With the Mark Reynolds signing it appears the Brewers are moving into the 2014 season with some combination of Reynolds, Juan Francisco, and Hunter Morris at first base. Finger pointing aside (why not a more incentive based offer for Corey Hart?), there were few quality first baseman available so this move it not so surprising. With that settled now is a good time for that annual reflection of what if Prince Fielder was still a Brewer?
Let’s get a couple things out of the way. First, it was no surprise Fielder left as a free agent after the 2011 season. The Brewers were unable to sign him to an extension prior (to his final season) and Prince was offered a contract double the Brewers alleged best offer. Fielder ended up signing with the Detroit Tigers for nine years at around 24 million dollars a year. The nine years was the clincher of the deal, the small market Brewers unable to risk spending 24 million a year for a regressing first baseman in his mid thirties. Still, what if?
Prince Fielder Benefit
Moving from Milwaukee’s hitter friendly Miller Park to Detroit and the American League was always going to be a challenge. However, having Miguel Cabrera in the lineup was meant to ease the pain. In 2009 (batting behind Ryan Braun), Fielder had 110 walks, followed by 114 and 107 walks in 2010 and 2011 respectively. In Detroit his walks fell to 85 and 75, a major drop off since his Brewers days. Does this mean he was seeing better pitches or needed to be less selective hitting behind Cabrera versus Braun? In addition to his walks, his home runs and runs batted in numbers all decreased; his WAR dipped below 2 games to 1.7. (Note that there were also reports of personal issues, but it’s difficult to know the impact on his numbers.) This off-season Fielder was traded to the Texas Rangers. The Tigers will continue to pay 6 million dollars a year of Fielder’s salary. Had Fielder stayed in Milwaukee he would have hit 40 home runs in 2013. Okay, that’s probably not true.
For starters, how about not having the first base fiasco of 2013? With the Brewers, Fielder held a 4+ WAR, so let’s figure a 3.5 WAR for 2013 (if still with the Brewers) and first base would near an 8 game WAR swing (last years WAR was somewhere around a -4.5). That is significant and shows the cost of letting someone leave without a proper fill-in. So, let’s get crazy and say the Brewers kept Fielder and signed Aramis Ramirez (again, crazy because the money spent was largely due to Fielder’s 15.5 million coming off the books); imagine a line-up with Braun, Fielder, Ramirez, Jonathan Lucroy, Jean Segura, Khris Davis and Carlos Gomez! Has there ever been back to back to back to back… You get the picture. Throw in how great of a clubhouse guy Fielder was, the rumored 40 home runs he would have hit in 2013, and it’s easy to see why fans still miss him.
As a small market team, the Milwaukee Brewers will continue to play farm club for deep pocket, large market teams. Fun projections aside, it’s very possible Fielder would have struggled with the Brewers the way he did with the Tigers, so in hindsight probably a good non-deal by the team. Most agree the Brewers would have been foolish to offer a contract similar to the Tigers, handcuffing the franchise to a first baseman that although is an All-Star, was not singlehandedly going to lead the Crew to the World Series. Plus, sometimes change is good, besides “Beast Mode” was pretty much played out by the time he left.