Disaster looms if Prince can't recover

Prince Fielder won't return to the baseball field this season, yet another victim of this cursed Texas Rangers season that's headed nowhere.

Fielder's season ends with three home runs, 16 RBIs, a .247 batting average and no impact.

Fielder, who turned 30 earlier this month, is scheduled to have Dallas-based surgeon Dr. Drew Dossett perform a cervical fusion on his neck Tuesday.

For you optimists, this surgery has a high success rate and isn't considered career-threatening. The rehabilitation process takes about four months; Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said he expects Fielder to be ready for spring training.

For pragmatists like me, the question is not whether Fielder will play first base on Opening Day next season. It's whether he will ever be Prince Fielder, one of baseball's most feared sluggers, again.

If he is -- we're talking 35 homers and 100 RBIs -- then we'll all shrug this off as a horrible year and look forward to several more quality seasons from the big fella, who's just two months into a seven-year, $138 million deal with the Rangers.

If not, this will go down as one of the worst trades in baseball history -- not just franchise annals. It will set the Rangers organization back at least five years -- and 10 isn't out of the question, because Fielder was supposed to be an anchor in the middle of the lineup for years.

And it will, ultimately, cost manager Ron Washington and Daniels their jobs.

Oh, it's that serious. No manager or GM is good enough to survive a $138 million acquisition that doesn't come close to working out, because the effect of such an outcome on the franchise is too great.

The injury left Fielder's left arm significantly weaker than his right, robbing him of his ability to stop his hands at the point of contact and drive through the ball.

"I'm looking forward to seeing him healthy and what he can do. Obviously we're gonna miss him," Daniels said during a teleconference Thursday.

"When the staff tested his arm strength, he has real deficiency in the left arm. No doubt about it, it has affected his play."

This disaster must also serve as a catalyst for Daniels to significantly change the Rangers' medical protocol when it comes to acquiring players.

The Rangers didn't administer a physical after the trade with Detroit. The protocol around the big leagues seems to be an exchange of medical records, and if no red flags exist, the deal is consummated.

It seems unfathomable that teams would acquire players scheduled to earn tens of millions without giving them physicals -- even if a player such as Fielder had missed just one game over the previous five years.

Fielder's contract is guaranteed, so he had no motive to withhold any medical information from the Rangers. He's a guy who wants his name written in the lineup every day -- just like Adrian Beltre -- so he's never going to complain about anything.

Those are guys teams must study the most because they're never going to admit they're hurting.

"We're going to look at everything as far as the process and protocol -- who gets physicals and who doesn't," Daniels said. "Trades aren't the only time you get physicals. Free agents, multi-year signings, draft picks and international signings. We physical quite a few guys.

"In this case you're talking about a cervical injury. A cervical MRI has not been part of our standard physical and a guy that had no history, no documentation, no treatment, and no issues anybody was aware of when we acquired him. Had we done a physical, we wouldn't have done a cervical MRI.

"We wouldn't have come across this even had we done [a physical]. The bigger question is how do we get better going forward."

No one can say for sure whether Fielder will ever be the middle-of-the-lineup thumper he has been since he arrived in the big leagues in 2005 with the Milwaukee Brewers.

He'll return in decent shape because he's a prideful man who wants to earn his money and prove to his doubters and critics that he can still play at a high level.

Hey, he shed weight and trained seriously for the start of this season. Besides, we're talking about a dude who doesn't have a hobby.

He hasn't watched much of the NBA playoffs and he's a casual NFL fan. Baseball is what he loves. It's what he does.

It has been his life for as long as he can remember -- even before he was whacking balls into the upper deck at old Tiger Stadium as a 12-year-old.

That's among the reasons he had an emotional talk with Washington and Daniels last week after he spent Friday night as a designated hitter against Toronto.

Fielder understands the expectations that accompany a player who's just two months into a nine-figure deal with the Rangers. And that pales against the immense pressure he puts on himself to deliver big hits and wins.

After all, we're talking about a player who has averaged 35 home runs and 106 RBIs while hitting .285 over his first nine seasons. Six times, he has hit 30 or more homers. He has also had six seasons with more than 100 RBIs.

We wait to see if he can reach those heights again.