Bullet Dodged: Today’s Justin Smoak vs. Today’s Prince Fielder

As fans, we sometimes have a tendency to be reactionary. It’s hard to tell the same man or woman you want to irrationally scream and stand for hours on end to also keeps his or her emotions in check. Sports are complicated for fans. I get that.

One of the beauties of being a fan, though is that we aren’t forced to face the wrongs we supported, but that didn’t come to fruition. The same guys that said that the Mariners shouldn’t trade Ryan Anderson, Gil Meche, or Joel Pineiro because they would all three become aces in the big leagues one day isn’t faced with his own stupidity on a daily basis the same way that say, Bill Bavasi may be faced with his own stupidity every time Asdrubal Cabrera or Shin-Soo Choo do anything.

Being a fan is arguably better. It costs a lot more, but there is no prerequisite of credibility or performance. Big picture? Who cares. Win now, always win now. It’s a narrow-minded view for which support is easy to forget when a similar theme infects a front office.

It is equally easy for fans to forget, seemingly, when they’ve supported something that never came to fruition, but for whom falsely projected fruits never blossomed.

This is the case with what would have been the disastrous signing of Prince Fielder.

You remember Prince Fielder, That guy with whom the Mariners had an apparent advantage because Jack Zduriencik might have had his cell phone number programmed into his phone from their shared time in Milwaukee. Price Fielder, that guy who was “good for 50 bombs,” or whatever colloquialism you have chosen to assign to home runs. Prince Fielder, that first baseman in his mid-20’s who would be good or so much longer than Albert Pujols.

The Mariners had to get him, because they had to get somebody, right?

It turns out, and most stat-based analysis would have indicated this well in advance, that Fielder probably wasn’t the answer. To say he wasn’t the difference between a Mariners playoff berth and their continued mediocrity is fairly laughable. This Mariners team has flaws that extend well beyond the production they’ve gotten from the first base position, and actually, what they got from Justin Smoak last year wasn’t demonstrably worse than what the Tigers, who ended up trading Fielder to the Texas Rangers after two years with the team, all while picking up $30 million of Fielder’s future salary, got from Fielder.

  Fielder Smoak
ISO 0.178 0.174
BB% 10.5 12.3
K% 16.4 22.8
PA/HR 28.48 26.05
wRC+ 125 109
UZR/150 -4.8 -5
WAR/600 1.9 0.5

It’s worth pointing out that Smoak’s defensive numbers were the worst of his career, and Fielder’s were among his best. Adjusted for their career averages, Smoak and Fielder’s value is probably about one win apart.

Of course, a combination of the Tigers and Ranger will pay Fielder a combined $168 million over the next seven years, while Smoak should make as much as $6.4 million in the next two seasons, that is, if the Mariners want to keep him.

We didn’t want Prince Fielder here, and we weren’t the only ones. We weren’t drawing on some undocumented or previously unmentioned knowledge. Prince Fielder was a short fat guy with limited athletic ability. He probably would have made the Mariners better in 2012, and he would have made them moderately better in 2013. This is the exact reason why generally speaking, contracts of this size and length are pretty bad.

While the Rangers trading for Fielder makes them ostensibly better, it also makes them substantially poorer for the next several years, all while their young players become arbitration eligible and near free agency.

And while I came to the defense of the Mariners signing Robinson Cano, it was with the consideration that they’d continue to improve their win probability this offseason. They haven’t done that, and barring something unforeseen, considering next offseason’s free agent class, the Mariners will likely have to rely almost exclusively on internal development for improvement.

Such a plan is fine if their prospects hit, and carry the team’s improvement to a large degree. I’ve always said that the team would have to make the majority of its improvements like almost all successful teams – through the development of internal prospects.

Cano aside though, the Mariners also remained functionally unemotional so far as Prince Fielder and Justin Smoak are concerned – both abstaining from signing Fielder (despite their best/worst efforts) and not throwing Smoak on the garbage heap (despite his best/worst efforts). Now what they have is a guy who has potential to be an average-ish first baseman, but for the right price, as opposed to the enormous price that the Rangers will pay for a similar, or maybe worse first baseman in the future.

  • maqman

    Three games does not a season make however it does reinforce what these guys did in spring training, score a lot of runs, come from behind frequently, show a respectable defence and pitch good enough to not get blown out of games (so far). Their biggest problem the past three seasons has been that their best prospects and players that they traded for simply have not produced up to expectations. It’s starting to look like some of them are now going to do that. They also bought the best player available as a free agent and might have signed the most effective manager available, along with first time infield and outfield coaches and one to coordinate analysis functions with coaches and players on a daily basis. I’m impressed frankly, they are all better than I’ve anticipated and of course it’s early days and the wheels have plenty of time to come off the wagon yet. However the baseball gods owe Mariners fans big time, so maybe this is payback.