BY Steve Rudman 04:12PM 01/04/2012

Rudman: Safeco Should Scare Prince Fielder

The Mariners are rumored to be still in the chase for the free-agent, left-handed slugger, but if Fielder gives it any thought at all, he’ll sign elsewhere.

According to published reports, free-agent slugger Prince Fielder (formerly of the Milwaukee Brewers) is seeking a contract worth $180-200 million spread over at least eight years. / Wiki Commons

Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, baseball agent Scott Boras practically promised The Washington Post that he would have his hottest client, free agent slugger Prince Fielder, signed and delivered to his new club by Dec. 30. At the time, the Mariners were reportedly among a handful of teams involved in the Fielder sweepstakes.

Now, not so much, and probably not at all, if the latest intelligence –that the 27-year-old left-handed first baseman is close to a multi-year agreement with the Washington Nationals — is credible.

Certainly the power-bankrupt Mariners could benefit from the kind of bat Fielder provides (37 home runs, 106 RBIs, .929 OPS per 162 games over the past seven years). But the price and terms Boras seeks – reportedly $180-200 million covering at least eight years — make little sense for a Seattle franchise facing financial challenges of its own, with declines in attendance, TV ratings and buzz.

If I’m Jack Zduriencik, I’d blanch under my baldness at the thought of investing up to $250 million (Albert Pujols money) in Fielder, especially given (my opinion) that Fielder is unlikely to replicate his Milwaukee numbers – the basis for Boras’ asking price — in Seattle.

And if I’m Zduriencik, I would wonder how far the apple has fallen from the tree.

At 5-foot-11 and 275 pounds, Fielder has the same general body type as his father, Cecil (6-3, 240), who broke down after 11 major league seasons and was done as an elite power hitter at the young age of 32. The 2012 season, wherever Prince Fielder elects to play it, will be his eighth (Fielder has been blessed so far: no serious injuries).

Conversely, if I’m Prince Fielder, I wouldn’t sign with the Mariners even if they met my price and terms. Any number of interested teams — Nationals, Blue Jays, Rangers, Orioles, Cubs — have the wherewithal to do that.

Before entertaining any Mariner offer, I would want a guarantee from Zduriencik that the Mariners will become a competitive team sometime in the rest of my baseball lifetime, preferably within two years, if not sooner.

Having lost 101 games twice (2008, 2010) and 95 once (2011) in the past four years, the Mariners can make no such guarantee, not even while employing a young Cy Young winner, Felix Hernandez, and a developing batting star, Dustin Ackley.

If I’m Fielder, I would want to know how other free-agent hitters have fared in Seattle over the past decade. And if I’m Zduriencik, I’d try to destroy any evidence of involvement with Chone Figgins, Jack Cust, Milton Bradley and Casey Kotchman and especially those signed by Bill Bavasi, most notoriously Carl Everett, Rich Aurilia and Scott Spiezio.

If I’m Fielder, I would also ask the Mariners why they have been able to win a four-team division only twice in 17 years with a payroll that annually ranks among the top third in baseball. And if they’ve gone 2-for-17 in a four-team alignment, how do they plan to win the division when it expands to five clubs with the addition of the Houston Astros?

I’d also wonder if I really wanted to endure the nuisance of flying twice as many air miles every season (about 50,000) than I had to.

But most of all, I’d wonder about the wisdom of taking my game to Safeco Field, simultaneously the Mariners’ greatest asset in attracting fans and the greatest impediment they face in luring big-time free agent hitters.

Safeco Field is the most pitching-friendly venue in the American League, and has been since its opening midway through the 1999 season. It doesn’t matter what statistic or split is used — runs, hits, doubles, triples, homers, batting average, OPS — Safeco routinely ranks in the bottom 10 consistently, in stark contrast to the hitter-friendly former home of the Mariners, the Kingdome.

Without delving into all the geekery that goes into computing “ballpark factors,” we’ll simply say that Safeco is not the Egg McMuffin of hitting meccas, and has scared off sluggers going back to Ken Griffey Jr.’s prime.

The park nearly destroyed Mike Cameron, who loved playing in Seattle but couldn’t abide Safeco because Cameron came to believe that Safeco was the source of his batting agonies. Maybe he was right:

2000-03 (Cameron at Safeco): .223 BA, .328 OBP, .373 SLG, 30 HR

2000-03 (Cameron on road): .286 BA, .370 OBP, .514 SLG, 57 HR

Given Cameron’s splits at Safeco, no way could the Mariners justify making him an offer when he became a free agent following the 2003 season.

If I’m in Prince Fielder’s shoes, I’d also take note of the tricks Safeco played on Jeff Cirillo after he arrived in a trade from Colorado in 2002. Cirillo came in as a 10-year veteran with a .313 career batting average, an .844 OPS and two All-Star appearances.

Over the next two seasons (2002-03), Cirillo played 105 games in Safeco Field, coming to bat 349 times. He hit .203 with three home runs and a .449 OPS, leaving his career in shambles. It got so bad midway through the 2003 season that the Mariners dispatched Cirillo and his .179 batting average to the team’s Peoria training headquarters in an attempt to help him regain his confidence and stroke. Didn’t work: The Mariners traded Cirillo to San Diego before the 2004 season.

Since Safeco opened in mid-1999, the Mariners have lured two marquee free-agent sluggers to Seattle, Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson, both inked within a two-day (Dec. 15-17) span in 2004. Both came because GM Bavasi had $64 million over five years to lavish on Beltre and $50 million more to stuff in Sexson’s pockets.

Beltre, a Boras client whose contract offer from his previous team, the Dodgers, hadn’t been anywhere near the Mariners’ offer, arrived in Seattle after batting .334 with 48 home runs and 121 RBIs in 2004.

Over the next five seasons with the Mariners, Beltre hit .266, never hit more than 26 home runs, and never drove in 100.

During his three best seasons (2006-08), Beltre’s Safeco Field batting average ranged from .240-.260 and his five-year OPS was .759. The majority of his 76 home runs during that span came on the road.

In two seasons since leaving Safeco (Boston and Texas), Beltre has batted .309 with 60 home runs and a .911 OPS.

Safeco didn‘t faze Sexson much. He hit 38 of his 73 home runs there in 2005-06, but the Mariners received two good years from him out of the contracted four seasons. As with  Cecil Fielder, Sexson was finished as an elite power hitter at 31 – with two years remaining on his Mariners contract and his batting average near the Mendoza Line (.218).

Since Fielder entered the league (2005), he has hit the majority of his home runs in his home ballpark, an average of more than 20 per season. Consider:

  • Since Safeco opened, the Mariners annual leader in home runs has hit the majority of his long balls on the road six times, the greatest discrepancy occurring in 2000, when Alex Rodriguez hit 28 of his 41 away from Safeco Field.
  • The Mariners have hit better on the road than at home in six out of the past eight years.
  • No left-handed hitter has hit more home runs in a season at Safeco than Russell Branyan, who belted 16 in 2009. In his first seven seasons, Fielder averaged more than 20 home runs per year in his home park.

Safeco Field is built to accommodate pitching and defense, and has few positives, other than garlic fries and sushi, to offer a power hitter. So if I’m Prince Fielder, and my business is the long ball, I’ve got to seriously consider the impact that Safeco might have on my business.

The Mariners need home run hitters, two or three of them. But they are going to have to grow them at home. If they’ve got enough funds to entertain an offer to Fielder, they would be better served using that money to acquire and cultivate the kind of gap hitters that made the 2001 Mariners so successful.


  • Skokomish

    Softy is an idiot who simply wants to pretend he’s legit by asking the “hard questions.” He doesn’t want an answer (after all, he got that the first time.)  He just wants attention.

  • SnoridgeRLM

    is the worst defensive coordinator I’ve ever seen.  Especially being able to make in-game
    adjustments.  How many times did Baylor
    successfully execute the sideline screen pass where there was no Husky within 5
    yards of the receiver?   Why didn’t Holt
    do something about that?   And given the
    success of their running game you’d think he’d have brought the linebackers
    (they are called “linebackers” right?) up right behind the line to try and stop
    the run.  But all too often they were at
    least 5 yards back.  Seems his strategy
    was to stop the passing game. 
    Interesting that Brock Huard identified the defensive key to Baylor’s
    three losses was stopping the running game not the passing game and Holt didn’t
    see that.  The old Husky QB would even
    make a better d-coord that Holt.  And how
    many times has he rushed only three men on 3rd and long over the
    last 3 years only to give the opposing QB the time needed to complete the pass
    for a 1st down.  At least he
    now rushes 4 guys.  Holt’s recruiting
    capabilities don’t seem to be any good given the lack of talent.  I don’t know how they divide the recruiting
    tasks but if Sark does offense and leaves the defensive recruiting duties to
    Holt then Sark needs to be involved in both. 
    Regardless, Holt has to go. 
    Clearly, the success he had at USC was due to Pete Carroll and Holt
    evidently was not a particularly good student. Maybe Mora will take him too.

    • Art Thiel

      Good points, Snoridge, but a fair number of Holt’s sets and personnel groupings were done to mask a talent deficit on a per-play basis. The Huskies are too slow in the secondary, too small at LB and not physical enough on the D-line. Holt’s firing is justifiable by failure to get across assignments and an absence of fundamntals on tackling, but no coach would have done well with Willingham’s leftovers.

  • headoutofsand

    What good lead-in to the story by Thiel.  (And missing Baylor’s point total by one point ain’t bad either.)

    Regarding Softy.  At the very beginning of the post game call-in show last night, he thunders that HOLT MUST GO!!!  But, in the very next sentence or two, he says to his broadcast partners that “I think we all can agree there are several guys on the defensive side of the ball we won’t miss next year.”  So which is it, Softy?  I have a tough time believing Holt is as incompetent as the angry, mouth-foaming mob claims he is.  

  • headoutofsand

    Nice lead-in by Thiel, and missing Baylor’s point total by only one point ain’t bad, either.

    Regarding Softy:  At the beginning of last night’s post game call-in show, he thunders that “HOLT MUST GO!”  But in the very next sentence or two, he says to his broadcast colleagues, “I think we can all agree there are several guys on the defense we won’t miss next year.”  So which is it, Softy?  I have a tough time believing Holt is as incompetent as the angry mob of mouth foamers claim he is. 

    • Art Thiel

      To an emotional, thought-free fan, firing the coach is always the preferred solution, because that fan doesn’t want anything to do with complications and subtleties.

  • 1coolguy

    Unbelievable performance by Price – WOW!

    Conversely, why is Holt still in his position??? Triple 7 (777) is supposed to be an airplane, NOT a yardage given up figure!

    Anytime a coach underperforms Willingham, it’s simply time to go.

    • Art Thiel

      You got your wish Saturday, although as I wrote in thr post-firing columns, Holt’s juniors and seniors were Willingham’s guys.

  • Airmerz

    The points were the second-most in school history (not that it matters).  We gave up 72 to Cal in 1921.

    • Art Thiel

      You are correct. Records were being shattered so fast we had to put on haz-mat suits, and confusion reigned.

  • blackhook

    Nice reporting Art – it was one of the greatest games i’ve ever seen. Too bad for the Huskies but the program has still come a long way to even be *very* competitive in this game – when almost no one thought we would be.

    And you almost called the score exactly …was it on kjr?, you called 70-50 …pretty damn close!

    • Art Thiel

      I went with 66-41 in our SPNW preview, then 66-48 on KING when I found out Price was close to 100 percent. It was easy to see that defenses and Texas made for pinata time.

  • polk’s fumble wasn’t the turning point.

    it was at the beginning of the 3rd after the price-to-kearse TD, when polk thought it would be a good idea to run over to the baylor sideline and do a heisman pose.

    baylor players are quoted after the game saying this really pissed them off and they promptly swung the game back in their favor.

    • Art Thiel

      Missed that. If true, it was stupid. But I think Baylor was going to swing things even absent the inspiration.

      • baylor outscored washington 43-14 after his pose.

  • Bscottie23

    Uh, you might want to check on which side of the plate all your examples hit from.  Safeco hurts right-handed power hitters, not left-handed.  Prince Fielder is left-handed.  That’s just basic research.

  • MarinerdMike

    Basic research?  This guy wouldn’t know research if it landed in his lap.  
    This is a damaging article and Rudman should be ashamed.  Comparing his body type to his father’s is cheap and shows how little you actually know about the two (and for what it’s worth 5’11” 275 versus 6’3″ 245 is NOT “generally similar”).
    And the fact that you compare Russel Branyan to Prince Fielder is laughable.  If Branyan can hit 16 HR in Safeco, Fielder can hit 20 easily.  That comparison should be a reason FOR wanting to get him here.
    Bill Bavasi was horrible at many things, the worst of which was his failure to get a legitimate left handed power hitter – there simply is no data available to show how a hitter like Prince Fielder will fare in Safeco.  
    You want gap hitters rather than a slugger?  Please.  How is a gap hitter going to protect anyone in the lineup.  Guys like Ackley, Smoak, Guti and Ichiro are enough gap hitters – this lineup needs a power threat to make them all better.  
    Your headline grabbing, thoughtless journalism is better suited to Fox News.  Shameful.

    • SorryMarinerdMike

      You must have missed the part that Steve Rudman was once the Director of Research for ESPN, so I think he knows how to reference something.  

      As for saying there is no data to show how a left-handed hitter will fare, look at the fact that no left-handed power hitters want to come here.  Griffey and A-Rod have stated that they were afraid of Safeco.  What exactly do you think makes it such a pitchers field?  It isn’t Phiten sending a beam of energy to the mound.  

      Also, your argument that we need more power hitters isn’t wrong, Steve is just saying it probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon as long as Safeco stays as it is.

      I understand you don’t like someone saying something poor about your team, but face it, no star player wants to play for a losing team that plays in a tough-to-hit stadium.

      • SorrySorryMarindMike

        So he definitely knows how to skew numbers (ignoring Fielder’s dominant hand) to prove his point. Rather than proving a point based on numbers.

      • Yes, very sorry

        Um.  I yeah, I know I certainly missed it.  I’ve never heard of him.  This failure to do basic research may have something to do with him not holding that post any longer, don’t you suppose? 
        Or, did ESPN pay EVEN less than this gig, which I have to assume pays almost nothing. 

      • Pete Vuckovich

        Where is the proof that no left-handed power hitters want to come here? Who have we made competitive offers to and spurned us? This is completely baseless. There have been a number of left-handed power hitters who have signed here over the years. I don’t care what his old position was, he clearly doesn’t understand basic concepts about Safeco and his argument is lazy at best.

      • MarinerdMike

        I did miss the point that he was director of research, because he certainly didn’t use it here.  I don’t care what his title is, or what jobs he has held, this is a poor example of sports journalism.  It’s something I’d expect from an east coast reporter who thinks of Seattle as another country.

        And thanks for another empty statement that, “No left handed power hitters want to come here,” sounds like something Rudman himself would say.  Baseless.

        I don’t care that people say bad things about my team – I’m well aware that the Mariners are at the bottom looking up at the rest of the league, but I expect more from local reporters.

    • Branyfan

      Mike 1 of those 2 u mentioned[Fielder,Branyan] went into 2011,14th all time in h.r.frequency,with a tater every 14.6 at bats.Hint.It wasn’t Fielder

  • Pete Vuckovich

    Possibly the dumbest article I’ve ever read. Shameful, awful writing. It doesn’t take more than a basic knowledge of the Mariners and Safeco to know what kind of hitters it is damaging to. Left-handed power hitters don’t have a problem here. If you’re allowed to post another article on this site then the person who runs it is doing a disservice to it’s readers. There’s plenty of truth to reasons why Fielder wouldn’t want to come here – poor lineup protection, switching leagues, distance from home, not a contender – but the ballpark really isn’t one of them, and you made that the focal point – hence, trash article.

    • Pixeldawg13

      “. If you’re allowed to post another article on this site then the person who runs it is doing a disservice to it’s readers.”

      Rudman is one of the two whose site this is–it’s very likely he’ll continue to post here.  And at least he, unlike you, knows the difference between possessive its and contraction it’s.

  • Reticulo

    Yeah, I have to completely agree with these other comments.  This column missed the most important fact: Safeco actually does NOT hurt left handed hitters.  If we were thinking about signing Josh Hamilton, this column would have some value.  But we are not— so it does not. 

    Also, even the slightest bit of research should have thrown up some warning signs.  Even without considering the FACT that Safeco does not hurt left handers’ power numbers, just take a look at average home runs at parks last year.  Even considering the Ms terrible offense, great pitching, and negative effect on RIGHT handed hitters, Safeco was in the top half of home runs per park. 

  • Jeffrey

    Why is everyone acting like this has never been said before?  A quick Google will tell you that hitters don’t like this park.  When was the last time we had a power hitter be successful here since the steroids era ended?

    • Pete Vuckovich

      Russell Branyan?

      • Thetaming

        Also, please provide this easy google search that proves hitters don’t like Safeco. Quotes, etc. Since it’s easy.

  • clarknova

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ok, wait… So, Prince Fielder couldn’t hit 4 more home runs in Safeco than Russell Branyan in 2009?! Are you mental?! This is too stupid to be “damaging” or “shameful”. It’s HILARIOUS. I’m ignoring the handedness idiocy, which has been covered ad nauseum here. Miller Park Dimensions: 332-L, 390-LC, 400-C, 381-RC, 325-R… Safeco Field Dimensions: 331-L, 390-LC, 405-C,
    387-RC, 327-R. Totally bro… Prince fielder would be SHUT DOWN by that extra 5 feet in dead center and those two feet in right. Killer point. I’m laughing too hard to check his hit chart, but I’ll bet ALL of his home runs in Miller Park would have been out in Safeco. They’re almost the same park! “It’s not the Egg McMuffin of hitting meccas”?! What does that even mean?! Egg McMuffins taste like a ham flavored kitchen sponge? Is that a real metaphor?! PFFFT!!! Jeff Cirillo? Seriously? Jeff FREAKING Cirillo!  Do you think that perhaps the crappy hitting statistics could have anything to do with some of the worst offensive teams in the history of the sport, and PERHAPS that could be because most of the players weren’t very good? It’s nice to see you’re aware that the 2001 Mariners played at Safeco. The “gap hitting” 2001 mariners you refer to had 4 20+ home run hitters. Boone hit 37. The 2011 Milwaukee Brewers, with Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, and Rickie Weeks hit 14 more home runs as a team than the 2001 Mariners did. Dude, if you’re Prince Fielder and “your business is the long ball” and you’re looking for 8+ years at 23-25 million a year, you’re freaking SET! Baseball contracts are guaranteed and he would NOT hit less home runs at Safeco! Holy crap dude! WOW! You know, there’s a pretty good chance the Mariners do get outbid, and, there’s a really strong chance that Seattle is not the 1st choice for a Florida native… I’ve accepted that. I still check every day for news, and actually… I appreciate the utter nonsense in this article. I needed a laugh. Especially when I got to the Richie Sexson/Cecil Fielder comp. SO retarded.

    • Robert mitchell

      Yeah but Branyan missed the final 5 weeks in 2009,with a herniated disc in his back.And lead the Mariners in ding dongs after they re aquired him in 2010,with 15 in 57 games[205 at bats]

    • Marcusderen

      Well put.

    • thiswritersucks

      Took the words right off of my keyboard, this article is ‘funny’ bad.

  • clarknova

    Okay. The research has been done. According to Rick Randall on Twitter using a hit tracker- Safeco Field would have cost Prince Fielder a total of 6 home runs over the past three seasons. Two a year. At home. Maybe. It’s pretty well common knowledge that Safeco is detrimental to right handed pull power hitters. Like the examples above. The former “Director of Research at ESPN”, ladies and gentlemen!

  • Bobdavis

    All of these are right handed hitters moron. Lefties do ok here.

  • David Jubb

    I’m not going to say that this article is an embarrassment to sports journalism or anything of that nature…but I’m so tired of hearing people compare Fielder’s potential in Safeco Field to former RIGHT HANDED sluggers like Sexson and Beltre. Safeco’s short right field porched was designed SPECIFICALLY with the left-handed power bat of Ken Griffey Jr! Could the fences be moved in a bit, yes! Did Griffey and A-Rod mention this, yes. Is the thick humid air of Safeco a hinderance to a length that a ball could travel otherwise….yes. These things aren’t the points the author of this article is trying to make that he should be trying to make if he’s to compare Fielder to Mariners of the past.  

  • Tian Biao

    gentlemen, relax for a moment, and you’ll see that Rudman is correct. Good hitters come to Safeco, and they stop hitting. And i fully agree with his last comment: the Ms should look for gap hitters, not home run hitters. Also, if we sign Fielder for 10 years, he will end up being a huge albatross – huge in more ways than one – in the final few years of his contract. We can’t afford him the prices and years being discussed, and I hope we don’t sign him.

    • Opposite

      I’m really glad you are not the Ms GM. Right handed hitters are negatively affected by safeco. Lefties? No.
      Gap hitters? That is what they have now. The lack of power has led to the worst offense in the modern era. If you think that is desirable, you don’t understand that the goal is to score more runs than the other team…not to have the lowest payroll.
      Why do you think power hitters are expensive?

      Because people want to win games.

      • Tian Biao

        Opposite – i agree that the goal is not to have the lowest payroll, and it’s not my money anyway, however many eight dollar beers I buy. I just think Fielder is risky, because of safeco, and because big fat guys tend to decline rapidly. But I’m also assuming that we’ll spend the money wisely elsewhere, which is a faulty assumption, because Lincoln and Armstrong can’t be trusted to do anything right. So yeah, maybe we should sign Fielder . . . there are no good answers really.

        But when I say ‘gap hitters’ I do not mean the players we have now; I mean guys who can actually hit.

      • Branyfan

        It would seem with the so called porch in R.F. U would be right.But why in 12 years or so since Safeco opened,it’s Branyan who has the most h.r’s as a left handed hitter at home with 16 in 2009?And as i mentioned he missed the last 33 games that year.

    • Serouslydosomeresearch

      Yea, good RIGHT-HANDED hitters. 

  • Branyfan

    It’s not the dimensions at Safeco.It’s the heavy damp air,especially at night when most of the games played there.But you guys r right,it wouldn’t affect Fielder much with his power.And not to compare Branyan with Prince,which is silly but Russell is 14th all time in h.r.frequency,with a tater every 14.9 at bats and still doesn’t have 3,000 at bats.

  • togiola

    I’m blaming google here. I searched Prince Fielder under news. This is not news. There are some stats, but they were incorrectly applied. So there is no news and nothing worth reading.
    This “news” website should truly be embarassed to have this “article” associated with it. Total garbage.

  • Hmmmm … and what do all those power hitters who came to the Mariners have in common? (Hint: They all bat from one side of the plate, and that side of the plate might be the opposite side of Fielder …)

  • Tian Biao

    Seriously folks – don’t you think it’s odd that players like Kotchman (l) and Beltre (r), to name just two recent examples, are so bad at Safeco, and so good when they play in another ballpark?

    • Dosomeresearch

      Yea because Safeco Field gives people serious eye conditions when they come here and they decide that they aren’t going to get it checked out by a doctor until after they have left. Kotchman said that during his season in Seattle his vision was like “looking through a dirty windshield”. After the season he went to a doctor and the doctor said he had a eye condition that required surgery. He had the surgery and then batted 3.50 for the Rays. Yea, Safeco Field had something to do with that.

      • Dosomeresearch

        .350 my bad :)

    • Branyfan

      Kotchman is a singles hitting 1st sacker.See how quick another club signs him.Dime a dozen Judy hitter.Great glove though.