Let's be honest: this is obvious. The Detroit Tigers are signing Prince Fielder to a nine-year contract worth $214 million. Prince Fielder is kind of fat. He's a first baseman. Prince Fielder is really good, but of course he's a short-term gain and a long-term risk. That's not very insightful.
Still, as obvious as that might be, somebody needs to go ahead and write it up at length, and that's what Dave Cameron did over at FanGraphs. We'll begin with the good:
If they were an 85-87 win team yesterday, they’re probably closer to an 89-91 win team today. The difference in expected playoff odds for an 85 win team and a 90 win team, even in a division with no obvious challenger to the throne, is enormous. So, it’s understandable that the Tigers decided to be extremely aggressive in their desire to put the best team that they possibly could on the field for the next few seasons. When you have two superstars in their primes, you want to maximize your chances of capturing a ring, and no available player gets the Tigers closer to a championship than Fielder does.
We'll follow with the bad:
The Tigers have basically borrowed from their future to pay for the present, and this deal is going to harm their ability to contend down the line. If Fielder ages well, he may not begin to be a real liability for three or four years. That’s the window the Tigers have essentially given themselves with this contract – win a title before 2015 before the cost of this deal becomes prohibitive to building a contending team around that contract.
The big conclusion is that, while Fielder will help, the Tigers probably would've been better off trying to sign Jose Reyes and C.J. Wilson. Those players would've provided big upgrades while carrying less long-term risk. It's an open question as to whether Reyes and Wilson would've wanted to play for Detroit, and how much they would've cost, but at least in theory, it's hard to disagree with Dave. Fielder will help, but. (That's the whole thought.)
An interesting question: let's say Prince Fielder helps the Tigers win the World Series in 2012 or 2013. Let's say Prince Fielder goes on to become an absolute payroll anchor. Let's say that Prince Fielder ages poorly and that his salary gets in the way of the front office. Is he worth it? What is the long-term value of a championship? At what point does a player run out of goodwill and become a source of frustration? I don't know the answer, by the way.