With 2011 closing up shop in a couple of days, there are still several major free agents on the market, including one of the most desirable: first baseman Prince Fielder. Fielder hasn’t gotten a lot of interest, with a majority of the love for him coming from the Mariners. Teams seem to be hesitant to offer Fielder the long-term deal he’s seeking, due to a variety of issues: budget, his weight, questions about his ability to remain at first base…it’s just not the best market for him right now. Fielder and agent Scott Boras are still holding out for a long-term deal. But should he be thinking short-term instead? Here are some reasons why he should be looking for a shorter pact.
If Fielder signs a seven or eight year deal, he’ll likely be making in the neighborhood of $18 million or so a year. Not saying he deserves more, not saying he deserves less….just saying that’s my gut instinct. Teams feel a little less inclined to give Fielder big money over a longer term because of a fear that his body will break down before the end of his contract due to his weight. Fielder will be 28 for the 2012 season, and an eight year deal would push him into his mid-30’s, around the time where a player Fielder’s size (listed at 270 pounds, but that seems low) begins to break down. If a team were to give Fielder a three year pact, they’d be paying for his age 28-30 seasons, the prime of his career. Fielder could make something like $20 million extra over the next three years (if he’s given say, $75 million over three years as opposed to $144 million over eight years).
If Fielder signs for three years, he’ll still be 30 when the contract expires, which was comparable to the same situation that Albert Pujols was in this offseason. I’m not putting Fielder in Pujols’ class at all, but be patient with me here. Teams love to overpay for a quality first baseman, and in three years, the market will be vastly different than it is now. There really aren’t any openings in big markets right now. In three years, the ownership situation in Los Angeles should be cleared up, and James Loney isn’t the kind of guy that would prevent you from signing Fielder.
If Fielder looks for a short-term deal, even if it’s just a one year pact, a big market team could be willing to shift their plans to go for the full monty this year. The Red Sox did this in 2010 with Adrian Beltre, and cashed in after that season with a long-term deal with the Rangers. Beltre made $12 million in 2009 with the Mariners (the final year of a five year contract that was laced with disappointments), took a cut to $10 million in 2010 with Boston (signing after the new year, just like the situation that Fielder is facing), and then signed the long-term contract with Texas (ironically, on the same day as his 2010 contract) that gives him salaries ranging from $14 million in 2011 to $18 million in 2015. If he held out for a long-term deal after the 2009 season, he might have had to settle for a seven figure deal.
A short-term deal might not be the first choice for Fielder and his management team, but it may be the best course of action at this point in time. But then again, maybe not. We’ll have a counterpoint to this piece up later tonight, talking about why Fielder should hold out for a long-term deal.