Neck Injuries Force Prince Fielder to Retire Far Too Soon
It's a cruel thing in life to have your body betray you.
While the heart may be willing, the flesh sometimes says otherwise. Such is the case with Texas Rangers' slugger Prince Fielder, who will announce he is "retiring" from baseball at the relatively young age of 32. It's not technically a retirement, rather, he's "medically disabled," meaning he can still collect on his hefty salary.
Fielder has battled neck problems for the last few years, undergoing two neck surgeries in the last 27 months. In 89 games this season (370 plate appearances), he was, according to fWAR, the second-worst player in baseball with a -1.9 fWAR. Only San Diego's Alexei Ramirez has a worse fWAR this season (-2.1). Fielder batted .212/.292/.334 with just 8 home runs and 16 doubles this year with a microscopic ISO of .123.
Just last year, it appeared as though Fielder might be able to play through his neck problems. He wasn't playing at his usual All-Star level, but he did manage to hit 23 bombs and knock in 98 runs while hitting .305/.378/.463.
The Fielder most people will remember is the one who, in his prime with the Milwaukee Brewers, smoked 50 dingers in 2007 and averaged 38 homers a year from 2006-2011. Fielder was also a showman, one of the game's most entertaining players.
There was also that time he somehow hit an inside-the-park home run, which just seems crazy.
Fielder, of course, was the son of former Detroit Tigers' slugger Cecil Fielder, the two-time American League home run champ who finished his career with 319 long balls. In an ironic twist, Prince also finished his career with 319 dingers. Here is how the two compared.
Like father, like son. Neither player was a very good defender, which negatively affected their overall value, putting them on this somewhat dubious list.
Prince Fielder had the 13th lowest career WAR by a player who hit 300+ HRs https://t.co/rQGYNto45O pic.twitter.com/84GQIHqcco
— Baseball Reference (@baseball_ref) August 9, 2016
The Prince Fielder situation is also a warning to teams who sign veteran players to big-money free agent contracts, especially one-dimensional players with bodies that tend not to age well. When the Tigers signed him to a 9-year, $214 million deal, he was only 28, but they signed him through the year 2020, his age-36 season.
Fielder is still owed another four years at $24 million a season. The Tigers were wise to trade him to Texas when they did, although they and Texas will both be saddled with portions of that $24 million a season through the year 2020.
Fortunately for Texas, they have young talent all over the diamond and won't miss Fielder's on-field contributions all that much. Mitch Moreland is having a solid season at first base (.783 OPS, 16 jacks and 1.2 fWAR), and the team traded for a replacement designated hitter at the trade deadline in Carlos Beltran (.983 OPS, 23 homers and 24 doubles).
Nevertheless, it's sad to see a talent like Fielder be forced to leave the game because of an injury he cannot get past.