After just 289 games, Prince Fielder's career with the Texas Rangers is over. As first reported by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the hulking designated hitter will announce Wednesday that he is physically unable to continue playing, thanks to a damaged back that's necessitated two disc fusion surgeries in the last three seasons.
Fielder's not officially retiring, because that would mean forfeiting the final $72 million on his contract. The Rangers are set to receive about $36 million in insurance payments as compensation for Fielder's permanent injury, but that's tricky, too. There are four years left on Fielder's current deal. The way the insurance on baseball contracts usually works, the Rangers will receive $9 million in each of those seasons — as long as they keep Fielder on the team.
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During the season, that's not a problem. Fielder can be kept on the 60-day disabled list, where he'll continue to draw a salary but won't take up a crucial spot on the Rangers' 40-man roster. During the offseason, the $9 million insurance windfall comes with a cost to the team. From the end of the World Series until the beginning of spring training for the next four seasons, Fielder will have to take up a spot on the roster if the Rangers want the cash. That means one other player won't receive protection from the Rule 5 Draft.
Fielder's career with the Rangers has been a disaster, but it's still sad to see it end like this. He's been, by all accounts, a valuable part of a clubhouse culture and a positive influence on the Rangers' burgeoning core of young players. Even as he suffered through the worst season of his career in 2016, hitting only .212 with eight home runs in 89 games, Fielder was consistently at Globe Life Park early, a smile on and his kids in tow.
While Fielder the person will be missed personally, this is the best the Rangers could've hoped for. Younger players like Jurickson Profar and Ryan Rua will now get the at bats they need to develop. The Rangers' payroll, previously strapped heading into a two-year stretch, has more breathing room. The team will likely need this as it tries to sign All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy and ace Yu Darvish to long-term contract extensions.
The struggle to get Fielder a solid final season seems to be over now. Fielder ends his career with 319 home runs, just like Cecil Fielder, his dad, and a career .888 OPS. He won't have been on the field for a World Series championship, but he stands to pick up a ring this year if the American League West leading Rangers can finish the deal for the first time.