Many Texas Rangers fans wonder why they held on to injured slugger first baseman Fielder for so long. But before saying “It’s about time,” there are a few things to know.
The breaking Texas Rangers news from Wednesday sadly didn’t involve any type of playoff game or postseason play. No, it instead revolved around the team cutting ties with Prince Fielder, a man who hasn’t taken the field at Globe Life Park in over a year. Many were surprised by this move. They weren’t surprised that the Rangers finally did it, though. They were surprised that it hadn’t already happened. But here’s the backstory.
First and foremost, this move was all about money. For 2018, 2019 and 2020, Fielder’s contract owed him another $72 million. For a guy that doctors said would never take the field again, that’s quite the chunk of change.
Yet, by stashing Fielder on the 60-day disabled list, they’d get a little help. According to one Associated Press story, the Tigers would help with some of that and insurance would help with the rest. In other words, keeping Fielder on the DL would shrink his cost a bit.
But letting him go would put the Texas (and Detroit to a lesser degree) on the hook for the entire bill. That is of course, unless Fielder made a very unorthodox decision.
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The way out
The obvious possibility in play would have been Fielder’s retirement. However, that would have been a ridiculous decision on his part. Some may call it greedy, but they’d be wrong.
Some people have suggested that Fielder should have just filed his retirement papers, walked away from baseball and the Texas Rangers and pretend that $72 million scheduled to come his way didn’t exist. Secretly though, those same people would never make that same decision.
They’ve likely never put their heart and soul into something from childhood like this only to have it ripped away from something beyond their control. Those people have likely never walked away from something that was their entire life from a young age. They probably haven’t put their bodies through a physically demanding career at the risk of a career-ending injury, only to find out they’d never do it again professionally.
It’s easy to say that walking away was the right decision for him. But the people wanting that have never been in that situation, themselves. So before anyone vilifies Prince Fielder for his part in this, understand that he owes the Rangers nothing.
Meanwhile, others have called this a bad trade but have done so purely in hindsight. But that’s a pretty convenient and easy decision to take after the fact. Consider these two players for the sake of comparison.
Player A is an eight year MLB veteran second baseman. Over his first eight seasons of major league ball, he averaged about 133 games per year. The three time All-Star averaged about 19.5 home runs each season and had an average slash of .273/.342/.447. During that time, he hit an inordinate amount of infield fly balls.
Enter player B, a first baseman with eight full years of experience. During that same eight year timeframe, he averaged 160 games per season. The five-time All-Star averaged over 35 home runs with a slash of .286/.389/.527 and won three Silver Slugger awards. During those years, he saw a fairly consistent improvement in his strikeout and walk percentages.
Obviously, Player A represents Ian Kinsler, while B describes Fielder. Sheerly looking at the numbers at the time, only a fool would choose Player A as the better option. Injury history alone made Player B the best choice. But now four full seasons removed from that trade, these people speak with a clairvoyance that was unavailable in December of 2013.
Let’s not forget how many Texas Rangers fans grumbled about Kinsler prior to the trade. His base-running gaffes, pop flies on the first pitch and outright refusal to help the team by trying to play in the outfield turned the fanbase against him.
It’s easy to make the right decision years down the road. We all have those “I should have said this . . .” or “I should have decided . . .” moments in our lives. But like Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels, sometimes we just have to do the best we can with what we’re given.
Now, thanks to some insurance help, the Rangers will have a settlement with Fielder in place. Since there’s no 60-day DL during the offseason, they had to either devote a 40-man roster spot to him or let him go. So now, Fielder is an ex-Ranger and there’s one more precious roster slot available for someone who will be useful. Now it’s up to the front office to put it to good use.