The MLB free agent season is in full swing. While a few players have signed deals with new teams, Prince Fielder has yet to sign on the dotted line. Teams are likely asking themselves if he is going to end up more like Babe Ruth or Mo Vaughn.
Prince Fielder, the son of former MLB player Cecil Fielder, was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers with the seventh pick of the 2002 MLB Amateur Draft. After stops at Ogden, Beloit, Huntsville and Nashville in the Brewers' minor league system, his stats proved he was ready for the big stage in Milwaukee after his call-up in 2005. Once he arrived, Fielder showed that not only could he play, but that he was a star, averaging .282 with 37 HRs and 106 RBI over his six full seasons in the big leagues.
There has been little doubt that Fielder is a force. He holds the Brewers' record for home runs in a season, is the first Brewer to win the All-Star Game Home Run Derby (2009) and is the youngest player in MLB history to hit 50 HRs.
Whatever team eventually signs Prince Fielder will have acquired one of the premier power hitters in the game. But what executives are asking themselves is for how long? At what point, if ever, will Fielder's weight shorten his career?
MLB lists Prince Fielder, all 5'11" of him, as weighing 275 lbs, and while that weight might be more fiction than fact, it is still a lot of weight to carry around. Statistics have proven that over time heavier players' careers end sooner and their production drops off faster than fit players. But is it really that big a deal?
You don't have to look very hard to find plus-size baseball players. You also don't have to look very far to find baseball players who were stars in their 20's but whose careers were either finished or in steep decline by their early 30's. Mo Vaughn, Greg Luzinski, Adam Dunn, Boog Powell, Kent Hrbek and, oh yeah, Cecil Fielder. All of these guys' playing ability took a swan dive into "Lake Career Over" in their early 30's. Well, Dunn is only 31 and not finished yet, but his stats appears headed that direction.
Other players also saw the pounds pack on and their careers enter decline—not as early as the the aforementioned group, but they put on weight and saw their stats decline and ultimately their careers come to an end.
There are examples of portly players still playing at a high level well into their 30's. If we go back almost 100 years, we find perhaps the best wide-body player ever, Babe Ruth. Well-known for his lack of a training regimen, eating 24 hot dogs between games of a double header, Ruth played at a high level into his late 30's before ultimately retiring at age 40.
A more current example is David Ortiz. When it appeared Ortiz was lining up for his career swan dive, he suddenly turned things around and was resurgent in his mid-30's.
At age 27, Prince Fielder—if you believe the referenced statistics—has four or five good years left before he either begins a smooth glide towards the end of his career or crashes in a smoldering heap.
Since it's likely that Fielder will command a seven or eight-year contract, the question for executives becomes for how many years are you willing to pay past that potential crash?