Unless you’ve been under a rock today, you’ve probably heard that the Padres are trading Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox for three of Boston’s Top 10 prospects. Of course, as a fan of the Brewers, the first thing that I thought about was what this means for Prince Fielder.
The only problem is that this deal can’t really tell us anything about the Fielder situation. Gonzalez and Fielder are similar in that they’re both first basemen, hit very well, and were due to be free agents after 2011.· After that, the similarities are few and far between.
Outside of maybe Oakland and Seattle, there probably isn’t a team that values defense more than the Red Sox. They got a lot of grief last year over their new focus on preventing runs and the not-so-great returns from that philosophy in 2010, but to be fair, the plan didn’t live up to the hype due to injuries.
Gonzalez is good enough at first base that Boston is comfortable moving Kevin Youkilis back to third base and letting Adrian Beltre walk. Prince is a defensive liability that would have had to DH, which just isn’t possible in Boston next season with David Ortiz coming back. Gonzalez has a career RZR of .758, and posted an RZR of .816 last season. Fielder is at .691 for his career, and was at .663 last year. In Defensive Runs Saved, Gonzalez broke even at 0, meaning he was average. Fielder, meanwhile, was 13 runs below average last season.
Fielder’s bat may be a touch better than that of Gonzalez, but it’s not good enough to recoup the lost trade value when it comes to his defense.
Both Gonzalez and Fielder are due to be free agents after this upcoming season. However, Gonzalez’s 2011 salary is locked in at $5.5 million thanks to an extension he signed with San Diego back in 2007. Prince will most likely be going to arbitration and if he gets there, he’ll earn a raise over the $10.5 million he earned last season. Any team trading for him will be on the hook for that salary — is it any wonder Gonzalez was the more sought after of the two and warranted a better return?
You also have to factor in the likelihood of a long-term extension. Scott Boras has made it clear Fielder won’t sign an extension unless he gets Mark Teixeira money. Gonzalez, meanwhile, always said he was willing to sign an extension with the right team, and considering the Red Sox were his top choice, the deal seems to be just a formality.
Of course, a cynic would ask why the Red Sox would part with prospects to get Fielder when they could simply sign him to DH after this season once Ortiz’s contract is up. Even if they do sign Gonzalez long-term and add someone like Jayson Werth, would that really surprise anyone?
Doug Melvin has been very clear with his demands in a trade for Fielder: at least one young, big league-ready pitcher — maybe two. He’s finding out the hard way that the league just doesn’t operate that way anymore. There are a lot of fans out there upset that Fielder hasn’t been dealt yet, which is something I don’t particularly understand. To this point, Melvin has been right to hang onto Fielder instead of settling for a guy with shaky control and a #3 ceiling (here’s looking at you, Dan Hudson).
However, a big part of the reason why the Padres were able to find a buyer for Gonzalez in Boston is because they didn’t limit their search. Jed Hoyer didn’t spend a year and a half saying “we’ll move A-Gone if we get two big bats in return, otherwise there’s no match.” He didn’t tell Theo Epstein, “Clay Buchholz or we have nothing to talk about.” The Padres were willing to take the best overall package instead of just trading for a need. If you want to criticize Melvin for one thing in this whole Fielder saga, it should be for limiting his own return.
At this point, with one year left before free agency, any potential deal should provide more value than the two high draft picks the team would get if they kept him through 2011. It will be hard to do that if Melvin keeps insisting on big league pitching in return. His best bet would be to change his tune and accept prospects in return. As the first baseman market continues to dry up this winter, you might get someone interested in him that doesn’t have pitching, but does have a nice prospect or two. You wouldn’t even have to keep those prospects — you could flip them in another deal and get your pitching that way.
Even if he doesn’t, the compensation picks should not be presented as a doomsday scenario that should be avoided at all costs. Yes, the past two first round picks have already not worked out in the Brewers’ favor. But for the most part, the Brewers have drafted very well in those spots under Doug Melvin and the guys he’s pegged to lead the scouting department. Just consider the past couple years: Kentrail Davis and Kyle Heckathorn were sandwich picks in 2009. Brett Lawrie was a first rounder in 2008, and Jake Odorizzi was a sandwich pick that year.
However this plays out, there’s little doubt that Melvin’s final decision on Fielder will be the most memorable thing about his tenure. That’s why this offseason will ultimately be one of the most interesting in recent memory.