National League: Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder Highlight Free-Agent Class

Phil GardnerContributor IIIJune 17, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 17:  Prince Fielder #28 of the Milwaukee Brewers at the plate against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on April 17, 2011 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Prince Albert Pujols has been the class of the NL virtually since he’s come up to the majors, but this year Prince Fielder has been the better performer. When the season ends, both players will be free-agent first baseman, and both will be looking for a long term deal.

No offense Albert, but right now, Prince Fielder is looking like a much better option.

Albert Pujols has struggled this year. His .275 average is far below his career mark of .329, and his OPS has taken a major hit too. He’s found his home run swing lately and is on pace for a very respectable 35 home runs; that’s still a down year for him when you look at the rest of his career.

Most importantly, this is the second straight year of decline. Whether age is catching up with him, or this is a blip in the radar, it doesn’t make a convincing case for a long-term contract.

Albert is said to be looking for eight to 10 years, and A-Rod type money. After a drawn out offseason of negotiation, he left for spring training confident that St. Louis would have to pay him or lose him after the offseason.

Right now, he might not find a taker anywhere for those terms.

Elsewhere in his division, Prince Fielder is having a monster season. While Pujols is down, Prince is way up and getting better. He entered yesterday batting .302; far better than the .261 he posted last year or his career mark of .281. For June, he’s batting .341 with eight home runs.

Prince is a legitimate contender for the MVP award.

It’s definitely an interesting matchup between the players, and teams will be taking a good long hard look at both of them.

With Pujols, you get perennial consistency and the player who was the best player in the majors for most of his career. He’s more athletic and can play multiple positions including third base and the outfield.

Albert continually hits over .300, routinely puts up 30 home runs and is always an MVP candidate. Pujols is definitely the better player with a better resume; he just hasn’t shown it this season.

For Prince Fielder, he’s built like his father Cecil. He’s a big guy who can play first base, DH for an American League team, and above all, he can hit. He hasn’t been a .300 hitter in his career, but he can still put up over 50 home runs in a season.

The biggest thing he has going on Albert, aside from this season, is the fact he’s only 27 years old. He’s just entering into his prime seasons, and a long-term deal won’t have him signed into his 40s.

If a team is considering giving an eight-year contract to Pujols, or to Prince, Pujols will play it out until he’s 40 while Prince would be just 36. That’s a big difference in baseball age.

For a baseball decision, it comes down to whether you buy into the fact Pujols is declining, or whether you think he still has a lot left in the tank. Either way, Prince Fielder is likely a better alternative for a big money deal.

He might not be quite as good as Pujols, but he’s much younger, and he’s headed into the part of his career where players put up their best numbers. Prince will be 28 for the first season of his next contract; a year younger than Jose Bautista was when he came alive.

Off the field, Albert Pujols has the makings of a bigger signing. When you sign Pujols, you’re signing one of the best players ever, and you’re signing a guy who still has a great shot at the all-time home run record.

If a rival team manages to pry him away from the Cardinals, it would be a big coup and would be a tough sell from the Cardinals management to their fans. Albert is loved in St Louis, and it would be a black mark both on Albert and the Cardinals for him to leave as a free agent.

While it costs extra to pry Pujols away from the Cardinals, the Brewers likely won’t be a high bidder for Fielder. The Brewers are a smaller market team who would probably elect to sign two or three smaller name players with the money it would take to sign one Prince Fielder.

He’s not Albert Pujols, and he doesn’t play for a big money team; he’s going to be much easier to sign.

Whether it’s how easy it will be to sign a deal, the contract it will take to land them or the abilities you can expect going forward, it would be stupid for teams to have Albert Pujols as their top pick over Fielder.

Pujols might seem like a bigger trophy, and he may help sell some more tickets, but Prince Fielder will probably end up playing better and for longer.

Prince Albert may have gotten the nickname, but Prince Fielder was born with it. Show him the money, he’s going to earn it.