ST LOUIS, MO: Prince Fielder #28 of the Milwaukee Brewers gestures after he hit a double in the top of the fourth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Prince Fielder's the best free agent left, but darned if it's not really hard to figure out where he's going to sign, and for what kind of contract.
Coming into the offseason, there was a small handful of top-level position players on the free agent market. In truth, they were more than a handful, unless you have really big hands, but the quantity was limited. There was Jose Reyes. There was Albert Pujols. And there was Prince Fielder. Those were the big guys in an otherwise unremarkable pool.
Well, Reyes has been signed, and Pujols has been signed. There are still interesting and talented free agent position players left, like Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Beltran, but Fielder stands alone at the top, with his market seemingly slow to develop. Where's he going to land? What's the current status of the Prince Fielder sweepstakes?
The word is that Scott Boras is in the stage where he's eliminating various possibilities. That way, Boras will be left with a pool of what he considers to be serious suitors. We can try to do the same thing, going through everybody on a team-by-team basis. Let's give it a shot.
No. They just signed Pujols, and they have more than enough position players already, so they don't need to hoard.
No. Rebuilding, horrible.
No, because, A's.
Maybe! The Blue Jays have been considered a Fielder possibility from the get-go, although they are extremely reluctant to give long-term contracts.
No. I mean, there's a tiny possibility, I guess, but the Cardinals didn't offer enough to keep Pujols, and Fielder is no Pujols.
Maybe! The Cubs are rebuilding, but the Cubs have money and Fielder's young. Theo Epstein may not want to deal with long-term contracts, however.
No. Paul Goldschmidt! He's so exciting!
No. Fielder doesn't play enough middle infield positions. Also, money.
Maybe! The Mariners were cited as curious favorites for Fielder not too long ago, and they're involved, even though, like everybody else, they presumably aren't wild about a long, expensive contract.
Maybe! The Marlins say no, and they've spent a ton already, but apparently the Marlins can do whatever they want now and they could change their collective mind on a whim.
No. Haha, no. :(
Maybe! The Nationals say no, declaring that they're not interested in a big-money first baseman and would prefer pitching like Roy Oswalt instead, but the Nationals have money and could always re-emerge.
Maybe! The Orioles are always a maybe, until they are a no.
No. Ryan Howard, bitches!
Maybe! The Rangers have been talked about as a dark horse candidate for Fielder so often that I fail to see how they qualify as a dark horse anymore, and the fit is obviously there, but on the other hand reports have the Rangers as not being very interested, and Ken Rosenthal says that they don't have the money a lot of people think they do.
No. Adrian Gonzalez.
No. Joey Votto.
No. Todd Helton.
No. Eric Hosmer.
No. Miguel Cabrera.
No. Bunch of reasons.
No. Mark Teixeira.
Running down the list, here are our maybes:
That's seven teams. Healthy market. However, we can probably eliminate the Orioles. They could use a splash, and maybe Dan Duquette wants to do something huge, but I have to imagine they'd need to offer way more than anybody else just to twist Fielder's arm, and that isn't the sort of thing these Orioles ought to do. We can also probably eliminate the Marlins. They've thrown money around, but they've done so aggressively, and if they wanted Fielder, one suspects they would've made a push by now. What's left, if there's much left, might be saved for Yoenis Cespedes.
I want to say we can eliminate the Nationals as well, given their insistence that they prefer starting pitching. It could be a bluff, but they do have an expensive Adam LaRoche, and a less expensive and productive Michael Morse.
That would leave us with the Blue Jays, Cubs, Mariners and Rangers. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has denied that he'll spend big in free agency while the team is still developing, and the organization reportedly has a six-year limit on contracts. Cubs president Theo Epstein has said that he's focused on smaller deals, and previous reports said that any offer from the Cubs would be shorter, with a higher average annual value. The Mariners don't have that much in the way of payroll flexibility, barring an increased budget. And the Rangers might not have that much money. They've denied significant interest in Fielder before, and seem more focused on trading for a starting pitcher.
I was hoping this exercise would serve to clear things up. It didn't really clear things up. All of the potential contenders for Fielder's services have good reasons for not being strong contenders for Fielder's services, and so we're left to wonder. Might Fielder settle for, say, an expensive five-year contract such that he can enter free agency again before he's too old?
The Rangers still seem like the best possibility, to me, despite everything. I think the financial hurdles they're facing would make it more difficult to pursue Yu Darvish than Fielder, and it's an obvious fit. But I've been programmed to trust Ken Rosenthal's sources, and Ken Rosenthal's sources say that, at least for now, the Rangers aren't really involved.
So we'll see. Fielder and Boras are not going to hold out too much longer. Fielder will sign this month. Because he has Boras, one's assumption is that Fielder will get something like the contract he's been seeking. But when you look at the suitors, I don't know, maybe not. This is a difficult market to figure out. I can't predict Fielder's contract, and I can't predict his destination.