Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

At this point, what *really* is the Fielder FA market?


I swear, I wasn't looking for the obvious pun photo of Prince Fielder eating. Photo: The Onion

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

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

  • Oakland
  • Houston

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
  • Arizona
  • Milwaukee (else he’d be looking at re-signing there)
  • Pittsburgh

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?

17 Responses to 'At this point, what *really* is the Fielder FA market?'

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  1. Thanks, Todd, for some perspective. I think you could add Los Angeles if they can get permission to spend the money.
    Why a National League team would sign Fielder for more than 5 years is beyond me He’s a walking DH.

    I love the photo, saw where’s he’s listed at 5′ 11″ & 275 pounds. That’s fat!

    Let’s be honest, Boras is great at always finding the fool, he did it last year with the Nats.
    Let’s hope they’re a little smarter this time around.

    Mark L

    12 Jan 12 at 10:05 am

  2. Yeah, as you can imagine there’s several teams that you could argue “could” be in the market. I saw a blip report yesterday that said something along the lines of “Frank McCourt’s parting action should be to sign Fielder.” But you HAVE to think that baseball has basically told Mccourt he’s done making decisions for this team … maybe I should have clarified that more in the post. There’s just no way the Dodgers outgoing owners are going to be allowed to commit major money to *anyone* … incoming potential owners would scream bloody murder. There’s no way Selig wants to eliminate purchasing candidates by allowing a failure of an owner to spend $180M of someone elses money.

    My hope is that Rizzo/Lerner has done the same analysis I just did and are ready to call Boras’ bluff. There really aren’t any other suiters. And that means the Nats should be in a position to demand less money per year or demand a shorter contract. Maybe this all points to the ideal situation; a 3year deal that suits both sides.

    Todd Boss

    12 Jan 12 at 10:12 am

  3. I think this is a great analysis, and explains why the Nats are in the discussion despite that fact that I am convinced Rizzo had absolutely no interest in PF going into the FA season (for all the reasons you mention in the cons). My main disagreement with you, however, is that the interest of other teams is also based on the price — if PF decides he is willing to take a “3 year deal that suits both sides”, I think lots of others come back. For example, I’d guess that Miami, SF, Cubs, AZ, etc. would all be happy to take a “flyer” on PF if it was just a 3 year commitment. I think PF is a good enough player, and Boras a good enough agent, that it will be painful for anyone to sign him. If the market really dries up, I think Boras would back all the way to a 1 year contract (which would have lots of bidders) and try again next year … ala Madson.


    12 Jan 12 at 10:35 am

  4. I largely agree with this, although a few quibbles.

    -One is purely semantic: the Rangers have already won the Darvish sweepstakes, the question now is whether they can sign a deal with him.

    -The Mariners have actually been linked to Fielder, with the same divergence of reports on how serious they are about it. Their owner is apparently a big Fielder fan – although I think from a baseball sense it would be pretty crazy. They’re not prepared to win for at least three years, and that’s not a hitter’s ballpark. Still, this is a possible place for Boras to find a fool (as Mark L. so neatly put it).

    -I think that Toronto is a natural landing place, for all the reasons that you gave. They certainly have the payroll room – their payroll last year was just over $70 million and seems likely to actually fall this year. BUT: Anthopoulos is very careful with his cash. I don’t think that they have any Boras clients on their team (none are listed on Cot’s), and besides Bautista (can you believe Bautista is under contract for just $14 million a year through 2015, with a 2016 option?) no one on that team is making more than $5.25 million. Signing Fielder would be a big culture shock for that team.

    That said, I think that Toronto is the logical destination for Fielder. It makes baseball sense, and it would announce to the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays that the Blue Jays are in it to win it. Given the aging rosters of the Yankees and Red Sox, the Yankees’ stated desire to get under the luxury tax threshold by 2014, and the payroll limitations of the Rays, the Blue Jays may have the same window of opportunity that the Nationals do, with the added bonus of being able to DH Fielder.

    My sense is 45% Toronto, 25% Nationals, 25% Rangers, 5% someone else. But I’ll be really happy when he signs somewhere and we can all return to our normal daily routines 🙂

    John C.

    12 Jan 12 at 10:43 am

  5. I think you can take this argument a bit too far. You’ve eliminated teams based on the assumption that this will be an many-year deal at $25M/year. If Washington is the only suitor, they in essence could name their price. But at some point — suppose Washington said our final, best offer is 5 years, $75 million — then several of those other teams that you’ve eliminated might very well be back in the picture. St. Louis could totally do that. So could Milwaukee.


    12 Jan 12 at 10:46 am

  6. One other note: although the Marlins have been throwing money around and have an opening at first base, by all accounts the reason that they haven’t been in on Prince is twofold: (1) he doesn’t present the marketing opportunity to the latino community that Pujols did; and (2) more importantly, Boras wants a no trade clause for his client, and the Marlins flatly refuse to do no trade clauses (prepping for the fire sale in two years). So, no Fielder for Miami.

    I do agree with NG’s and Dave’s point that, as the market slowly deflates, at some point other teams jump back in along with the Nationals.

    John C.

    12 Jan 12 at 11:34 am

  7. Fair enough on the 3year vs 8year contract issue for some teams … but it still blocks out a number of the big-money teams that normally would be all over a guy like fielder (Yankees, Boston, etc).

    Todd Boss

    12 Jan 12 at 11:47 am

  8. Rangers have “won” the Darvish account but havn’t spent a dime; Bowden says they’re lowballing him and the deal may not get done … if you planned on spending $100-$120M on a guy then suddenly weren’t … wouldnt’ you be willing to allocate that money to a guy like Fielder? I dunno; that’s the working theory of Boswell and a couple other analysts I’ve read in the past week. Of course … it doesn’t address my point re; texas that they don’t NEED more offense .. they need pitching.

    Mariners: why would Fielder go there? They’re an awful team that has Zero chance to compete against the payroll juggernaut built in the Angels or the team currently on a two-year pennant winning streak in Texas. I guess you could be cynical and just say that fielder will go where he can get paid … but I think the destination matters at some point. Fielder doesn’t want to play for 3 years in obscurity and in the cellar. At least, I wouldn’t think so.

    Agree on Toronto analysis both pro and con. You look at their trades recently and they’re “rebuilding” trades. You don’t trade away a guy like Marcum and get prospects if you’re trying to win now. Fielder is a “win now” player, no doubt about it.

    Todd Boss

    12 Jan 12 at 11:51 am

  9. True. But you have to start with an assumption baseline at some point for an opinion piece like this. Maybe I should have been more clear in defining the market … “What is the Prince Fielder FA market right now, assuming that he’ll ONLY take an Albert Pujols like deal looking for 8 years and 9 figures.”

    If he becomes amenable to a 3 year deal absolutely suddenly a lot more teams are back in.

    Todd Boss

    12 Jan 12 at 11:53 am

  10. Two good points. Can’t wait for the Marlins to collapse for two straight years and then to be sold off like in the post 2003 season. Jeffrey Loria; challenging Peter Angelos as baseball’s worst owner. 3 cheers for the anti-trust exemption that allows Bud Selig to hand pick croonies to own baseball teams!

    Todd Boss

    12 Jan 12 at 11:54 am

  11. This is hysterical. It’s like the Keystone Cops version of free agent negotiations. First, Ladson quotes a source that there’s a 99% the Nats aren’t going to sign Fielder. Then, the next day Kilgore quotes a source that the Nats are “patiently and aggressively pursuing” Fielder. So Ladson’s source is almost certainly Mike Rizzo or one of his lieutenants, who are trying to push down Fielder’s asking price by threatening to drop out of the market. And Kilgore’s source is almost certainly Scott Boras, who had to immediately rebut Ladson’s source because he needs to maintain the illusion that multiple teams are still vying for his client at the current asking price.

    Can someone please just wake me when Spring Training starts?


    12 Jan 12 at 2:55 pm

  12. Just as long as the Lerner’s don’t fall into the trap that the Texas Rangers did when they out-bid by some $50M for A-Rod’s services … its no fun being the butt of the industry’s jokes.

    Todd Boss

    12 Jan 12 at 3:17 pm

  13. Todd, your #’s are a bit off. The second highest bid that Boras got for A Rod was $150 million in 2000 and he convinced Hicks (plural of Hick) that a mystery team was swooping in and got A Rod that $250 miilion.

    Mark L

    12 Jan 12 at 5:46 pm

  14. “I saw a blip report yesterday that said something along the lines of ‘Frank McCourt’s parting action should be to sign Fielder.’”

    That was a column by, IIRC, Buster Olney. It was a “wouldn’t it be great” kind of piece.

    Another factor, for better or worse (I go back and forth on the issue almost daily), favoring the Nationals is that Fielder is familiar with the NL.

    Keith Law (I know) made an interesting point on the whole “Fielder keeps us from moving Zimmerman to first” meme. He said that this kind of talk is pointless without first knowing about Rendon’s shoulder. It may be that the best place for him and his potentially-wonderful bat may be second.

    My bit of Nationals heresy is that I’m not all that convinced of the need to lock up Zimmerman. He has missed substantial chunks of 2 of his 6 seasons; his occasional throwing issues may convince some that he needs to switch positions (I don’t buy that by the way) in which case his bat isn’t as valuable as it is at third.

    Like everything else, it comes to down to price. I can’t see a Tulowitzki, Braun or Kemp-like deal, not based on what I know today.


    12 Jan 12 at 6:45 pm

  15. Ah, what’s another $50 million between friends 🙂

    Todd Boss

    13 Jan 12 at 8:43 am

  16. Yeah I saw that in KLaw’s chat too. Here’s a good question for the group: why is everyone so obsessed with “clearing first base for Zimmerman?” He’s 26! Brooks Robinson won his final gold glove at 3b at the age of 38, and Scott Rolen beat out Zimmerman for the GG in 2010 at the healthy age of 35. So, this ridiculous talk about “needing to move Zimmerman” is just that; ridiculous. His throwing? His throwing errors/game was down in 2011 compared to previous years (8 TE in 97 games versus 11 in 137 games the previous year).

    Here’s another part on which I agree with Law: why is everyone so obsessed with where Rendon is going to play, when he has yet to play a professional inning?? I know he was the top hitting prospect in the 2011 draft and has great promise … but there’s no guarantees in the draft. Maybe Rendon hits .190 in high-A and takes 3 times as long to get to the majors. Maybe he’s really hurt more than we know and misses a big chunk of the next two seasons. Maybe, Maybe. Here’s what we KNOW: we have a player in Zimmerman, when healthy (see next point), who is among the most complete younger players in the game.

    I do agree with you on Zimmerman long term; I’ve posted the same opinion somewhere or another. He’s fragile; 2 surgeries plus a third major injury that he rehabbed, all before turning 27. Writers (Boswell) who say we absolutely have to extend him before spring training i really have a disagreement with. Why? He’s signed through the end of 2013; what’s the rush? Personally, i want to see him play 150 games in 2012 before thinking about an extension.

    Todd Boss

    13 Jan 12 at 8:55 am

  17. […] be traded there’s not an awful lot of teams that would be interested.  See my post about the Prince Fielder market; maybe we could trade him to a team like Baltimore or Houston, but they’re not going to give […]

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