BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

The twitter world blew up this afternoon with the news that Detroit has agreed to sign Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million contract, an average annual value of approximately $23.8 million.  There had been speculation that Fielder might wind up with the Rangers, but that apparently is not going to happen now.

It is unusual for such a high profile free agent to take so long to sign.  Most sign by Christmas, or shortly after the first of the year for sure.  It was clear from the beginning that bidders for Fielder’s services would be in short supply with big spending teams like the Yankees and Boston being already locked in with mega-deal first basemen.  His contract situation thus drug on into late January, and that caused considerable speculation in recent days that Fielder would be forced to accept a short term deal of perhaps even a year and try the market again next year, when the Dodgers and Mets would be likely bidders assuming their ownership issues are cleared up.

There was clear interest on Fielder’s part to be a Texas Ranger.  Of all the teams speculated to be in the hunt to sign Fielder just days ago, which did NOT include the Tigers, Texas was the only one with a remote chance of making the playoffs.  There was some thought that Fielder was plan B if Yu Darvish did not sign, but once the Darvish deal was done, Texas was only a player for a short term deal. 

Many in the area think that Fielder might have been an even better addition to the Rangers’ roster than Darvish.  On one hand, it is easy to look at Mitch Moreland’s numbers last year and plug in a reasonable estimate for Fielder, to arrive at a material offensive upgrade.  However, even if Moreland had been healthy, he would have few more than the 475 at bats he had in 2011.  Michael Young and Mike Napoli manned first base against most left-handed starters last year, and the addition of Fielder playing 150 games or more would have reduced at bats for one or both.   

In any event, Fielder with his overweight issues projects an early career decline, and his team may be faced with a huge financial commitment to a very limited player in the later years of the contract.  The Rangers hit a major league leading .283 last year and scored 855 runs, surpassed by only the Red Sox (875) and Yankees (867).  Those figures are increases from 2010′s .276 and 787.  Essentially every position player is back for 2012, so offense should not be a problem. 

With the Fielder issue finally put to rest, Ranger fans can now concentrate on really important matters, such as the fact that there are just 29 more days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

MINOR MATTERS:  Texas has signed Brad Hawpe to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.  Hawpe has been an outfielder for most of his career, but switched to first base last season with the Padres.  He is a left-handed power hitter that made the National League All-Star team in 2009 as a member of the Rockies.  His 2011 season was cut short when he underwent Tommy John surgery on June 26.  He is 32 and played locally at Saginaw-Boswell High School as well as collegiately at LSU.  He is thought to be an insurance policy at first base. 

Texas also signed left-handed reliever Mitch Stetter and right-handed reliever Sean Green to minor league contracts with invitations to spring training.  Stetter has appeared in 132 major league games and is 31.  His best stretch in the big leagues was 2008 and 2009 with the Brewers, when he recorded a 7-2 record as a left-handed bullpen specialist.  With Darren Oliver signing with the Blue Jays and leaving a hole in the Ranger bullpen for a left-handed reliever, Stetter is given a reasonable chance to make the major league club. 

Green is 32 and has pitched in 264 major league games over six seasons.  He has a career 10-12 record with a 4.41 ERA.

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