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The San Francisco Giants Dodge(r) a Big Bullet

San Francisco Giants loyalists should swear off Walmart brand vodka and reevaluate the possibility of an all-knowing god this week: free agent super-whomper Prince Fielder has just signed a contract to play for the Detroit Tigers. For nine years.

Why celebrate Fielder’s mega-signing with a difficult commitment to better health and renewed recognition of the fires of hell? Because apparently the Los Angeles Dodgers offered Fielder everything but Tommy Lasorda’s Diners Club card to try and get the massive first baseman to sign a multiple year contract to wear an 8XL size Dodger-blue uniform. But it didn’t happen.

The moment I realized the actual size of the iceberg the San Francisco Giants just missed hitting, I fell to my knees and began to spontaneously sing the “When the Giants Come to Town” song (which is dusted off and played in the TV booth several times a week when a San Francisco Giant player hits a home run).

Think about playing the Dodgers 18 times a year for seven years with Fielder batting clean-up; at four ABs per game, that’s 72 ABs each year. Add in Matt Kemp and the additional quality players new ownership will be looking to accquire, and you begin to see why the Dodgers saw Fielder has the potential foundation of their impending rebirth.           

Other than the the obvious overall contract numbers, it is unclear why Prince Fielder chose to sign with the Tigers over the Dodgers. At first glance Detroit’s nine years at $214 million sounds better than the Dodgers’ apparent offer of $164 million over seven years. But not so fast. The Dodgers’ offer included an opt out clause for Fielder after four years. Under the Detroit contract, Fielder gets $23m in 2012 and 2013, then $24m a year for the next seven years.

But what will the ceiling be for hitters of Fielder’s caliber in 2016, when he is still only 32 years old? Albert Pujols will be making $25m with the LA Angels after four years– and that number increases by $1m each year after– so Pujols makes $26m in 2017, $27m in 2018, $28m in 2019, $29m in 2020, and $30m in 2021.

If Fielder had taken the Dodgers’ offer, he would have made $104m in the first four years (Pujols, on the other hand is making $75m in the first four years of his new Angels contract). Fielder could have then opted out before 2016 and renegotiated with LA or another team at $26m a year, likely the going rate in 2016 for a hitter with his numbers and age.

A new five year deal at $26m a year would have brought Fielder an additional $130m; with the $104m he would have received from the first four years of the Dodgers’ contract, he totals out at $234 for 9 years– $20m more than he settled for to become a Tiger.

The important thing here, of course, is that Fielder decided not to take the Dodgers’ generous offer for whatever reasons– guaranteed money on the table, the ability to DH in the American League, or simply having no interest in the opting out and renegotiating process. 

But having an opt-out clause worked well for Yankee pitcher C. C. Sabathia, who opted out of his 2009 seven year $161m contract with the Yankees after three years, then renegotiated with New York to keep the remaining four years and add two additional years at $25m a year. In essence, Sabathia turned a seven year $161m contract into a nine year $206m contract.

This is the 21st century contract model for any superstar MLB player who can demand it.

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