Let me be Frank: Prince Fielder

Story by Frank F. Pellegrino

Major League Baseball fans were hit with some pretty big news this week that came in surprising fashion.

Prince Fielder, the 27-year-old dough-filled power-hitting first baseman, signed the mega deal his agent claimed he would all along. The nine-year contract worth $214 million wasn’t the only unforeseen part; it was the fact that it was with the Detroit Tigers.

After all the speculation, it didn’t end up being the Washington Nationals, the Texas Rangers, the Seattle Mariners or — the most-depressing rumor to Brewers fans — the Chicago Cubs.

After finally hearing which team ended up snagging him, and how much it ended up costing them, I could not decide which piece of information was most shocking to me.

I’ll admit that I was one of the few Brewers fans clinging to hope that Prince would sign a pricey one-year deal with the Brewers if the free agent market continued to sputter. Maybe that was irrational, but until he was officially gone, I wasn’t willing to completely accept it.

Now that I see how much was actually on the table for him, I realize that this was a pipe dream at best.

Once I had finally digested the news, I started to ask myself a couple questions.

First, as a fan of the Brewers, how should I feel about Prince’s departure? And secondly, where does this leave the Brewers moving forward?

To answer the first question, I think it is unfair for any Brewers fans to hold a grudge against Fielder for parting ways with the organization.

For starters, lets think about everything Prince actually did for the organization. Growing up a huge baseball fan, and someone who vividly remembers an empty County Stadium and multiple 100-loss seasons, it is impossible for me to forget where the Brewers were less than a decade ago.

I used to think it was normal to have guys like Jeromy Burnitz, Richie Sexon and Geoff Jenkins as your star players. Nothing against those guys, but they were hardly building blocks for an organization. And if you’ve never even heard of them, that’s exactly my point.

Prior to Prince being called up, the statistic I always remembered from the team I followed most came in 2001. That year, the offense broke the record for most strikeouts in a season with 1399. In case you were wondering, Sexson had 178, Burnitz had 150 and Jenkins had 120.

Hardly something I could hang my hat on as a fan.

That all started to change once Prince was called up. He made a brief appearance in 2005, but 2006 was his first full season with the Brewers. Yes, soon after Braun joined him (along with Rickkie Weeks, Corey Hart and Yovani Gallardo), but Prince was the face of a new era in Milwaukee.

Since then the team reached the playoffs twice, including last seasons Central Division title and run at the NL Pennant. Screw the division title, I can’t even tell you how ecstatic that first playoff appearance made me. I kid you not, I literally wasn’t sure I’d ever see the day.

Regardless of where you think the credit should be dispersed for this success, I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue that Fielder’s contribution was less significant than anyone else’s.

I’m truly happy for the guy who came through the farm system as a highly touted prospect, and more than exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations. How often do over-hyped players miss the mark?

He rarely missed games and was always a true competitor, so he deserves the gigantic payday that he earned.

And don’t give me that ‘how much money does he need?’ line. The Brewers offered him 6-years and $120 million, almost $100 million less than what he got. That’s not Monopoly money. How can you expect a guy to pass up the opportunity to know his entire family can live comfortably forever?

In my opinion, that’s one of the greatest accomplishments someone can reach in their life. I certainly wouldn’t expect him to pass it up to stick with the team that drafter him, and have no problem with his decision.

For better or for worse, Braun and Fielder’s performance will undoubtedly be compared for the rest of the careers. After all, when the Brewers committed long-term money to Braun, they pretty much were choosing him over Fielder for the next decade.

Yes, Braun has the MVP award, but he’s also had an injury forcing him to miss a handful of games each year. Fielder, on the other hand, has missed a grand total of one game in the last three seasons.

And don’t underestimate just how much Braun benefitted from Fielders presence in the lineup.

There is no replacing Prince, but I think the Brewers made enough acquisitions in the off-season to make a run at the NL Central title again next year. For those Brewers fans who remain bitter about Fielder leaving, their blame should be placed directed towards MLB for their lack of a salary cap, not the first basemen.

We should be grateful for the time we did have to watch the guy on a nightly basis. It sure beats 2001’s record-setting campaign.