The thin market for big Prince Fielder: where will he end up?

Nick PoustCorrespondent IIDecember 28, 2011

Prince Fielder, one of the game's best power hitters, is still without a team. (Photo: Reuters/Jeff Haynes)

Prince Fielder, in the heart of his prime and equipped with one of baseball’s most dangerous bats, is without a team and without many suitors. He is just 27 years old and hit .299 with 38 homers and 120 rbi’s last season in leading the Milwaukee Brewers to the postseason. He is one of only four players in history to have 200 or more homers by age 27, joining Jimmie Foxx, Orlando Cepeda, and Harmon Killebrew. He has 230 in seven years with the Brewers.

Given his success, he should have his fair share of suitors with lengthy and lucrative contracts for his choosing. That is not the case.

The big markets haven’t expressed interest for the simple reason that they already have more than respectable options at his first-base position. So where does he go from here?

The Boston Red Sox have Adrian Gonzalez at first base and aren’t about to shell out $200-plus million for a DH. The New York Yankees are, whether they like it or not, unable to go after Fielder due to the length of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez’s contracts and the price tag attached. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim just signed Albert Pujols to a gigantic deal and have no means or desire to get Fielder too. The Chicago Cubs is the only appealing team that has the resources and the positional need, but under General Manager Theo Epstein they are looking to rebuild. Even if they weren’t, with the disastrous contracts they have handed out to Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano, It’s hard to believe they would be in the mood to make another such investment.

Fielder is good enough to throw Pujols-money at, though. However, it isn’t likely that he will go to a good team or get the contract his performance warrants. His weight, which is near 300 pounds, is of great concern in the longterm, despite his vegetarian habits, but that is the only negative. He is as strong and powerful as anyone who has played this grand game of baseball. He hits for a high average. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves defensively at first base. And all indications are that he is an enjoyable teammate. That player, it seems, appears headed to a team that would only have a chance at succeeding with him in the fold.

Which team, then? The Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, and Washington Nationals are interested, though their degrees of interest are not necessarily known. These four teams combined to go 297-350 last season, with none posting a winning record. Either of the former two teams would be considerably strengthened by his signing, but would still have a tough time overtaking the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in the American League East. Similarly, the Mariners would have difficulty keeping pace with the Angels and Texas Rangers in the American League West, while the Nationals, even with Fielder and a excellent pitching staff, would have trouble competing with the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, and Florida Marlins in the National League East.

His being a Scott Boras client only helps his situation, but that the news surrounding such a star free-agent with such a high-profile agent is so slow is surprising and worrisome. There were reports that he would consider signing a three-year deal worth $26 million annually and then get a Pujols-type contract at age 30. Boras strongly refuted this notion. “Not only is that inaccurate and delusional, but it seems that some people have gotten into their New Year’s Eve stash just a little bit early this year,” he told on Tuesday.

This means that at least a seven-year commitment, and very likely more, is necessary to sign Fielder. The dilemma this investment, and others like it around baseball, poses is all that is wrong with the finances of baseball. There is too much money in sports, particularly this one. As much as $254 million has been spent on a single player. And no matter the talent of that player–in this case, Pujols–there is the great likelihood of the amount ultimately handcuffing the team and hurting its ability to make future  moves. Fielder, no matter which team he signs with, will take up a large portion of the payroll. This would especially be the case if he went to one of the four aforementioned interested parties, and there is nothing that can be done to stop the financial growth of baseball or the ramifications that result.

Taking these longterm risks is unfortunately part of the game, and it is one of the reasons why free-agency has taken away much of what made baseball so great prior to its inception in 1975. Players move around, aren’t loyal, and don’t intend to form career-long relationships with teams, teammates, and fans. When a player remains with a team for more than 10 years it is a rarity. And that most often happens, ironically, through free-agency decisions like the Angels with Pujols.

Taking the most money is of course behind all of the movement. Milwaukee should have the best crack at signing him, and his former team should be very appealing to him given its recent success. The Brewers aren’t, though; the team isn’t even in the running. What has taken place suspected is largely Boras’s doing. Gauging the market for his clients is his job, even if it means waiting into the new year for a new team. Selling a client’s services, touting him up, and trying to start a bidding war is his specialty. That is the objective in this day and age, and there is no such thing as allegiance or a discount.

Due to this, what is left is a minimalist group of suitors for an extraordinary hitter. The Orioles have been aggressive in years past in pursuit of power hitters, notably Mark Teixeira, and if their interest is genuine the fit is a sensible one. They don’t have a promising first-baseman waiting in the wings, and they have improved in recent years. The Nationals are in the same boat in regards to aggressiveness, need, and improvement. The Blue Jays aren’t usually after the top-tier stars but they manage to remain in the hunt. And the Seattle Mariners need all the offense they can get to adequately support Felix Hernandez and Michael Piñeda atop the rotation. Not the usual list of suitors for the talent Fielder possesses.

There is no telling where he will end up. Boras will surely take his time, waiting for either the slim market to grow or for one of Fielder current suitors to prove in dollars how much he would mean to the franchise. For now, the waiting game continues, with no conclusion in sight.