In the midst of an injury epidemic, the Rangers received more bad news Thursday, as it was announced that slugging first baseman Prince Fielder will undergo season-ending surgery to fix a herniated disc in his neck. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels broke the news via conference call, stating that the club will still seek a second opinion, but that surgery still appears to be a near certainty. The procedure (cervical fusion) will take place on Tuesday.
Earlier today, it was reported by Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that Fielder was "seriously considering" surgery as an option. On Thursday, the 30-year-old Fielder met with spine specialist Dr. Drew Dossett who recommended the surgery, which typically requires a three to four month recovery window. On Saturday, Fielder received a nerve-root injection to help relieve the pain, but the injection can only go so far, as a portion of the herniated disc will continue to pinch the nerve without surgery. As a result of the herniation, Fielder has been experiencing weakness in his left arm, which caused him to break his streak of 547 consecutive games on Saturday, as well as leading to a scratch from Tuesday's game. This will be Fielder's first trip to the disabled list in his career.
Fielder was acquired from the Detroit Tigers over the offseason in exchange for longtime-Ranger Ian Kinsler. His performance this year has been rather lackluster, though the herniated disc could be a huge reason why. In 178 plate appearances, the five-time All-Star is hitting an uncharacteristically low .247/.360/.360 with just three home runs and a -0.3 WAR, though he still leads the AL with 11 intentional walks. For his career, he is a .285/.388/.522 hitter who has accumulated 27.2 WAR, a 139 wRC+, and 288 home runs.
Fielder is currently signed through 2020, and will be paid $168 million over that window ($138 million by the Rangers). However, due to an insurance policy taken out by the Tigers (and since transferred to the Rangers), Texas will be able to recoup some (albeit a minute total) of the $24 million Fielder is owed this season, as the Dallas Morning News' Evan Grant explains:
The club also assumed the insurance policy Detroit took out on Fielder’s contract before the 2012 season. It will pay the Rangers at the rate of 50 cents on the dollar after a time period that acts like a deductible. That time period is typically about 90 days. Under that scenario it would result in the Rangers’ recouping a little more than $2 million of the $24 million owed him this season.
Fielder's injury is just the latest in a series (Fielder is the 14th Ranger to hit the DL this season) that has greatly crippled the Rangers' 2014 playoff aspirations. Among the casualties have been starting pitchers Yu Darvish (though he only missed one start), Derek Holland (has yet to pitch this season and may not return until July), Matt Harrison (who is facing a potentially career-threatening spinal fusion surgery), Tanners Scheppers (elbow inflammation), and Martin Perez (out for season due to Tommy John surgery). On the position players side, catcher Geovany Soto, second baseman Jurickson Profar, and now Fielder have been the more notable losses.
Speaking of Profar, Daniels also added during the conference call that Profar has been shut down once again after re-straining a muscle in his shoulder. He will likely be out another 8-12 weeks.
The Rangers are currently just 23-24, tied for third place in the AL West, and 7.5 games behind the division-leading Athletics. While things should start to look up later this summer as guys like Soto, Profar, and Holland return, their hole may be too deep to climb out of at that point, especially since the Angels are suddenly looking like a real playoff contender as well.
This tweet from MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez puts it kindly:
It’s simply not looking like the #Rangers’ year.— Alden Gonzalez (@Alden_Gonzalez) May 22, 2014
In Fielder's absence, it appears that Mitch Moreland will see a significant boost in playing time at first base, leaving a hole at designated hitter. Though unlikely (as Daniels indicated), Texas could possibly go after Kendrys Morales to fill the void. With the draft just around the corner, Morales is likely to sign in the coming weeks as he loses the draft pick compensation tag. On a one-year deal without having to surrender a draft pick, Morales should be an ideal target for the Rangers.