By Dave Wischnowsky–
So far this season, Prince Fielder is batting a cool .400 and was just named the National League Player of the Week.
He’s also 26 days shy of his 27th birthday, just 25 pounds shy of 300 (according to his official MLB bio, at least) and he could be the next first baseman of the Chicago Cubs – with a contract worth as much as $200 million and lasting as long as eight years.
So, how does that weigh on you?
Last week, Fielder – the Milwaukee Brewers’ portly powerhouse – torched NL pitchers to the tune of a .440 average that included back-to-back three-hit games as the Brewers won a weekend pair from the Cubs at Miler Park. Through 10 games in 2011, Fielder is leading the National League with 11 RBI to go along with two home runs and a .488 OBP.
“He’s really seeing the ball well,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “… Hopefully that lasts through the year.”
Whichever team inks Fielder to a long-term contract once his current one-year pact with the Brewers expires this winter will be hoping that Fielder’s batting eye will last for many seasons to come.
And I have no doubt that it will – the guy can flat-out hit. But, it’s the slugger’s body that has me concerned. Because, it’s just highly unlikely that Fielder will age well as his mileage add up. Consider this: Despite supposedly becoming a vegetarian back in 2008, Fielder has still managed to gain five pounds.
Last summer, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wrote the following about the keg-shaped Brewer: “It’s still difficult for scouts to get past Fielder’s body. He is fat. He is indeed quite fat. Listed at 5-foot-11 (probably an inch shorter in reality) and 270 pounds (probably a few more than that, too), Fielder is an original.
“No player in Baseball-Reference.com’s database dating to 1901 carried so many pounds on such a squat body. Thus, finding a comparable player for aging purposes becomes a particularly trying task.”
In lieu of a true peer, Passan went on to consider Fielder’s bloodlines and compared him to his heavyweight father, Cecil, who was listed at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds – downright svelte compared to Prince – but saw his career decline dramatically as the years added up.
At the ages of 26 and 27, Cecil put together back-to-back MVP runner-up seasons and then kept running strong for a couple more years until he turned 30. After that season, however, “Cecil turned in seasons of 11, 8 and 1 percent better than the league-average OPS,” wrote Passan, “At 34, he was terrible. Fielder never played again.”
This past Sunday, the Chicago Tribune reported that the Cubs are considering a potential landing spot for Prince next season and that he is said to be seeking an eight-year deal worth a princely sum of $180-$200 million that will most likely put him out of Milwaukee’s price range.
Fielder is four years younger than Albert Pujols, who is also expected to test the free agent waters this winter, but he’s also four inches shorter (at least) and 45 pounds heavier (at least). And, while it’s likely that any team that signs Pujols to a 10-year contract will feel some buyer’s remorse towards the end, it’s fair to wonder if a team that signs Fielder to an eight-year contract won’t feel regret even sooner.
The Cubs need hitting – their current first baseman, Carlos Pena, is currently batting .185 with no home runs and four RBI (one season after he batted .196). But, in recent years, they have also locked themselves into more than their fair share of bad long-term deals (Alfonso Soriano, hello!) and should be leery of doing so yet again.
So, six months from the day when he can become a free agent, the question with Prince Fielder is: will the weight be worth it?
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.