Why the trade to Texas suits Prince Fielder just fine
SURPRISE, Ariz. – He'd say it again. He'd say it a million times again. If Prince Fielder learned anything in his first 29 years, it is that the truth beats all other avenues. "It's over, bro" was the three-word match that set aflame a combustible Detroit fan base following the Tigers' 2013 American League Championship Series loss. It wasn't flippant; it was true, an ugly truth, yes, particularly in light of Fielder's awful showing, but his truth. It was over, and he wasn't going to lament the loss or the sentiment that accompanied it, and he certainly wasn't going to take it back.
"I don't regret it," Fielder said. "I don't think it mattered what I said, to be honest. If I was upset about it, I would've been a crybaby. There was nothing I could've said, so I just said the truth. I like to stick to the truth. It works for me."
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There are certain truths vital to Fielder, none more pressing heading into the 2014 season than this: He believes last year was an anomaly, that any of the regression he showed with Detroit will abate after the offseason trade that sent him to the Texas Rangers, along with $30 million of the $168 million remaining on the final seven years of his contract.
What Detroit saw as laissez-faire – how in a bankrupt city, the reasoning went, could someone making so much money take a loss with such ease? – was not some magnet to a hard drive of bad memories. Fielder doesn't erase them as much as move past them. Detroit wanted him to dwell on his failures, and when he didn't, the city turned.
So on Nov. 20, when Fielder received a call from agent Scott Boras telling him he'd been traded to Texas, the reaction, he said, was in line with his history. Not overly emotional. Not immediately judgmental. Just … even-handed.
"It's like, 'All right, I'm traded,' " Fielder said. "Those kind of things don't move me that much.
"I'll play wherever," he continued. "Especially when I'm coming to a good team as well. It's really not a bad thing. So it's like, 'All right. Guess it works out for both teams and works out for me.' I'm leaving one team and going to another great team. How bad can it be?"
Not bad at all. No longer would Fielder need to relive an ALCS in which he slugged .227 over six games and landed the Fielder Flop, perhaps the defining moment of the series for the Tigers. Texas provided a fresh start with a player-friendly manager (Ron Washington), a star across the diamond (Adrian Beltre) and another $130 million to be spent on a second lineup cog (Shin-Soo Choo). With the short porch in right field, Rangers Ballpark was made for Fielder to return to the form of his last five years in Milwaukee, when he hit 200 home runs, as opposed to the 55 he whacked over two years with the Tigers, including 25 last season with a .279/.362/.457 line, all down from his career averages entering the season of .287/.393/.538.
Never did Fielder miss a game with the Tigers, continuing the longest iron-man streak in baseball. In eight full seasons, Fielder has missed 13 games, and the streak breeds an easy truth: He has no plans on sitting one out anytime soon, warm Texas summers be damned. Though Washington wouldn't commit to it, he has been known to pencil players out of the lineup only to write their names back in later after a sufficient complaint session.
"If Prince want to play 162 and he's kickin' ass," Washington said, "he can play 162."
"Well, that's the plan," Fielder said. "I'll just kick ass."
It's easy to forget how capable Fielder is of doing just that. Since 2006, Fielder's 283 home runs rank fourth in baseball, just eight behind Albert Pujols in first. Only Adam Dunn has walked more than Fielder. Just three players have been hit by more pitches. For his weaknesses – Fielder is a mediocre baserunner and substandard fielder, two attributes that eat away at his value – he is such a powerful hitter, such a savant for getting on base, it was easy for Texas to stomach the flaws.
Fielder showed up looking different than in October. He assigned no significance to his haircut. "I just had enough of it," he said, "so I cut it." Nor was there anything cryptic about his unique jersey number: 84. Not that it's exactly three times his former number, 28 – "That's deep, man," Fielder said – but instead chosen for the year in which he was born. And, for those who want to read a little more into it anyway, the last year the Tigers won the World Series.
That, by the way, is one more of Fielder's truths: Unlike the player he was traded for, Fielder wishes no animus on his former team. While Ian Kinsler told ESPN the Magazine he hopes the Rangers "go 0-162," Fielder said he would love to see the Tigers back in the postseason – with a small caveat.
"I hope they win their division and have a great year," Fielder said. "Unfortunately if they play us in the playoffs they might lose. If I didn't say that, I'd be playing for the wrong team, wouldn't I? I hope they have a great year. It's a great bunch of guys, a great team."
For Fielder, life is too short to dwell on insults, real or perceived. Could that $30 million shipped to Texas feel like a slight? Sure. Might the Tigers giving up on him for the sake of supposed payroll flexibility just two years into a nine-year commitment seem insulting? Possibly. By now, he knows better than to let that win, to allow it inside his mind without the proper filtering. If anything, it reinforces the maxim by which he lives daily.
"I'm just going to be myself," Fielder said.
Which means a life-altering trade is nothing more than a trade, a bad year just a bad year and a three-word phrase not some statement of effort or care. Despite what Yogi Berra once said, it was over. And now that it's starting up again in a new city, a new environment, a new jobsite, here's Prince Fielder's last truth.
He couldn't be more excited.
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