It's rare for a star player to hit the free-agent market when he is 27. There just aren't that many 21- and 22-year-olds with starting jobs, for one thing, so they aren't going to accumulate enough service time to become free agents that quickly. And the players who are good enough to start as 21- or 22-year-olds are often the kinds of players that teams like to lock up early. It's why Miguel Cabrera never saw the light of free agency.
This is why Prince Fielder is right to picture himself rolling around in a pile of money, just laughing and laughing and laughing. He's going to get cartoonish sacks of money with the little dollar sign on them, and he's going to wear top hats and chew cigars, like the tycoons in early-1900s editorial cartoons. Rich, dammit. He's going to be rich. On top of the $35 million he's already made in his career, I mean.
One wrinkle is that his current team isn't going to be in the mix. The Brewers did a bubblegum-bubblegum-in-a-dish thing, landed on Ryan Braun, and signed him through 2020. Milwaukee can support a winning team, and they can draw some great crowds, but they probably aren't the kind of franchise that can get away with a pair of $150 million players. So the incumbents are out.
Another wrinkle is that the two teams that are usually hovering around the best free agents already have very, very expensive first basemen. The Yankees have Mark Teixeira, and the Red Sox have Adrian Gonzalez. Maybe one of the teams can convince one a star slugger to accept a DH spot for the next six or seven years, but that's not especially likely. Maybe there's an inspired Fielder-to-second-base idea floating around. He does throw right-handed, you know.
But even without those three teams that you'd expect to be interested, Fielder will be paid really, really, really well starting next year.
Why teams want him
Probably should just get rid of this category until I get to Craig Counsell. Teams want Prince Fielder because he's good. Please credit Baseball Nation as your source if you decide to use that statement for your own work. Even in Fielder's down years, he's still awesome. One of his worst seasons, at least since his rookie year, was 2010. He hit .261/.401/.471 with 32 home runs. When Fielder isn't as productive as you hope, he hits 30+ homers with a .400 OBP. That's the downside, at least for the next few years.
Why teams might be scared of him
He's a little fluffy, to use a technical term. He's listed as 5' 11", 275, but the height might be a little generous. He's a big, big dude, and a lot of that big is supported by two very important knees. Fielder has missed exactly 13 games over the last six seasons -- or about as many missed games as Nick Johnson averaged for every week he was in the majors -- so it's not a concern now.
But it's hard not to play amateur physiologist, look at a picture of him, and wonder if his legs are going to serve papers to the rest of his body at some point. It's probably a little overblown in the short term, but teams are thinking about committing six, seven, or more years to him for over $100 million. They'll need to be pretty danged comfortable with how he'll hold up into his 30s.
Potential to stun the world with a crazy, mega-contract
High. There's a fair chance that he's looking for Teixeira money -- eight years, $180 million -- and get it. It's more likely that he'll get something closer to what Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez received, but never underestimate the sweaty palms of a GM who knows he's in the final round with a player he really, really wants.
Seven years, $161 million
They've repeatedly said that they aren't going to be in on either Pujols or Fielder, but they aren't married to Mitch Moreland, and they have the enormous new cable deal. A lot of that will be tied up in extensions to Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler, but certainly not all of it. Still thinking that they'll make a play in this offseason.