the 2014 season worried about their expensive first baseman.
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