Saturday, November 23, 2013

I Just Want You

Way back in 1995, when Matt Williams was signed as a free agent by the California Angels, Ozzy Osborne released "I Just Want You." No doubt he was thinking about things well outside the sphere of baseball, but the lesson is not lost today.

There was an idea that a major contract meant longevity for a player with that team. In 2013 that is no longer the case. In the wake of the blockbuster to outweigh all blockbusters, Prince Fielder  exchanged his Tiger stripes for Ranger Blue. This is not my first foray into the idea of the untradeables, but I address it today in light of the momentum changing shift between the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers involving Prince Fielder and Ian Kinsler.

This idea first stuck me when Vernon Wells went from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Anaheim Angels. Most people laughed and mocked the "untradeable" Wells as an eyesore and contract drain on the Angels. Well those who mocked that can click here. Baseball is such a fluid industry, with so much disposable income floating about that there is no such thing as an untradeable contract. To repeat there is NO SUCH THING as an untradeable contract in the modern game. All it takes, all it has ever taken, is for one owner, one GM to want a player so bad he will make it happen. George Steinbrenner was the pioneer of this mentality, but since his passing every owner/GM has been seizing their moment to snag their player.

When the right player comes around the solution for these transactions is to open the pocketbook even further. Ryan Howard was signed to a 5 year deal with 2 years remaining on contract and his stats already trending downward. Ruben Amaro Jr. was not about to risk losing his man; stats and common sense be damned. Arte Moreno forced MLB to modify free agent signings when it tacked on a $10 million dollar personal service contract to Albert Pujols' already impressive $240 million dollar contract. The Yankees overpaid for Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and cut out Brian Cashman in their pursuit of resigning Alex Rodriguez against a market of...well no one really knew who was actually interested in Alex Rordriguez within $50 million of what the Yankees signed him for.

A team rarely loses its infatuation with a player when they miss out on free agency either. The Yankees after many years and many miles finally landed Ichiro Suzuki. Alex Anthopoulos finally got Jose Reyes on his team. Amaro was so infatuated with Cliff Lee that he got him, gave him up, and went out and got him back again. Any trade or veteran signing that starts with "veteran presence" and/or "proven winner" is code for this infatuation, but they cannot come out and just say it.

AJ Burnett was supposedly finished, but the Yankees threw in a generous amount of cash and the Pirates are glad they took the gamble. The Mariners signed Raul Ibanez last season and were so happy to see his name in the lineup they did not even seriously consider trading him despite going nowhere. Today anyone can say with a fair amount of confidence that Ryan Howard, Josh Hamilton, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are not going to be traded this winter. With injuries, age, and other baggage no team is jumping for any of these players. But, with the years left on their contracts and teams willing to kick in enough cash to facilitate the deal, never say never. All it takes is a hot month, a hot start, another player being injured for a team to see the player they were when they coveted them and not as they are today.

Prince Fielder was his usual steady, productive self in 2011 and Mike Illitch wanted a championship. Despite having a first baseman he dropped $214 million for the son of former Tiger, Cecil Fielder. The same Cecil Fielder who lost all ability around age 32-33. Prince did not excel, but he was his usual highly productive self at the plate. Miguel Cabrera took advantage of his peak seasons to win a Triple Crown and back to back MVP's. That was not reason enough to hold onto a Prince.

Today, Prince is headed to Texas with a new team. Illich still wants to win, he just needed those millions back. Jon Daniels wanted Prince in 2011, he still had an opening in 2014. He was looking less at the danger years of Fielder's contract and more at the player from back then, when he was younger, and gambled on durability than decline. According to reports this was about "winning now" and "filling holes," but in reality it was about one thing, Daniels and Texas saying to Prince Fielder "I just want you." This trade was a blockbuster, but do not expect it to be unique.

Can you find a contract you cannot fathom being traded someday? Let me know in the comments below.