Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know by now that Prince Fielder is looking for a 9 figure contract, that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of suitors for him, and that he keeps being linked to the Washington Nationals, despite sources saying we’re not interested.
So I thought to myself; what *really* is the market for Fielder right now? Who wants, or more importantly needs, a big-money, big-time hitting, trip-over-his-feet defending at first base Fielder? Here’s each of the 30 teams organized into categories to help get some clarity:
1. Teams that have long-term, major money commitments to established 1B stars, right now.
These teams are absolutely not in the market for Fielder. Team and current 1B:
- Boston: Adrian Gonzalez
- Chicago WS: Konerko/Dunn
- Detroit: Miguel Cabrera
- LA Angels: Albert Pujols
- Minnesota: Justin Morneau
- NY Yankees: Mark Teixeira
- Cincinnati: Joey Votto
- Colorado: Todd Helton (not that he’s a major committment, but he did just re-sign thru 2013).
- Miami: Gaby Sanchez (not really a major star, but he was a 2011 all-star and is pre-arbitration)
- Philadelphia: Ryan Howard
You could quibble with the selection of Miami as not being in the market; after all they were throwing money at Pujols and have committed something in the range of $165M in heavily back-loaded contracts already this off-season. But I havn’t read a single sentence indicating any interest with Fielder.
You could slightly quibble with Colorado, but if so I’ll say that Colorado also falls into one of the “No” categories below. Read on.
2. Teams that are so bad, right now, that I couldn’t imagine Fielder actually going there
Baltimore. That’s it. Anyone that signs in Baltimore is essentially saying, “I want to play for the worst organization in baseball and guarantee myself 5th place finishes for the entirety of my contract.” Who would possibly go to play there unless they’re a lower-tier FA who wants to guarantee himself a starting job? Such a shame; this was the highest payroll team in the game in the mid 90s. We talk about how Bud Selig needs to take away the Mets … how about forcing Angelos to sell this former jewel franchise to someone who actually wants to see them win?
3. Teams that are aren’t in the market for financial reasons
- LA Dodgers
- NY Mets
- SF Giants
- St. Louis
Obviously the situation with the Dodgers and Mets prevents them from doing such a franchise-altering commitment. Plus both teams have half-way decent options playing at 1B for them now (James Loney and Ike Davis). The Giants were at $118M in 2011 and seem tapped out; they have $84M committed prior to their Arb cases, including a potentially record-setting arbitration case with Tim Lincecum. They’ll easily be above $100M once these cases are said and done. Lastly St. Louis: if they were willing to pay $25M/year, they would have re-signed Pujols. So clearly they’ve reached a financial threshold themselves.
I’d also put Colorado in this category; they aren’t exactly a small-market team but they also don’t seem like they’re in the mood to increase payroll $25M/year.
4. Teams that have waved the white flag and are in 100% rebuilding mode
Both these teams should be obvious just by their mention. Oakland is going to try to field a $20M payroll team, and Houston has bottomed out and clearly is starting over.
5. Teams that have big-name prospects currently installed at 1B and who don’t seem like they’re in the market
- Cleveland (Matt LaPorta); also arguably in the “Small Market” category
- Kansas City (Eric Hosmer); also in the “Small Market” category
- Seattle (Justin Smoak); also in the “Teams that are really bad” category
- Atlanta (Freddie Freeman): also in the “Teams that are tapped out financially” category
- San Diego (Yonder Alonso); also in the “Small market” category
- Chicago Cubs (Anthony Rizzo): probably more in the “rebuilding mode” category; Epstein likes Rizzo, just re-acquired him and I’d be shocked if they blocked him by getting Fielder.
Most of these teams could fit into multiple categories. Lots of rumors out there saying that Seattle is a natural landing spot for Fielder but I don’t see it: Smoak is the reason Seattle agreed to trade Cliff Lee, and you don’t just give up on guys like that. Meanwhile Seattle is now miles behind their divisional rivals and may not compete for a decade. Why would Fielder go there?
Meanwhile, the Cubs seem like an interesting case. NL team, NL central team, storied name. But they didn’t hire Theo Epstein to just make the leap; their ownership clearly realized that their franchise was on the downside both at the MLB level and in the farm system. Bad contracts, bad clubhouse. They’re rebuilding for a renewed run in a few year’s time.
6. Small Market teams that certainly don’t seem to be in the market for a $25M/year player
- Tampa Bay
- Milwaukee (else he’d be looking at re-signing there)
All these teams seem to be pretty self-explanatory. Maybe Arizona gets into the market, but they’ve gone to great pains to lose payroll, paring it down to just $56M last year while somehow winning the division. Their highest paid player in 2011 was just $5.8M. A $25M/year guy doesn’t fit with their team.
So, after all that, Here’s the teams Left: This is the actual Market for Fielder, right now. Teams listed with their current starting 1B
- Texas: Mitch Moreland
- Toronto: Adam Lind
- Washington: Adam LaRoche
And here’s arguments for and against each team:
- Pro Texas: they are getting a massive amount of money influx in. They may or may not win the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, meaning they may or may not have an “extra” $120M or so sitting around in a couple weeks. Moreland isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire and wouldn’t be an impediment.
- Con Texas: They don’t NEED more offense; they’ve bashed their way to two consecutive AL pennants by having an offense ranked in the top 3 in pretty much every category. They had a guy who hit 29 homers batting 7th for them in the off-season (Nelson Cruz).
- Pro Toronto: they have payroll room. They can let Fielder DH some of the time. They have a good young pitching staff they can build on. Lind hit 26 homers but isn’t blocking them from acquiring someone better. They do need to improve their offense and he’d fit naturally behind Jose Bautista, giving him even better pitches to turn on.
- Con Toronto: they’re the 4th best team in the AL East and havn’t made the playoffs since the Wild Card era. What makes you think they’re going to catch the 3 teams above them, no matter how much they spend? This has to come into Fielder’s thought process, doesn’t it? They also don’t have the pitching right now to really compete in the AL East, having traded away their main studs for prospects in recent years.
- Pro Washington: This team needs offense; we’ve declined in runs scored 3 years running. Plain and simple.
- Con Washington: he can’t DH. We’d be lighting the $8M we owe to LaRoche on fire. He doesn’t fit Rizzo’s pro-defense concept of finding players. He may expose a payroll ceiling that the team hasn’t broached before, resulting in the team possibly losing franchise players in the future because “we can’t afford them.”
In the end though, if Texas signs Darvish I’d think they’d be out of the running. And Toronto hasn’t really shown an inclination to spend Fielder kinds of money, and seem more in a rebuilding phase than a “go for it now” phase.
Which means the Fielder market may be …. just Washington.
What do you think? Are there any teams besides Texas, Toronto and the Nats that are *really* in the conversation? Or is Boras negotiating against himself right now?