Probably the most stunning off-season trade leading up to the 2014 season was the Texas Rangers’ acquisition of Prince Fielder from the Detroit Tigers for long-time star Ian Kinsler.
Perhaps the most stunning in-season injury incurred by any team in Major League Baseball was the woe that necessitated the burly first baseman’s neck surgery that ended his season in May after 42 games.
At 5-foot-11, and a generously listed weight of 275 pounds (he has got to weigh three bills if he weighs an ounce), Fielder is a big dude who carries a big bat. The Rangers were counting on that club as the cornerstone of their offense. Kinsler was a popular three-time All-Star second baseman going on 32. However, Fielder was a five-time All-Star first baseman going on 30. And despite a body type that seemed to have more in common with an elephant than a finely honed athlete, Fielder had not been injury-prone and played in 547 consecutive games before this problem arose.
What Fielder promised to deliver – because he had when he played for Milwaukee and Detroit – was a stat line highlighted by more than 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. In this era of anaemic offense, the capability of providing such gaudy numbers makes a swinger an especially precious commodity.
Kinsler was perceived as possibly edging towards the downside of a distinguished career. Fielder, who is no ballerina on the base paths, was perceived as all upside as long as he did not indulge in a reckless Hershey’s kisses diet.
And then none of it mattered. While Kinsler has excelled through the Tigers’ first 80 games, batting .308 over that span, and filling the team’s need at second, Fielder has been one of the most high-profile casualties of the campaign. Not to mention the most expensive since Fielder is making $24 million this summer to rehab.
He started slowly for Texas, hitting just .247 with only three home runs in those 42 games (Who knows how much his hitting was affected by the sidelining herniated disk in his neck?) Recovery time from the surgery was projected at three-to-four months, but recovery of batting-stroke time remains undetermined. It was definitely a see-you-next-year Prince operation, though.
When the season began the Rangers figured to be American League West Division playoff contenders. In recent years, predating the rise of the Oakland A’s, the Rangers owned the division and twice reached the World Series. In 2014, as July 4 approached, Texas was instead sitting on a 37-47 record that left the Rangers much closer to hailing distance of last place than to the post-season. The Rangers’ batting order, minus Fielder, scares no one. His departure left a hole as large as a crater on the moon.
It is fair to say that Prince Fielder’s loss pretty much ruined Texas’ season.