Whether you run a major league franchise or a fantasy baseball team, Prince Fielder represents a risk to your team’s long term success. There has been much ado in the sports media recently about Prince Fielder perhaps joining a new team (or re-signing with his old club) as a free agent for the 2012 season. Armed with a professional athlete’s ego and uber-agent Scott Boras in tow, Fielder has made it clear he is looking for a long-term contract. Upon first glance, this looks like a no-brainer. He is a 27-year old slugger coming off a season which saw him hit 38 HR (good for 2nd in the National League) and 120 RBI (also 2nd in the N.L.). Based upon his age and his stats alone, Fielder looks like the kind of player that a major league team (or fantasy baseball owner) would fight tooth-and-nail to place on their roster. However, that might not be the wisest of moves.
Fielder has been remarkably consistent over his career. He has played in 157, 158, 159, 162, 161 and 162 games since 2006. Consistency like that is pretty rare this side of Cal Ripken, Jr. However, past consistency is only one aspect to consider when evaluating a player’s potential. Heading into the 2011 season, fantasy baseball owners were electrified with the prospect of owning a certain player coming off a run of steady home run totals from 2005 through 2010. This particular slugger’s home run totals through that time frame read as follows: 40, 40, 40, 40, 38, 38. You would be hard pressed to beat consistency such as this. This player was sure to deliver another clockwork season of offensive production, right? Not if you drafted Adam Dunn, who both boasted those aforementioned HR totals as well as one of the worst offensive seasons in history in 2011.
Fielder has also been remarkably durable for a big man. He has only missed a total of 13 games since the start of the 2006 season. However, this doesn’t mean he is a viable option for the next decade, and no mistake about it, Fielder will be looking for a contract that runs approximately 10 years. Big bodies tend to break down faster than their slimmer counterparts. One needs to look no further than the career declines experienced by players such as Mo Vaughn, Kent Hrbek or his father, Cecil Fielder for proof of this. The question is not whether he has been durable in the past. He has. The question is how durable he will continue to be as his large frame endures the constant wear and tear of lumbering through 6 full major league seasons.
Another issue that affects his on-field major league team but not the majority of fantasy leagues is the issue of his defense. His last name may be “Fielder” but this is not reflective in his defensive play. His UZR has been a negative statistic in 5 of his 6 full seasons with 2 seasons (2006 and 2008) almost reaching double digits (-9.4 and -9.2, respectively). Although most fantasy leagues do not consider defensive metrics in their scoring systems, it is something to consider when evaluating the overall strengths and weaknesses of a baseball player.
Although his short-term prospects for success look promising, if you have an eye for the future (especially in dynasty fantasy baseball leagues), this Prince may end up performing more like a Court Jester before his contract expires.