Prince Fielder of the Milwaukee Brewers gestures after he hit a double in the top of the fourth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Prince Fielder isn't the first big-time free agent to wait until after the New Year to sign a hefty contract.
This weekend will signal the start of another new year. It's often a moment that divides the offseason into distinct segments, as well: prior to the holidays, most of the significant roster changes occur, and afterward, teams do things like sign Brent Abernathy for organizational depth. (Although, to be fair, sometimes a David Ortiz is discovered in January, too -- that's why you see Calvin Pickering sightings in January.)
There is almost always one major free agent who sits and waits until January to start taking offers seriously, though. This year, that free agent is Prince Fielder, who as of yet has not given any real indication of where he will go, or how much he is willing to actually sign for (except for the current demands of "all the money" and "most of the years," I mean). He'll get his contract eventually, even if it doesn't turn out to be Pujolsian in nature. History tells us as much: here's a look at the last 10 years, and the major free agents who waited for January.
2002 - Juan Gonzalez: Gonzalez was no Prince Fielder at this point by any means -- he had started to miss more time, and was heading into his age-32 season -- but he had just rattled off a three-year stretch where he hit .314/.363/.569. Granted, this was when offense was at its highest levels, so he was just 36 percent above league average during that stretch. But it was still legitimate production from a bat who to that point had not failed, and he got his money: two years and $24 million.
Gonzalez then averaged just 46 games a year for the next and final four campaigns of his career, but he still slugged .509 while doing it.
2003 - Ivan Rodriguez: Another former Ranger looking for work, Rodriguez signed with the Marlins as one of the final pieces on their eventual championship team. The cost was even less than that of Gonzalez, at one year and $10 million, but that was due to injury concerns. Rodriguez had hit like crazy in the previous three years, and wasn't that far removed from a 1999 MVP award, but a herniated disc that cost him 46 games was worrisome. Rodriguez saw his raw numbers decline by leaving hitter-friendly Texas, but OPS+ says he was basically the same as he had been the few seasons prior.
2004 - Vladimir Guerrero: The first of the group that even comes close to Fielder's current situation, Guerrero was an absolute monster for the Montreal Expos for the seven seasons he was regularly in the lineup. His 978 career OPS to that point looked impressive, but it was dwarfed by the 1000-plus OPS campaigns he put up in three of his four final seasons with Montreal. He was also just 29, and, as hard as it is to believe nowadays, still had pretty good wheels in addition to his bat.
The Angels paid up for Guerrero, giving them a serious hitter in the middle of their lineup. The deal worked out well for both parties, with Guerrero hitting .319/.381/.546 over the life of the deal, producing almost 25 wins according to Baseball Reference's wins above replacement.
2005 - Carlos Beltran: Beltran's first shot at free agency paid off, with the Mets giving him a seven-year, $119 million contract. It paid off for the Mets, too, as Beltran was mostly ridiculous through the life of the contract. He missed time with knee problems towards the end, but even with that, he hit .282/.369/.502 despite having as his home stadium two different parks that both favored pitchers. And he did that primarily as a center fielder, where that level of offense is Cooperstown-worthy. Even with the missed time, Beltran's production was worth nearly 33 wins according to Baseball Reference -- Fielder's new owner would be satisfied at the end of his coming deal were he to play as well as Beltran did.
2006 - Johnny Damon: Damon is no Vlad or Beltran, but he was a top free agent in his own right. Moving from Boston to New York made for even bigger headlines, but his four-year, $52 million deal wasn't cheap. Given that he was 32, though, and there were questions about his long-term viability in center, it's understandable he had to wait out the market to get his money.
2009 - Mark Teixeira: The January market quieted down for two seasons, until Teixeira blew it up all over again. Not only did the Yankees secure the first baseman that their rival Red Sox were after, but they gave him, at the time, the fourth-richest contract in the history of baseball. (In turn giving them four of the five richest contracts ever -- Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Teixeira, and CC Sabathia -- on the roster at the same time. The only one they were missing? Rodriguez's first record-breaking contract, which was replaced by his new one.)
2010 - Adrian Beltre: Yet another Scott Boras client to go along with Beltran, Damon, Teixiera, and this year's Prince Fielder holdout. Notice a pattern? Beltre was squeezed out of Boston with the acquisitions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, and found the reward for his return-to-form season in Texas in a five-year, $80 million contract. With a little help from Beltre, who hit .296/.331/.561 with his customary excellent defense at third, the Rangers made their second consecutive World Series.