Let’s cut to the chase, I don’t think Fielder fits with the Nationals at all. After not endorsing the pursuit of Wilson it might seem like I’m against free agency altogether. I do think part of the Nationals fan base has reached that point, since the signing of Jayson Werth hasn’t exactly returned any dividends yet. I’ll be clear, I like free agency, but I’m just not sure that Wilson or Fielder will be able to help the Nationals very much. They’re both very big risks for different reasons.
Before I go through the laundry list of reasons not to sign Fielder, let’s give him his due. There’s a reason he’s going to be one of the most sought after players on the market this winter. He’s hit 30-plus home runs in each of the past five seasons and he’s only 27 years old. He’s not all boom or bust like other power hitters. Fielder consistently strikes out in less than 20 percent of his at-bats and shattered his lifetime best in that mark this past season, striking out in only 15 percent of his plate appearances. He actually had more walks (107) this past season than strikeouts (106).
I know that’s a short summary of his accomplishments, but you don’t really need to argue for why Fielder is great. Simply, he may be the best power hitter in the league. So, why wouldn’t you want to sign a young player who plays at an incredibly high level? One word: genetics.
The biggest problem with Fielder is what will happen when he ages. Normally this isn’t the biggest question when discussing a 27-year-old player, but Fielder’s family history makes it very relevant. His father, Cecil Fielder was a destructive force with a bat, having his greatest season of his career at age 26 in 1990. That season, he hit 51 home runs and had the third-highest OPS (.969) in the league behind only Rickey Henderson, who had the greatest season of his Hall of Fame career, and Barry Bonds.
But Cecil Fielder’s wins above replacement steadily declined for the rest of his career and he was out of the league before his 34th birthday. If the same thing happens to Fielder, his next contract could be his last. Prince is overweight like his father, and it would be tough to argue that all of the extra weight won’t affect how he ages. If he follows his dad’s career arc, then Prince has already peaked.
There’s also the question of what the Nationals will do with another first basemen. Adam LaRoche is slotted to hold the position for the short term when he returns from injury in 2012. After he’s played out the last season of his contract or is traded next year, it’s widely believed that Michael Morse will move back to first base. Morse needs to move to first base as he’s not a great outfielder and there’s nowhere else for him to go. If the Nats sign Fielder, you keep Morse out of position and damage the defense (in two positions actually, as Fielder isn’t known for fielding his position that well).
Signing Fielder is a very risky and unnecessary move for the Nationals. I’m still waiting for the day that the Nationals are mentioned in a free agency rumor that makes sense for the team.