LOS ANGELES, CA - Prince Fielder #28 of the Milwaukee Brewers reacts as he beats out a throw for an infield single against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the fifth inning at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
The Baltimore Orioles might be interested in Prince Fielder. Does this make any sense to anyone?
I'd like to picture Scott Boras in a room with the shutters drawn, staring at an old rotary phone. Just staring. Projecting his dark energy into the phone, down into the wires, and out into the world. Maybe he focuses on a specific name; maybe the energy just knows where to go.
And while Dan Duquette or Peter Angelos are sitting down for breakfast, they suddenly spit out their scone and say aloud, "By Jove, why aren't we in on this Prince Fielder action?" The hardest part for Boras is acting surprised when he gets the phone call.
That's not how it happens, though. If the Orioles really are interested in Prince Fielder, it's a strategy that's been debated and discussed, reviewed and ruminated on. Of course, this is the Orioles we're talking about, so that doesn't mean that the right decision will be reached, but it's not like Angelos had a a vision that Fielder came unto them on a flaming pie and then ordered the Orioles to pursue the slugger suddenly.
Which brings us to the question posed in the headline: What in the heck do the Orioles want with Prince Fielder?
The answer, and I'm just spitballing here: Probably to get better. Wait, wait. Hear me out.
Fielder takes a lot of guff for being shaped like something out of the Disney Alice in Wonderland cartoon, and it's a legitimate concern. He's … fluffy, to put it diplomatically. There should be concerns over his durability. It's hard to imagine a 40-year-old Fielder scampering out to first base, fit as a fiddle.
But there's a difference between a "legitimate concern" and something that should completely obscure Prince Fielder's long-term potential. He's still just 27 -- because he had immediate success as a young major leaguer, it's easy to forget just how young he is. If Fielder gets a seven-year deal, he'd be 34 by the end of it. When is he supposed to turn into a fiery mess of bone, cartilage, and blubber? When he's 30? 31? 32? Even Mo Vaughn made it to 32, and he didn't necessarily crumble because of his girth -- a rogue dugout was the culprit there.
It's completely reasonable to think that Fielder is the kind of free agent that is good for any team. Win now? Of course Fielder helps. He'd help every team. Win later? The ultimate example of a rags-to-riches team are the 2006 Tigers, who made the World Series three years after losing 119 games -- that's 26 games worse than the 2011 Orioles.
Using the '03 Tigers as a yardstick, it's fair to think that any time, anywhere, no matter how bereft they are of talent and direction, can get from worst to first in a three- or four-year stretch. In three or four years, Fielder should still be very, very good. He could collapse. He could go the way of Adam Dunn for whatever reason. But that's not exceptionally likely. He should be Prince Fielder for a while yet.
And Fielder would represent the Orioles getting better. Substantially better. Fielder by himself isn't going to bring the Orioles over .500, even, but he'd be a substantial upgrade to the roster. He'd be one more piece. Matt Wieters or Adam Jones getting substantially better; Manny Machado erupting on the scene; some of the previously exciting young pitchers reaching their potential -- all of these things can add up to an interesting Orioles team that would have the luxury of Fielder already being around to help. In the meantime, he'd be a gate attraction -- something that would sell tickets, if not jeans.
This isn't to say that the Orioles are a team on the rise, that their future is bright, gotta wear shades, look out world. The counter-argument is just obvious: The Baltimore Orioles. Not going to compete with that one. But the same argument could have been made for the Tigers for most of the '90s and early '00s. And when they signed Magglio Ordonez to a huge deal, a lot of folks asked the same question: why? Why would the Tigers -- a 90-loss team in their good years -- get a win-now player in his 30s? Seemed like a waste of money. Then prospects developed, more productive veterans came on board, and the Tigers weren't the Tigers anymore.
That could happen to the Orioles. I mean, it could. Technically. They still have that minor issue of playing in the same division as the two richest teams in the game and two of the smartest, whereas the Tigers left the AL East at just about the perfect time.
But don't think that it would be totally insane for the Orioles to pursue Fielder. The Orioles are bad because they don't have enough good players. They should acquire more good players. This Fielder fella is a good player, and he should be for a few years yet. The Orioles acquiring Fielder would fit with that whole "acquire good players" strategy.
See? This baseball stuff is easy.