The 2012 baseball season started for the Seattle Mariners on Thursday, which seemed improbable given that it was only Dec. 8.
Before noon, the Los Angeles Angels landed the giant of off-season acquisitions, Albert Pujols, the best non-pitcher in baseball the past decade.
Mariners operatives and followers have been letting on that the real giant could be Prince Fielder, agents for whom are shopping the 275-pound first-baseman to suitors such as the M’s. Fielder plays the same position as Pujols and hits nearly as well for power but that’s where similarities end. Pujols, a three-time (it could’ve been six) National League most-valuable player with St. Louis since 2001, is 4 inches taller than Fielder and perhaps 40 pounds lighter. He’s also four years older, though his relatively advanced age (32 in January) apparently didn’t deter Angels officials, who granted him a reported quarter of a billion dollars to be doled out during the next decade.
Oh, yeah, and the Angels still play in the M’s division. That means Seattle fans no doubt will become accustomed to watching dozens of balls lofted over the Safeco Field fences by the man known in St. Louis as Prince Albert.
And Prince Fielder? As this is written, the M’s are still part of the discussion about gaining the services of the left-handed slugger. Fielder would fetch a fortune but not as much as Pujols, the only soul besides Alex Rodriguez to trade his skills for a contract in excess of $200 million.
Numbers don’t tell all, but they do clarify a few glaring differences between Pujols and Fielder. Adjusted for 162-game seasons, Pujols averages 43 home runs, a .328 batting average, 126 runs batted in, and an on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) percentage of 1.037. For Fielder: 37, .282, 106, .929.
The latter stats are much more productive than those of anybody coming back from last season’s Mariners. That Fielder bats left-handed also makes him attractive to M’s general manager Jack Zduriencik, who envisions the Milwaukee Brewers star parking repeated balls into the burger baskets of fans seated at the Hit It Here Café.
The fact that the Angels got Pujols scarcely means the M’s must get Fielder. They must, however, do something to punch up run production from the paltry, worst-in-the-bigs 3.4 per game they had last season. It’s worth noting that not a player currently expected in Seattle’s camp late winter is anything near a guarantee to be productive.
Much hope is held out for the likes of left-swinging Mike Carp, said to be at least penciled in as the everyday left fielder for 2012. If Carp’s 2012 numbers merely stay about the same as what he put up last season, he’d be eminently worthy of a showcase role on offense.
Unfortunately, the M’s during yet another offseason are riddled with what has become a perennial pile of ifs.
And yet, the Angels face at least one suddenly rich “if” who stands 6-feet-3. Given the $250 million gamble, many an Angel exec must be saying or thinking exactly what will be realized by the successful suitor of Prince Fielder: “If Prince Pujols tanks, we’re royally screwed.”
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