This is the second of a five-part series looking back at the playing career of Prince Fielder as a Milwaukee Brewer.
They say hindsight is 20 - 20, so when I say that the Brewers made the right move in keeping Ryan Braun and letting Prince Fielder go to free agency after the 2011 season it won’t be hard to get some nods of approbation.
Any discussion of the Brewers not signing Prince must start with Prince’s agent, Scott Boras. Boras is well know for getting his clients top dollar, and he sure accomplished that for Fielder. You must assume that the Brewers would have had to pay at least as much as Prince received from the Tigers, so that is the basis of our comparison.
Is it possible that the Brewers could have signed Fielder to the two team friendly deals that Braun inked? I guess anything is possible, but also guess that the Boras/Fielder tandem was going to sign only for top dollar, and the only way to get that was to go through Free Agency.
From the time that Fielder left to play in Detroit until his forced exit from baseball as a Ranger due to a second neck surgery, both players had their ups and downs. Prince never reached the power numbers that he had for the Brewers; of his 319 career homers, 89 came after he left Miller Park. He hit 230 in seven Brewer seasons, with highs of 50 and 46. His highs after leaving were 30 and 25 in Comerica Park in Detroit.
Braun, of course, battled his own demons with a positive test for PEDs at the end of 2011, Fielder’s last in Milwaukee and the Brewers closest brush with the World Series since 1982. Braun avoided suspension for a while with testing technicalities, but eventually served a suspension from July 22nd until the end of the season in 2013.
Braun has also battled his share of injuries, with back issues, intercostal strains, and a nerve issue in his thumb that finally seems to have been successfully treated with cryotherapy. The thumb will likely need to be re-treated, but the season Braun has put together to date in 2016 says he should have several good seasons left...which is good, because the Brewers will be paying him for several more seasons.
So lets get to the nitty gritty (no, not THE Nitty Gritty)...since Prince Fielder has left, he has put up a WAR of 6.5. He has cost about $119 million. Ryan Braun has put up a WAR of 13.8, and cost about $57.5 million. Imperfect as any statistical measurement is, WAR gives us a good view of the general worth of the two for the five year period. Braun has been about twice as good for about half the money. And of course, the Brewers would get nothing for the remaining $96 million on Prince’s contract. There is hope that there will be value given in the remaining $80 million of Braun’s.
The Brewers struggled to replace Fielder at first base, and continue to struggle. Chris Carter will likely contribute 30 homers and 80 plus RBI, and those numbers are better than Fielder would have put up if he were still with Milwaukee. Of course, there is no guarantee that the Brewers would have easily replaced Ryan Braun in the outfield, with Fielder at first.
I started this thinking that if the Brewers had kept both...but there was no way that they could have afforded that. Even keeping just Prince at his Free Agent contract means that the Brewers would have had $17 million less to spend in 2012; $15.5 million less in 2013; $14 million less in 2014, $11 million less in 2015, and $4 million less this year. Fielder’s yearly salary would have been more for the rest of his career than Braun’s, too.
Perhaps a rebuild would then have been started earlier...but remember that the Tigers sent $30 million along with Prince to Texas after 2013. That’s a tough way to start a rebuild.
No, the decision by Doug Melvin wasn’t really all that much of a decision. Ryan Braun was willing to sign a long term deal that was team friendly from day one. Prince Fielder was not, and was going to get top dollar. The career curves for the two seemed predictable, with Braun probably available - and effective - for a longer time than Fielder. This has turned out to be the case, sadly.
Having Fielder and Braun in the middle of the line-up would have been great, but it was an impossibility then, and if this rebuild works, it will be an impossibility when the next two superstars get to their free agency deadlines. Soon, I hope!