In his Rumblings & Grumblings column last week, Jayson Stark surveyed executives from around baseball and the consensus was that Prince Fielder would receive a seven-year deal at $22-$23 million per season.
With Matt Kemp reportedly close to signing an eight-year, $160 million deal with the Dodgers, will that affect the Fielder offers? Things to consider:
1. Kemp's deal takes him from his age-27 through age-34 seasons. He's a durable, athletic center fielder with speed and power.
2. A seven-year deal for Fielder would take him from his age-28 through age-34 seasons. He's a durable, fat first baseman with power but no baserunning or defensive value. (Please, I don't want to hear that Fielder is a good first baseman; he's not.)
Which guy would you rather have?
Baseball-Reference WAR, 2009-2011: Kemp 18.0, Fielder 14.0
FanGraphs WAR, 2009-2011: Kemp 14.3, Fielder 15.3
Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information sent out some information on Kemp that included an interesting nugget: Since 1996, only one center fielder has averaged 150 games played per season over an eight-year span (Andruw Jones, who played at least 150 games every season from 1998 through 2007). Only six center fielders averaged 140 games per season over eight years (Jones, Steve Finley, Mike Cameron, Juan Pierre, Carlos Beltran and Vernon Wells).
I thought I'd check the same thing for first basemen, but using only the 28-to-34 age range that Fielder would fall under with a seven-year contract. Since 1996, only three first basemen/DHs averaged 150 games per season during those ages: Jeff Bagwell, Tino Martinez and John Olerud. If you lower the bar to 140 games per season, you get a longer list: Bagwell, Martinez, Olerud, David Ortiz, Carlos Delgado, Jason Giambi, Paul Konerko, Eric Karros, Todd Helton, J.T. Snow and Lyle Overbay.
Some question Fielder's long-term ability to remain healthy. His body type is certainly unique but this is a guy who has missed 13 games in his career and just one over the past three seasons. Sure, his knees could become a problem down the road, but his track record is one of excellent durability.
On the other hand, his baserunning and defense aren't going to get any better, so all his value resides in his bat. How much of that value will he retain as he ages? Since 1969, here are the best-hitting first basemen from ages 25 to 27, using OPS+ (via Baseball-Reference.com), followed by their OPS+ from ages 28 to 34:
Frank Thomas, 1993-1995: 187 (148)
Albert Pujols, 2005-2007: 168 (176, through age 31)
Jeff Bagwell: 1993-1995: 164 (156)
Joey Votto, 2009-2011: 162 (not applicable)
Prince Fielder, 2009-2011: 156 (not applicable)
Eddie Murray, 1981-1983: 156 (138)
Fred McGriff, 1989-1991: 155 (130)
Ryan Howard, 2005-2007: 152 (129, through age 31)
Will Clark, 1989-1991: 151 (126)
Miguel Cabrera, 2008-2010: 150 (181, though age 28)
Todd Helton, 1999-2001: 148 (142)
Keith Hernandez, 1979-1981: 148 (130)
Don Mattingly, 1986-1988: 146 (109)
Mo Vaughn, 1993-1995: 143 (135)
Adrian Gonzalez, 2007-2009: 142 (154, though age 29)
Now, each player's average WAR per season from 25 to 27 and then 28 to 34 (via Baseball-Reference):
Thomas: 6.1, 3.8
Pujols: 6.7, 7.7 (through age 31)
Bagwell: 6.5, 6.5
Votto: 5.5, ??
Fielder: 4.7, ??
Murray: 5.4, 4.3
McGriff: 5.1, 2.8
Howard: 3.6, 3.0
Clark: 5.8, 2.9
Cabrera: 4.8, 7.1 (through age 28)
Helton: 5.9, 4.8
Hernandez: 6.1, 4.6
Mattingly: 5.5, 1.5
Vaughn: 3.3, 2.8
Gonzalez: 4.5, 6.5 (through age 29)
Among the 15 players, note that Fielder's average WAR from 25 to 27 ranks 12th, ahead of only Mo Vaughn, Ryan Howard and Adrian Gonzalez. His bat his superb, of course, but his baserunning and defense do drag down his overall value.
As you can see, it's difficult for a player to retain their value as they get into their 30s. Pujols has done it so far (although 2011 was his worst season) and Gonzalez has had two superb seasons at 28 and 29 (helped by an excellent glove), but most of these guys declined relative to their age 25-27 performance.
Based on Kemp's contract and the performances above, I'd certainly be reluctant to give Fielder much more than the $160 million Kemp will reportedly receive.
There is one huge monkey wrench in any Fielder negotations, of course: Ryan Howard's $25 million-per-season extension. If that deal is going to be used as a baseline -- and, remember, Scott Boras is Fielder's agent -- don't look for Fielder to sign any time soon.