ST LOUIS, MO: Prince Fielder #28 of the Milwaukee Brewers looks on during batting practice against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game Five of the National League Championship Series. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Prince Fielder received a nine-year deal with the Detroit Tigers. What would that kind of contract have looked like if it were given to other sluggers before they turned 28?
Perspective on how far into the future Prince Fielder's contract goes: It ends a year after Blade Runner is supposed to take place. Now, I'm pretty sure that Blade Runner is more of a documentary than a movie, so this tidbit freaks me out. Flying cars. Androids that are indistinguishable from humans. Prince Fielder on the Detroit Tigers.
If you haven't heard, Prince Fielder has a unique body for a professional baseball player. But forget about that for a bit. Assume that he's just a player. You don't have to pretend he's an Adonis, but you can pretend he's built like your average slugger for this exercise. Other than Prince Fielder, there have been 25 players in baseball history who hit 200 or more home runs before they were 28. Twelve of them are in the Hall of Fame. Three or four will be.
The Prince Fielder deal could work out for the Tigers. It really could. It could also end with Fielder catching ablaze as he drifts over Lakehurst, New Jersey. Here are some different ways the Fielder contract could end, using the 200-homer/age-27 club as the set of comps.
The Hank Aaron Special
There were other players who stayed effective for a long, long time. Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, and Harmon Killebrew, to name a few. Heck, Alex Rodriguez did so well after he turned 27 that he got a different ten-year deal. Derek Jeter's 10-year contract drew guffaws from some folks after it was signed -- there's no way he could stick at short until he was 36! -- but it turned out just fine.
But there isn't an aging-gracefully discussion without Aaron. If Aaron got a 14-year deal after his age-27 season, or a five-year extension after his nine-year deal was up, it would have been an unqualified success. The guy had a 161 OPS+ and 371 homers in his 30s -- one of the few Hall of Famers who would still make it if you eliminated his 20s entirely.
The Jimmie Foxx Mixed Bag
This is five or six years of high-level, All-Star stuff that would make it hard to get too mad at the last three years of the deal. I'm going for career arcs here, not overall stats, but maybe Foxx still isn't the best comparison -- Fielder's good, but he wasn't putting up a 1.218 OPS when he was 24.
Maybe Vlad Guerrero is easier to imagine for you in this category. More perspective: If Guerrero had signed a nine-year contract after his age-27 season, it would have started while he was still on the Expos … and ended after this last season with the Orioles. But for two-thirds of the contract, he would still have been a valuable part of a healthy offense.
Where Is the Eject Button on This Here Boog Powell?
Same as the above, with a quicker decline. Now, Boog sounds like the nickname of that hefty guy in college who didn't cut his hair once in the four years you knew him. But Powell wasn't overweight -- he was just a large human being, so he isn't the best physical comp.
He's a scary career comp, though -- Boog's career OPS+ before he was 27 was 133, not much worse than Fielder's (143). Powell won an MVP when he was 28, had two more good seasons, and then injuries started to take over. He would have retired almost two full seasons before his hypothetical nine-year deal would have been up.
Others would fit here, like Orlando Cepeda, Ken Griffey, Jr., or Rocky Colavito. If you wanted to completely change the name of this category, you could name it "The Ominous Juan Gonzalez", as there isn't a day that goes by that Mike Ilitch isn't glad that Juan Gonzalez turned down an eight-year, $140 million extension before the 2000 season, yet there he goes, offering a nine-year deal to someone else.
You could also rename it "The Punchline of This Title is Jose Canseco," which cleverly uses Jose Canseco's name as a self-contained punchline.
What in the Hell Happened to Andruw Jones?
In this category, we have Andruw Jones, which is quite the coincidence. Final perspective: Andruw Jones would still have two years left on a nine-year deal given to him after his age-27 season. Jones is another reminder that no matter how much we want to project a guy's future based on his tools or physique, we just can't. After 2005, Jones looked like a Hall of Fame lock. Healthy, talented, and in the prime of his career. His fall was like a Looney Tunes cartoon where Wily E. Coyote looks down and sees he isn't on the cliff anymore.
Darryl Strawberry would also be in this category, though partially for reasons of his own making. Adam Dunn certainly could be, though his low average and defensive nonsense never made him a candidate for a huge, Fielder-like deal.
The previous category is filled with players who would have been disasters on a nine-year deal, but of all the players to hit 200 or more homers through their age-27 season, only Hal Trosky wouldn't have provided any return on the investment. Before he was 28, he hit .314/.378/.559 (136 OPS+). Then migraines forced him out of baseball in the middle of the next season. He came back to play a full year when he was 31 and a partial season when he was 33, but his career was basically over before he turned 28.
Trosky has about zero predictive value when it comes to Fielder, other than to say "Things happen!" dismissively as if you've unlocked some secret to the universe, you genius.
Again, this is all before you consider body type, which if you do, seems to hint at one of the last three categories. But before you laugh too hard at the Tigers' fate, remember that the team scheduled to pay Vernon Wells $21 million this year still found enough money to sign the best hitter and pitcher on the free-agent market. So don't just assume that Fielder's contract will cripple the Tigers for years and years and years. He should also start out just fine, and in the short-term, at least, there will be a whole lot of dingers.
But of the 25 players other than Fielder to hit 200 homers before they turned 28, five of them show up on Fielder's "similar batters through 27" list: Juan Gonzalez, Jose Canseco, Darryl Strawberry, Boog Powell, and Orlando Cepeda. Best of luck in 2019, Detroit!