Texas Rangers slugger Prince Fielder will reportedly announce tomorrow that he is medically unable to play baseball and will end his 12-year big league career. Fielder underwent season ending neck surgery last month. It was the second time Fielder had this surgery previously undergoing the procedure in 2014 during his first season with the Rangers.
Technically, Fielder will not be retiring. If he had, he would have forfeited his salary. He is under contract to the Rangers through 2020 and is due to be paid nearly $100 million by the Rangers, the team’s insurance policy and by the Detroit Tigers. Fielder signed a 9-year deal with the Tigers prior to the 2012 season worth $214 million. Although Fielder enjoyed two productive 100 plus RBI seasons with Detroit, the Tigers saw fit to trade him to the Rangers for second baseman Ian Kinsler. Perhaps the Tigers realized Fielder would not be around for the long haul and tried to cut as much of their losses as they could. Kinsler has been a solid second baseman for the Tigers and signed through next season with a team option for 2018.
To be fair, the deal wasn’t entirely lopsided. Fielder was AL Comeback Player of the Year in 2015 as the Rangers unexpectedly won the AL West. He hit .305 with 23 HR and drove in 98 runs earning his 6th MLB All-Star selection. Unfortunately, 2016 has been a different story. In 89 games, Fielder batted a career low .212 with 8 HR and 44 RBI before he was sidelined shortly after the All-Star break. However, the Rangers have managed to thrive without Fielder. They currently enjoy a 7 game lead over the Seattle Mariners in the AL West.
Personally, I have mixed feelings about Fielder. Unlike his father Cecil who was known for his jovial personality during his 13-year big league career with the Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, Anaheim Angels & Cleveland Indians (not to mention a stint in Japan), the younger Fielder could be sullen and abrasive especially early in his career with the Milwaukee Brewers. I thought Fielder’s unprovoked shove of his teammate Manny Parra in 2008 was total bush-league. The following year, an angry Fielder had to be restrained by security from entering the Dodgers clubhouse. Fielder objected to being hit with a pitch after the Brewers had saw fit to drill Manny Ramirez.
Many people saw Prince Fielder for the first time when he did a father-son commercial for McDonald’s in 1992.
A few years later, Prince Fielder made waves when he began hitting balls into the seats at Tiger Stadium at the age of 12 off current Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona when he was part of the Tigers’ coaching staff.
Sadly, he would cut his father out of his life for many years. While I agree it’s complicated, the elder Fielder consistently came across as the more reasonable party. However, in recent years, Fielder has mellowed and has reached a rapprochement with Big Daddy. Coincidentally, both father and son finish their careers with 319 home runs. They are also the only father-son combination to each have 50 HR seasons.
Hopefully this softens the blow of the sudden end to his career. Had he played through 2020 and beyond, I think it would have made for an interesting Cooperstown discussion. As it stands, I don’t think his career numbers are quite enough to get him into the Hall. Aside from his 319 HR, he had 1,645 hits, 1,028 RBI and a lifetime batting average/on base percentage of .283/.382. Fielder did have a strong peak between 2007 and 2013. He drove in 100 or more runs in six of those seven seasons, drew more than 100 walks thrice and had a .400 OBP in four consecutive seasons. So Prince Fielder had a very good career, but it could have been so much more.