I’m sure Prince Fielder and Scott Boras didn’t expect it to be like this in January. Fielder is a legitimate star, one of the best players in this free agent class and certainly the best still available. But… the only rumors that we seem to hear are rumblings or confirmations of who isn’t going after him. Fielder was and is in a somewhat uncomfortable position for a free agent: he needs to find a team that needs a first baseman or DH that can also afford $25 million or so per year to add a piece. But that’s not all – he needs to find the second such club, because the first one already signed Albert Pujols.
Though this offseason is notable for the inactivity of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, those probably weren’t clubs that would have been looking for a big money 1B/DH anyway. Still, as of October there were still more than a handful of clubs that I would have figured Fielder fit well. All of those seem to have fallen through for different reasons, well I suppose one primary reason. The Cardinals, after losing Pujols, filled the void with Carlos Beltran instead of Fielder. The Cubs, a small park – large market team with a vacancy at first, looks to be going into a full-fledged rebuilding mode. Presumably their new GM didn’t like the foundation and decided to tear the whole place down. It appears they’ll be filling that first base void with a prospect they just got from the Padres – not Prince Fielder. The Brewers – who were probably never going to be willing to do more than 6 years for $90 million – signed Aramis Ramirez and look to be completely tapped out. The Mariners and Giants could really use Fielder – or anybody with some power – but both plead poverty. We see a similar scenario in Texas – a playoff team pressured from below with one real weakness (first base) that can’t or won’t spend the money on it.
There always seems to be at least one guy like this in every free agent class. It could be a case of misjudging the market, of asking for too much or simply of finding oneself in unfortunate circumstances. Ultimately one of two things has to happen – either he’ll settle for a one year deal to try again next offseason (like Ryan Madson) or he’ll wind up signing in a place and for terms he’s not entirely enthusiastic about. There has to be somebody out there who would have liked to spend money on somebody else, but got snubbed. A team that free agents simply don’t want to sign with. Or an owner who sees the price tag on a star dropping and pounces. In years past that was often the Tigers, signing players like Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Johnny Damon and Jose Valverde when other suitors dropped out. Last year, and perhaps this year as well, that role belongs to the Washington Nationals – a team that has been making huge offers to everybody under the sun in recent years and finding no takers. The Nats claim to have little interest in Fielder – content to go through 2012 with Adam LaRoche at first – and no interest in spending the kind of money he would require. Could be the gospel truth, or it could be that their management realizes that they’re really his only option at this point and are waiting for that price tag to fall. Or maybe Fielder will wind up signing a one-year deal to try again next year, and I’m sure a lot of the contenders that aren’t willing to stretch their budget for an 8, 9 or 10 year deal would leap at the opportunity to pay him $27 million for a single season.
I find this all a little sad – because I’d really love to see Prince Fielder in the Motor City again (and yes, I know he was pretty little when he was here before). Aside from the bombs, the thing Fielder does spectacularly well is walk and getting on base in front of Miguel Cabrera is something no Tiger seems to be able to reliably do. Of course, the Detroit Tigers are probably the last team (despite Illitch’s enthusiasm for the homeless star) to go after Fielder. First base is locked up, DH is locked up and Dave Dombrowski may really mean it when he talks about his 2 x $20 million golden rule.
Still, I could imagine it looking differently. Go back about 15 months and imagine that somehow the Tigers missed out on Victor Martinez. Lets say he stayed in Boston, what the heck. Imagine that the Tigers made that same foolish move, signing Magglio for another year at $10 million – but to DH instead of play right field. In the outfield, perhaps they were content to give left to Raburn and platoon Boesch and Wells in right. If things had gone that way – and I don’t mean to imply that I regret the Martinez signing – the Tigers would probably have entered this offseason with Delmon Young as the default DH for 2012 and by mid January Prince Fielder would start to look awfully appealing. After hearing ‘Go Away’ often enough from the Mariners and Nationals, Scott Boras would no doubt be calling Mike Illitch at home to extol the virtues of Prince Fielder – and maybe even accepting the 7 years and $150 million that he’s worth rather than the $250 million he’s been demanding.
And as good as Victor Martinez is – wouldn’t an offense with Cabrera and Fielder be something? 2011 Fielder was about as much better than 2011 VMart as 2011mVMart was better than 2011 Johnny Damon.