Prince Fielder. Albert Pujols. Chicago Cubs. The three have been interchangeable since the beginning of free agency, and rumors have run rampant about which piece is a good fit for each other. Simply put, neither Pujols nor Fielder are a good fit for the Chicago Cubs.
Albert Pujols is 32 going on 34 (supposedly), and he has never been a serious part of the Cubs' free-agent discussion. Fielder has been put under a microscope for weeks and no one can get a good read on what the future holds for the left-handed power hitter. With the big-spending teams (Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies) seemingly set for years to come at first base, that does not bode well for Fielder's wishes of a monster contract.
While the Cubs have money to spend on free agency, it shouldn't be an excuse to blow money on a player who isn't vital to the future of the Cubs.
While it may appear unfair to gauge someone's future on what their family did before in the real world, in baseball it is entirely relevant. Unfortunately for Prince Fielder, his father, Cecil Fielder, has predetermined his career arc, at least for this writer.
At age 27, Cecil Fielder played all 162 regular-season games, hitting 44 home runs and 133 RBI.
Prince Fielder, at age 27, played all 162 regular-season games, hitting 38 home runs and 120 RBI.
After age 27, Cecil Fielder never had the same production. His OPS and total base numbers were never the same. It's unfair to Prince, but if family history matters in medicine, it should certainly matter in baseball.
After offering arbitration to Carlos Pena, it would appear the Cubs are more focused on defense and the relative affordability of Pena, while still producing offensively.
Fielder is not a slouch on defense, with his fielding percentage only a little under the league average (.990 as opposed to .994). With Prince expecting a salary that would place him at the pinnacle of big league contracts, the Cubs would be better off paying half the price for a better fielder and comparable player, according to Baseball Reference.
Realistically, Fielder should be able to command a deal upwards of $22 million per year, based on past performance. The Chicago Cubs can't afford to pay a player that much right now because there are too many holes, and too many needs to fill.
Enticing prospects such as Yoennis Cespedes, along with free agents like Yu Darvish, are more along the lines of what the new regime has in mind. They are younger and would be hitting their prime right as the farm system produced developed talent.
In theory, Cespedes and Darvish could be had, salary-wise, for a combined $22 million a year. The Chicago Cubs have to identify needs instead of wants at this juncture.
Dale Sveum was Prince Fielder's hitting coach, and earlier this month I wondered whether he could bring Prince to Chicago. While I'm sure Sveum would be a good reason for Prince to choose Chicago, after seeing what Sveum did with the talent in Milwaukee, I'd rather he spend his time fixing the Cubs' young lineup.
Without assistance from the No. 2 and 4 hitters, Fielder is destined to be an automatic walk, especially on a developing Chicago Cubs roster. Dale Sveum can use his time more wisely by focusing on DJ LeMahieu, Tyler Colvin and Brett Jackson in preparing them for the future.
If the Cubs sign Prince Fielder, it would be completely against their stated culture. Bringing in a superstar would not only unfairly excite Cubs fans, it would also give pundits reason to build up the Chicago Cubs.
Signing Fielder takes the franchise two steps back. Expecting Fielder to produce another 40/120 season with this roster would be foolish, but fans would still latch onto it. If Fielder were to fail, fans would call for Epstein's head sooner than they should.
"I'm signed for this year, but being real about it, it is probably the last year."
-Prince Fielder, September 14, 2011
Note the date that the quote was given. This quote from SI.com was in the middle of a playoff push. This is not the first, or the only, but it is certainly the most telling quote from Fielder's free agency talks.
Wanting to get paid accordingly is one thing, but openly telling your teammates this is it? Not who the Chicago Cubs need on the field.
If Fielder is searching for a six- or seven-year deal, the National League isn't the right fit. He is a power hitter with limited (although serviceable) defensive skills, who has a family history that has proven a decline after 27. Since there are no designated hitters in the NL, and Fielder is looking for a long-term deal, the Chicago Cubs are in the wrong league for him.
When you're a bigger-framed player, you get unfairly lumped into the Mo Vaughn category: a producing player who immediately upon signing an overpaid deal, begins to falter. While not fair to those that have followed Vaughn, his tale is a cautionary one to those willing to pay players of his type.
Vaughn actually produced until the age of 30, but it was under a smaller contract. Upon the signing of his astronomical deal with Anaheim (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim), his production flatlined. Blame it on age, or a change of scenery, but Vaughn finished his deal as a Met because the teams traded bad contracts (Kevin Appier and cash).
Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols
Remember the days of little league, where you'd put the biggest kid at first because he could A) block the ball or B) hit a ton of home runs?
That's what Milwaukee did, and it worked. Chicago cannot do the same thing, because there's farm talent almost ready.
While Vogelbach is at least two years off, transitioning Brett Jackson to first would be ideal. There are enough players almost ready that clogging first with a $22m/year contract just doesn't make sense.
Prince Fielder is wrong for the Chicago Cubs for the previous nine reasons, but this final reason is the most important: he feels entitled.
Adrian Gonzalez. Justin Morneau. Ryan Howard. Mark Texiera. Miguel Cabrera. Fielder is currently seventh in terms of annual salary, and he produced more than Morneau and Howard in 2011. Prince not only wants to be the highest-paid first baseman, but among the highest paid in baseball.
With Matt Kemp recently signing an eight-year, $160 million deal, Fielder has found his self-dictated market value. It is unrealistic to think that the Chicago Cubs would pay Fielder that amount of money, especially after the nine reasons stated previously.
Prince Fielder will be surprised when teams stop calling. They will continue their silence until he realizes that the cards are stacked against him in terms of future production. The best bet for Fielder is to grab hold of an incentive-laden deal and prove people wrong.
I hope he does that, just not with the Chicago Cubs.