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MLB Contract Debate: Albert Pujols Vs. Prince Fielder

Jacob Freedman |
January 27, 2012 | 4:48 a.m. PST

Staff Writer

Prince Fielder's weight could cause problems soon into his new deal (Barbara Moore/Creative Commons)
Prince Fielder's weight could cause problems soon into his new deal (Barbara Moore/Creative Commons)
As many baseball aficionados have heard this week, Prince Fielder is now a Detroit Tiger.

With Albert Pujols leaving the St. Louis Cardinals for the Los Angeles Angels, the top two free agents of the MLB offseason have both relocated, after being given the first $200 million contracts not made out to one Alex Rodriguez.

The contracts themselves are similar, with Fielder receiving $214 million over 9 years and Pujols receiving $240 million over 10 years. But Pujols’ contract makes sense, while Fielders’ is simply not worth the risk.

How is this possible when Pujols is 32 and Fielder is only 27?

Well, read on and find why the Tigers organization is making a decision that might cripple the franchise even before the contract is in its later years.

Current Ability

Frankly, Pujols is the superior baseball player right now. He has averaged 41 home runs and 121 RBIs, while Fielder has averaged 38 home runs and 108 RBIs. So while it should come as no surprise that Fielder is respectable in comparison with his power numbers, Pujols blows Fielder away in other crucial categories.

Fielder strikes out almost twice as much as Pujols, has a career batting average of .282 to Pujols’ .328, and is known for his bad defensive and fielding abilities. Pujols, meanwhile, has won two Gold Gloves and is widely regarded as a top defensive first baseman.

Both teams signed these athletes with a “Win now, worry about the rest later” mentality, and considering that the two will earn nearly the same salary, the Angels definitely snagged the better player for the money in the short-term. 


Fielder supporters can argue that his contract is superior because at 27, he's four years younger than Pujols.

Unfortunately for Prince, the track record for heavyset sluggers as they enter their 30s is not favorable. And Prince is not just overweight. At only 5-foot-11 and 285 lbs., Fielder is a blob of a man, while Pujols is has a body that has made the jaws of baseball experts drop for years.

Look at Mo Vaughn and Adam Dunn, sluggers who mashed home runs in bunches during their 20s.

Albert Pujols may be older, but has a better glove and  is better built for longevitiy (Barbara Moore/Creative Commons)
Albert Pujols may be older, but has a better glove and is better built for longevitiy (Barbara Moore/Creative Commons)
After both signed new deals, Vaughn with the Angels and Dunn with the Chicago White Sox, their production tailed off rapidly. Vaughn was out of the league five years after signing a six-year deal. In Dunn's second year after turning 30, he hit only 11 home runs and had a .159 batting average--the lowest qualifying batting average in MLB history.

While those are two notable examples, there remains a trend for overweight hitters entering their 30s. A study by Jeff Zimmerman shows how heavy players generally peak earlier, and regress much sooner, than their average-weight counterparts.

So while the Tigers may think they are snagging Fielder in the middle of his prime, they are more likely to get a few more years of top performance, followed by shelling out $24 million per year to a rapidly deteriorating slugger with a low batting average and high strikeout rate.

Additionally, if genetics have any say in the matter, Prince’s father Cecil (a similar mold of player) had his last competent season at the age of 32 before being jettisoning across the majors as an immobile, poor-hitting DH.

As for Pujols, although he had a stint on the 15-day DL this past season, he still performed among the top players in the MLB. Pujols (pictured left) has always taken great care of his body, and unless he has a debilitating injury, like the torn meniscus Alex Rodriguez faced in 2010, his superior conditioning and training will allow him to play at or near his current level for at least the first half of his contract.

Team Fit

While there is no doubt Fielder is an impact signing, didn't the Tigers already have a franchise first baseman by the name of Miguel Cabrera receiving the big bucks?

Cabrera has agreed to move to third base, a position he has not played since 2007, so Fielder can slide in at first. So while the Tigers have one of, if not the best 3-4 punch in baseball with Cabrera and Fielder, the duo will be a liability on defense.

Also, the Tigers are tied to Victor Martinez, who is out for the 2012 season but will likely be the designated hitter when he returns for the final two years of his contract. So if Fielder’s skills (or lack thereof) in the field become a persistent problem, the Tigers will be tasked with figuring out how to juggle Fielder and Martinez at DH.

Additionally, the Tigers as constructed have $71.5 million per year until 2015 tied to their core four of Cabrera, Fielder, Martinez, and Justin Verlander.

Though Tigers ownership is by no means penny-pinching, the long-term effects of these contracts will limit the Tigers' flexibility to sign new players. And soon Detroit will need to address its aging lineup, which includes Carlos Guillén, Brandon Inge, and Magglio Ordóñez, all of whom are over 34 years old.

There is little doubt that the Tigers will be title contenders for the next three years. Still, by 2015 Martinez could be playing elsewhere and Cabrera’s contract will be up. Since they're already saddled with Fielder’s large contract and the re-signing of Verlander, Detroit likely won't be able to afford retaining Cabrera.

As for Pujols, his arrival does create a logjam at first base, with Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo both having manned the position the last few years. So while there might be a conflict in position, unlike the Tigers, the Angels do not have significant money invested in either player. Both players are one one-year deals and can traded or let go in free agency. 

Realistically, the Tigers’ window is shorter than the initial onlooker might think it is. As baseball has shown us in the past few years, the playoffs are a precarious time for baseball teams, where the season-long best club often falls short to a team catching fire at the perfect time. Simply look at the St. Louis Cardinals’ run this past fall.

Pujols brings a lot more to the table in the short-term and for the future. If the Tigers fail to take home a title in the next 3-4 years, then the burden of Fielder’s contract could sink the franchise for the next decade.


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