We continue our Five Burning Questions for the 2015 season with a look at power hitting first baseman Prince Fielder.
Will he return to form?
When the Texas Rangers traded for Fielder, they were getting a durable player who led the big leagues in games played (486) from 2011-2013 and produced a 12.0 WAR over that same time span.
He was one of only five first basemen to get double digits in WAR in that three-year period.
Everything changed last season.
Fielder lasted just 42 games before he underwent neck surgery. And so a man who produced 120, 108 and 106 RBIs in three seasons prior left the Rangers searching for a power hitter.
Fielder started swinging a bat toward the end of the season, and the front office has projected he will return healthy in 2015.
The troubling things about Fielder are salary -- $24 million a year until 2020 -- and that his power numbers have decreased during the past three seasons.
The Rangers can't afford Fielder to continue a downward spiral, because he needs to become the run producer the team missed last season. It was too much pressure on Adrian Beltre to drive in runs. But with Fielder’s projected return, things might get better in 2015.
Fielder has traditionally batted cleanup (1,060 games) and is expected to be there again.
But could the new manager look to move him elsewhere, like maybe No. 3?
That seems unlikely, because the Rangers still believe Fielder is a run-producing first baseman who does his best work as a cleanup hitter.
If Fielder can’t return to his former power numbers, and we’re talking about more than 20 homers and 95 RBIs, the trade for him with the Detroit Tigers will look like a failure for the Rangers.
This is a club expecting so many players to bounce back from surgeries, and in some ways it could be too much to ask. But it needs Fielder to get back as a power hitter.
Whether it's as a DH or first baseman, Fielder must lead this team in RBIs and homers in 2015. There is so much on the line here, as the Rangers are trying to avoid a rebuilding mode after last season’s poor efforts.
It all starts with Fielder.