Column: Trip a Tiger by his checkbook
Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Updated: Thursday, January 26, 2012 00:01
You're twenty-seven years old. You've just been vacationing with your young, growing family and not a care in the world. In the meantime, a stocky, wily man who could sell a church organist on death metal is out finding the highest bidder for your all-star services.
Then, after an extended period of waiting, the phone rings.
Congrats. Over the next nine years, you're going to be $214 million richer.
By now baseball fans of course know that this is the story of Prince Fielder and his mega-agent Scott Boras. A first-rate free agent this winter, the former Milwaukee Brewer will soon fetch the fourth richest MLB deal ever– in exchange for a quick autograph. He's a Detroit Tiger for, I repeat, $214 million.
Now, I like Prince Fielder a lot. I've been fortunate enough to see him play in person a couple times and in TV highlights roughly a couple hundred. He's worked hard, produced remarkably, missed five games over the last four years and seems like a decent human being. Naturally, I feel good for last year's All-Star game MVP.
In fact, I'd even go great. The slugger is going back to the city where, as the son of former Tiger Cecil Fielder, he garnered such memories as launching batting practice home runs at twelve. He'll have one place to play out the rest of his career and allow for his two young daughters to grow up.
But let's just say that from the Tigers' perspective, that contract offer may have been a little overboard.
OK, scratch that. Not a little, like slipped and fell. But a lot – like they were thrown clear into the deep, crazy blue sea below.
Now sure, this kind of monstrous number is a part of the baseball world we live in today. Almost two months ago the Angels handed Albert Pujols $240 million and the eyebrow raising then was at "Oh look, lint in my pocket" level. The two other contacts richer than Fielder's, both signed by Alex Rodriguez and set up by Boras, also passed with little outcry.
But this wasn't because of an absence of discontent or awe with the sheer numbers. It was because Rodriguez and Pujols are going to go down as some of the best players ever to step on a diamond. The teams sliding these contracts across the table, the Yankees, Rangers and Angels, were also clubs who either had loads of money or just struck incredible local TV deals.
Neither of these applies to Fielder and the Tigers. According to baseball-reference.com's WAR statistic, which measures the wins a player adds to his team over a replacement player, the hefty first baseman ranks as the 23rd best player over the last five years. This takes into account both offensive production, defensive runs saved and adjusts for position.
Revenue figures for the Tigers also don't project to be able to cover these costs on their own, with already two $20 millon/year players on the roster. Owner Michael Illitch, who made the largest push for the signing, is digging desperately into his gold-laced pockets, for the first Tigers' World Series win since 1984.
Speaking of firsts, 90 feet up from home plate now becomes a crowded place at Comerica Park. Current first baseman and all-star slugger, Miguel Cabrera switched positions a couple years ago but now will retreat back to his home at third base. Both the hefty hitters refuse to stand in solely as a DH, and when you're paid a combined $367 million, you don't have to do what you don't want to do.
Problem is, during his past few seasons across the diamond, Miggy made as many picks in the dirt as he did picks from the shelves of Detroit's best bakeries. Thus, as of right now, we're alluding to a guy who could essentially ‘Occupy Detroit' all by himself.
So, defensively will the new Tiger corner infielders (550 pounds between them last Opening Day) be able to save that hot shot down the line? Or leap and snare the rocket fated to two-hop the fence for extra bases? Ha. You're more likely to catch your local Chinese place boasting, "Yes, lots and lots of MSG,"
Now let's go back to the time where this was your story and that cool $214 million is coming. But this time, your name's not Prince Fielder, it's Michael Illitch. What could you have bought with all that dough? Well,
A brand new 2012 Ford Focus, parking before a Tigers game and then the ability to fill up exactly1,880,992 times at the nearest area gas station, asking just $3.16.
24,457,142 beers on afternoon at Comerica, going for $8.75 a pop.
Two seats behind the Tiger dugout for every home game over the next 17,613 years
71 Cody Rosses AKA the most recent free agent addition of the Boston Red Sox, who signed for one-year and a quick $3 million
Roy Oswalt, the best remaining starter on the market asking for around $8 million/year
Of course, lest Mr. Illitch intends on becoming the Oprah of MLB, there's no real need to pursue any of the first few ventures. Except maybe the beer. Or gas. Maybe not. Okay, I'll stop.
Point here is that that the longtime owner, who has done an incredible amount for the city's sports, should not have been so hasty in making Prince Fielder a part of MLB history this quickly. The money he coughed up appears right now as a very unworthy investment, no matter much better he or fans feel with a bat filling in for the lost Victory Martinez.
Like in any area of business, if you have that kind of money there are seemingly innumerable avenues to explore for betterment. In Illitch's case, honing in on Fielder, offering a deal almost impossible to live up to, falling mercy to the savviest sports agent out there, sacrificing defense and putting the team in a tighter financial bind, was far from the optimal choice.
The Tigers' front office should've told Boras and his $200 million asking price, much like everyone else in baseball had, to take a hike. Tell him you have immense interest in bringing Prince to Detroit, plan to talk at length, but only reasonably.