Tuesday the Detroit Tigers gave a gargantuan contract to gargantuan first baseman Prince Fielder, locking him up for nine years and a whopping $214 million. With this move, the Tigers quickly proved their intention to win now and to also possibly drive every eatery in the Detroit area out of business. That got me to ponder a little question: if I were starting a keeper league, who would I rather have? Prince, or fellow big name free agent first sacker Albert Pujols?
Obviously, the keeper league dynamic changes the way you approach that question. Pujols has been unfailingly awesome since he entered the league in 2001, but he's also older and, some would argue, already giving hints that his decline phase has started. Fielder is 27 and right in his peak, but he's not, um, in the greatest shape, exactly.
So before I begin the amateur analysis...show of hands! If you were drafting a keeper league team and you were looking for a first baseman, who would you pick first? Pujols or Prince?
You can add the Tigers to the list of teams who got raked over the coals by Scott Boras. Even setting aside fantasy sports for a second, it's hard to believe that Prince Fielder will still be a productive hitter at age 36. Don't believe me? Check out this list of the most similar players to Fielder at the age of 27 and start your cringing. Of those ten players, only Eddie Murray was a productive full-time player at age 36, and half of those guys were out of baseball at that age. This doesn't bode well at all for Prince.
Fielder is like the living embodiment of the concept of old player skills. He's large, very large, and he's deathly slow and not athletic. His game is power and walks. Granted, he's a hell of a hitter, but players with his "old" skill set tend not to last too far into their 30's. Just take one look at Fielder. Does anyone in their right mind think he'll be the exception to the rule?
Contrast that with Pujols, whose list of the ten most comparable players at age is littered with Hall of Famers who were still good in their late-30's (and Lou Gehrig probably would have still been awesome at 36 had he not tragically taken ill). Pujols is also different from Fielder in that he doesn't have the old player skill set that makes Prince's long-term prospects so sketch. Pujols entered the league as a third baseman and part time outfielder, and now is a Gold Glove first baseman. Fielder arrived on the scene as a DH and has been pretending to play first base for years.
Pujols also has that rare combination of extreme plate patience and contact ability that makes him such a terror at the plate, because he compliments the awesome power with high batting averages. Fielder is more strikeout-prone and susceptible to BABIP-addled fluctuations in batting average. He could just as easily hit .250 next season as hit .near .300 again.
The verdict? Even if I'm faced with this decision in a keeper league draft, I think I'm taking Pujols. Yes, he's 32, and yes, he might be even older, but he's a one-of-a-kind player who should age well and still be a good first base option even in the later years of his contract. Fielder's girth simply scares the hell out of me. As awesome as a hitter as he is, a total collapse into uselessness in five years, Mo Vaughn-style, just wouldn't surprise me in the least.