- Steve Berthiaume, ESPNEWS anchor
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With each game he's played for the Red Sox this month, Adrian Gonzalez and Boston look to be every bit the perfect marriage of player, organization and ballpark that was anticipated when the Red Sox acquired him in December. Boston's investment in Gonzalez however, was not insignificant. In exchange, the Red Sox sent three of their top prospects to San Diego, including 21-year-old first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who currently leads all of professional baseball with 56 RBIs for Triple-A Tucson, where Rizzo is hitting .377 with 14 home runs. In addition to the prospects it cost to acquire Gonzalez, Boston had to pay to keep him: a seven-year, $154 million extension through 2018. If the Red Sox had to fork over ALL of that to acquire Gonzalez, what might Prince Fielder be worth?
Fielder and Albert Pujols will hit the free agent market together this winter. Pujols has not been himself, hitting .269/.341/.409 through his first 48 games, but considering Pujols is the greatest hitter of his generation and still relatively young (he'll turn 32 in January), market value might not apply. His is a unique case. Fielder's situation is different, and one way to gauge a dollar value for Prince might be to look at Gonzalez. Both are left-handed hitting first baseman, albeit with different styles and personalities. Gonzalez is the quiet, graceful, smooth-fielding professional; Fielder the gregarious, powerful slugger. Those differences arguably alter their perceived value as investments but the numbers indicate they're more similar than you might think.
To begin with their birth dates are only one day apart; Gonzalez was born May 8 and Fielder May 9. The Brewers' slugger, however, is two years younger and will be just 27 when he files for free agency. If Gonzalez's offensive production was worth as much as Boston decided it was, what should we consider equitable value for the younger Fielder? Here's a look at the average offensive numbers for Gonzalez and Fielder from 2006 through 2010:
For players considered so different in approach, style and personality, these two first basemen have provided equivalent production. Over the previous five seasons, both have proven remarkably durable, never playing fewer than 156 games in a season. Gonzalez has hit between .277 and .304. From 2006 through 2009, Fielder hit between .271 and .299. Last season, Fielder's batting average was a career-low .261, but he still led the majors with 114 walks. The player who led baseball in walks the season prior to that? Gonzalez with 119. In fact, over the previous five seasons, Fielder has actually walked more times than Gonzalez, 457 to 403, while striking out only 38 more times. The batting average on balls in play is similar -- about .310 for Gonzalez, .300 for Fielder.
Gonzalez and Fielder take different paths defensively. According to ESPN researcher Justin Havens, from 2006 through 2010, Gonzalez ranked ninth overall in Defensive Runs Saved among the 20 first basemen who qualified over that span. Fielder ranked 20th. Gonzalez's highest Defensive Runs Saved rating over the previous five seasons was +12, while Fielder's rating dropped to -13 last season after marks between -10 and -12 from 2006 through 2008.
Fielder's trade status for the remainder of this season will of course be determined by Milwaukee's position in the NL Central; if the Brewers are in postseason contention, a trade similar to the one San Diego made with Boston for Gonzalez seems unlikely. Fielder can become a free agent following the World Series and the value of his contract will likely be determined by how desperate his suitors are for offense and to what degree the need for that production outweighs his defensive liabilities. Fielder is already making $15.5 million this season. Gonzalez's Red Sox contract will pay him between $21 and $21.5 million annually. As Fielder enters his career window of ages 28 to 32 -- a window Pujols is about to close -- his offensive totals should remain consistent, or maybe improve. The question, then, becomes how much of a defensive discount should the team that signs Fielder expect?
Follow Steve Berthiaume on Twitter: @SBerthiaumeESPN.