Prince Fielder Free Agent News: Every Team's Odds of Last-Second Signing
Prince Fielder can't hold out much longer. Even for the best free agent in MLB right now, the inflection point, at which the benefit of waiting out teams like the Washington Nationals and Texas Rangers is outweighed by the cost of lost leverage with spring training closing in, is close at hand. Scott Boras knows that as well as anyone.
For that reason, it should happen this week that the long-time Milwaukee Brewers slugger will don the colors of his next team (or, although it's a long shot at best, reclaim the Brewers' blue and gold). The windows are closing, and these are the final odds: Read on for the chance each of MLB's 30 teams wins the race for Fielder's rights.
Arizona Diamondbacks: No Line
It would be more sporting, I suppose, to mete out one-in-a-million shots to each of the 20 or so teams that are utterly beyond the scope of the Fielder sweepstakes, but good odds-makers never lay those odds. Moreover, it makes the math for everyone who is really in on Fielder a pain in the neck.
The Diamondbacks do not need Prince Fielder. They are the NL West favorites at this moment as it is. They have a good deal of faith in rookie first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, they recently invested quite a bit in left-handed slugger Jason Kubel and their payroll budget will hardly allow for the one addition they still should make, a back-end starting pitcher.
Atlanta Braves: No Line
Atlanta's commitment to Rookie of the Year runner-up Freddie Freeman stands in the way of any potential deal with Fielder, but Freeman need not be a roadblock, really.
Freeman swatted 21 home runs in 635 plate appearances in 2011, which is very respectable. He posted a .794 OPS, which is hardly inspiring, but was certainly not bad given that he played in Turner Field and that the 2011 season favored pitchers.
At 21 years of age, that season is not a red flag, per se. Freeman, however, is not considered to have a much higher ceiling than that. He never hit 20 homers in any minor-league season, and his pure hitting ability and plate approach do not combine to make that mediocre first-base power more viable. The almost unavoidable comp is Adam LaRoche, hardly an impact player.
It's not Freeman, then, but Liberty that stands in the way of a Fielder signing. Liberty Media is hands-off and rather rigid in its running of the Braves, giving them a budget and refusing to budge. There is no way GM Frank Wren could get clearance to spend the way someone will have to spend in order to land Fielder.
Baltimore Orioles: 97-to-3
Every winter, a free agent lingers on the market a week or two too long, and someone gets to musing about the Baltimore Orioles as a dark-horse candidate. There's a perfectly good reason for that: Owner Peter Angelos is rich, and the team usually has a small payroll. There is always room for upward mobility if the front office feels the iron is hot and gets clearance to strike.
That is not the case right now, though, and it hardly ever is. Fielder would be an anchor around whom to build in Baltimore, and the Orioles could use such a player, but they need a younger, cheaper one. Even if rebuilding goes precisely to plan, Baltimore is three years away from contending for anything, so paying Fielder $20 million-plus for those interceding seasons would be a major expenditure for very little utility. Look for Dan Duquette to roll a lot of money into scouting and player development instead.
In the meantime, look for Nick Markakis to get expanded time at first base. Despite a sharp drop-off in production last season (even after accounting for the overall downward trend of offense), Markakis is the team's top offensive threat, and he got three spot starts in 2011. His defensive decline in right field the past three seasons could accelerate a move to the infield.
Boston Red Sox: No Line
Any scenario one could construct that would bring Fielder to Boston would make all of one's friends laugh riotously. It would have to involve moving Adrian Gonzalez to left field, shifting Carl Crawford to right and playing that way every day. Oh, and the middle of the Red Sox's batting order would go Fielder-Gonzalez-David Ortiz, all three of whom are left-handed.
You didn't come here for the snark, though. You came for the trivia. So here it is: Fielder, Gonzalez and Ortiz finished sixth, eighth and ninth in adjusted OPS+, or park-adjusted offensive production relative to their league, in 2011. Though two teammates finishing top-10 in that category is routine, no one since the 2004 St. Louis Cardinals have actually put together three of the game's top 10 batters. Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen finished second, third and ninth, respectively, that year.
Chicago Cubs: No Line
New Cubs manager Dale Sveum came to his shiny new gig by way of Milwaukee, where he was Fielder's hitting coach. The two are close, and if there were any hope that the Cubs would get involved with Fielder, Sveum's hiring provided it.
As it turned out, no such hope ever existed. Sveum told reporters Saturday that a Fielder deal "just isn't going to happen" for the Cubs. That's no surprise: The team has spent the winter unloading and rebuilding and acquired what they hope is a future first baseman in the person of Anthony Rizzo earlier this month. Fielder would have been superfluous, and as in Baltimore, an unnecessary expense.
Chicago White Sox: No Line
Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn play for the Chicago White Sox, but technically, that does not preclude Fielder's signing with the White Sox. Dunn, after all, has played over 1,100 games in the outfield in his career, and Konerko, you know, tried out third base in the 1990s.
Kenny Williams insists the Sox are rebuilding anyway, but given his understanding of the significance of that term, that need not stop Chicago from pursuing Fielder, either.
What might hold them back, of course, is that Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn make a combined $27 million per year and that Dunn flopped in nearly unprecedented fashion last season. What might hold them back is that they employed a strange gambit last winter and made a desperate run for the playoffs while spending far beyond their means, and that said gambit was an even more nearly unprecedented flop.
What will, lastly, hold them back, is that Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn play for the Chicago White Sox.
Cincinnati Reds: No Line
The Reds solved one logjam problem when they dealt Yonder Alonso to the Padres last month for Mat Latos. They do not have money, they do have an MVP first baseman already in Joey Votto and they need to add a left fielder, not a first baseman of any stripe.
Fielder, for the record, is a .323/.422/.581 career hitter at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, with 11 home runs and 34 RBI in 223 plate appearances. He's a career .298/.424/.579 career batter at Wrigley Field, with 11 home runs and 34 RBI in 224 plate appearances. Weird, right?
Cleveland Indians: 99-to-1
The ability to occasionally DH Fielder and move Carlos Santana out from behind the plate might appeal to the Tribe. They need to add punch to the lineup anyway, and first base is the obvious hole.
That said, the lack of a right-handed bat of consequence on staff at the moment means Derrek Lee is the best fit for the team. Even if they wanted Fielder badly, they likely could not afford him, but that team is another in a laundry list of clubs that has artificially suppressed its own payroll a bit over the past decade.
Room could be made, but opportunity to balance the lineup and the ledger will prove too alluring to pass up for Cleveland. Expect Lee, not Fielder, to land there.
Colorado Rockies: No Line
With major investments sunk into both Todd Helton and Michael Cuddyer, the one-dimensional bat budget in Denver is pretty well blown. Fielder is miles better than either right now, of course, but both are irrevocably on the Rockies' books.
Fielder would put up massive numbers in Coors Field, but that would only artificially magnify his value, not actually augment it. It's a budgetary and logistical non-starter idea.
Incidentally, how clever is the system Jason Giambi and Todd Helton have worked out together? They clearly plan to play into their mid-40s by spelling one another and putting up better numbers than they deserve in the thin air of Colorado while simultaneously dodging the Hall of Fame ballot until the whole steroids thing blows over. I see you, guys.
Detroit Tigers: No Line
Miguel Cabrera probably would not appreciate the competition from Fielder at first base, so the proper place for the humongous slugger would have to be DH. Unfortunately, since the emergence of catcher Alex Avila, Victor Martinez has permanently assigned himself to that role, so unless Cabrera is ready to put on his old third baseman's mitt again, this is not going to happen. That means it's not going to happen. Don't get any ideas.
Fielder and Cabrera make a fascinating pair, by the way. Though Cabrera is only 13 months older, he has fully two more seasons of experience under his belt. Two years ago, Cabrera entered the 2010 season as a career .311/.383/.542 hitter with 209 home runs in 4,441 plate appearances. That OPS was good for 41 percent better than league average. Fielder enters 2012 as a .282/.390/.540 career hitter (43 percent better than his fellows) with 230 home runs in 4,210 plate appearances.
Fielder does not pose the sort of character/makeup issues Cabrera does. In fact, Fielder has been a model clubhouse guy the past few years. He's a better hitter, a left-handed hitter, a first baseman of equal defensive value to Cabrera (none) and a younger man. Not to go all Scott Boras Binder on you, but why in hell has no one paid this man $200 million yet?
By the way, remember that Fielder is currently two years behind Cabrera's career path, because Cabrera has two on-base titles, a batting title and an 1.038 OPS since the start of 2010.
Houston Astros: 99-to-1
New ownership, a new GM and a firm commitment to rebuilding should make the former Colt .45s sufficiently gun-shy as to pass on Fielder. The idea, though, would be the same as the idea in Chicago or in Baltimore, and it makes slightly more sense in Houston.
Fielder would immediately change that offense. He loves to hit in Houston, as his .325/.404/.627 career batting line there suggests. The caveat to that is that he has always faced the Astros pitching staff, which has been generally shoddy and almost exclusively homer-prone during his time in MLB.
Still, Fielder hit both his longest and his shortest home run of 2011 in Houston, and clearly feels good in the batter's box there. Fifty home runs would be within reach every season for Fielder in Houston. That park may as well have been built for him.
Kansas City Royals: No Line
In a strange, quirky deal, I have the Royals dealing Billy Butler to the New York Yankees before the winter is out for Phil Hughes and a prospect of some consequence, but not one of the team's top two guys. That would open the theoretical wormhole for Fielder.
Even that notion is far-fetched, though, and still, it wouldn't bring Fielder to Kansas City. Eric Hosmer is one of the best young hitters in the game, so he isn't moving off first base, and Fielder's asking price is too high a price to pay a DH. The Royals still project to start Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen in 2012, too, so they have more pressing needs.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: No Line
Throughout the winter, nearly every team has made clear that they prefer Albert Pujols to Prince Fielder, even as an investment. That's a wrong-headed idea, but nearly everyone shared it, or seemed to share it.
Still, there might have been equivocation all the way up through the end of the Winter Meetings. The Angels had a hole at first base, big money to spend and a decision to make, and they chose Pujols. They will pay him no less than $240 million over the next 10 years, and may well end up wishing they had signed Fielder for 80 percent that cost, but for now, no, there is no chance the Angels will also sign Prince Fielder.
Los Angeles Dodgers: 19-to-1
James Loney has been worth fewer wins in his six-year career than Prince Fielder was worth in 2011 alone. That's some very fine motivation for the Dodgers to take an interest in Fielder. The notion of pairing Fielder with Matt Kemp in the heart of the batting order is motivation enough to nearly force the Dodgers' hand.
Nearly. With the cloud of a sloppy, messy ownership situation hanging over their winter, the Dodgers simply will not be able to pull off a deal like this. It's not feasible from a fiscal or from a logistical perspective.
Of course, it need not be so. The logistics are what they are and would be messy in any event, as MLB closely oversees the Dodgers' activities. Still, Fielder will end up making something like $22 million per year on whatever deal he signs. The Dodgers, meanwhile, will pay Juan Rivera, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Jerry Hairston, Tony Gwynn, Adam Kennedy and Mike MacDougal $15 million between them.
Miami Marlins: 49-to-1
If Miami had been serious about Fielder, it would have happened long ago. This was a front office armed with some spending cash, one that sought to make impact moves in a flurry as a sort of statement. They made their statement when they got Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell last month. Now the bank statement is due, and with huge checks already outstanding, the Marlins likely have the money for about half of Prince Fielder.
Even if they could afford Fielder, though, it's clear they wanted Albert Pujols, and failing that, are willing to go into 2012 with Gaby Sanchez at first base. Trading Sanchez after a Fielder deal would be tricky anyway, so this once-viable landing spot is virtually dead in the water for Fielder.
Milwaukee Brewers: 97-to-3
Prince Fielder is out the door in Milwaukee. It's over. The team has replaced his salary in three or four spots. They signed Alex Gonzalez to play shortstop and Aramis Ramirez to man third base. They offered arbitration to reliever Francisco Rodriguez, who accepted, saddling the team with $12 million or so of extra 2012 salary.
The Brewers are completely out of the hunt, and yet, one can't help but think they have a shooter's chance. If owner Mark Attanasio were to approve one year's inflation of the payroll to unprecedented (and admittedly unsustainable) levels, the Brewers could keep Fielder and make a very serious run at the NL pennant.
It's unlikely, of course, but there's no denying that theoretical Brewers team would be the best in franchise history.
Here's a wild hare of an idea: If Ryan Braun loses popularity in Milwaukee after his pending PED-related suspension, the Brewers could trade him (for a loony, utterly unprecedented return) and re-sign Fielder as the cornerstone of their franchise.
Minnesota Twins: No Line
Target Field is a gorgeous facility, and the Twins' recent success (2011 notwithstanding) has allowed them to monetize it. They can afford to run, if not a nine-figure payroll, then something very like it. They are no longer the crippled team living on MLB life-support that we knew at the dawn of the new millennium.
That said, the Twins' hands are tied when it comes to Fielder. For the next seven seasons, Joe Mauer is locked in as the team's payroll anchor. He will receive $23 million per season over that span. Meanwhile, injuries threaten to force Mauer to first base, third base, DH or a corner outfield spot. It's very possible that between Mauer and Justin Morneau, the Twins will not only be unable to find the money for Fielder, but unable to find a position for him.
New York Mets: No Line
Ike Davis was having a heck of a sophomore start in 2011 before his season ended due to an ankle injury and subsequent setbacks. He is a slugger with 30-homer power at the high end and has a decent pure swing to match.
Ike Davis isn't the obstacle to Prince Fielder joining the New York Mets, though. The obstacle is money. Despite playing in, you know, New York, and despite having a lovely new ballpark to call home, the Mets are in serious financial trouble. The Wilpons have run their most famous holdings into the ground, and this is going to be a problem for the Mets for a few years yet.
New York Yankees: 49-to-1
It's not impossible. That's the really wild thing. For all the perfectly good reasons it will not happen, it's not impossible that the Yankees might have dealt Jesus Montero with the idea of signing Fielder in Montero's place already in the backs of their minds.
Fielder certainly would beef up the Yankee lineup. He would be a younger (and probably better) positional free agent than the team has signed in years. Alex Rodriguez might need to DH more as Fielder's deal progresses, though, and that would make it very tough to fit Fielder, Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira into one lineup. On top of that, money is a problem here. The Yankees are operating on a budget, however roomy, and there may not be room for Fielder.
Oakland Athletics: No Line
It would be tough to find a more comfortable move for Fielder than to Oakland, at least from one perspective. After spending the enormous majority of his professional career playing alongside Rickie Weeks, a move to the A's would mean years of playing alongside Rickie's younger brother, Jemile. Besides being brothers, the two are both good athletes with lightning-fast bats.
When that kind of soft factor is the best reason for Fielder to consider a team, though, that team is out of the running. Billy Beane and company have just completed a fire sale, do not plan to compete in 2012 and are focused on the question of whether and when they can move into a new ballpark, preferably in San Jose. Their budget remains tight, and Fielder would present little utility for that reason.
Philadelphia Phillies: No Line
Ryan Howard is hurt, but since his already-ugly five-year, $125-million contract with the Phillies does not even start until this season, replacing him with a big name like Fielder would be a foolhardy move. John Mayberry, Jim Thome and Ty Wigginton should cut the mustard for whatever period Howard misses in 2012.
Fielder is way out of Philly's range, not least because the team is already at the very edge of paying a hefty luxury tax on their excess salary outlays. He's a good investment, but the Phillies are the wrong fit.
Pittsburgh Pirates: No Line
At this moment, the Pirates have committed fewer than $24 million to their 2012 payroll. That figure should look familiar, because Albert Pujols alone will earn over $24 million per year on his new deal in Anaheim.
It's also the true market value of Prince Fielder, but it seems wildly unlikely.Fielder will get so much. Still, his salary would virtually double the Pirates' payroll overnight, and they are hardly a single piece away from winning anyway.
San Diego Padres: No Line
At the outset of the offseason, the Padres' disinterest in Fielder was mostly due to their faith in Anthony Rizzo at first base. Now, it's mostly due to their faith in Yonder Alonso, whom they acquired in December's Mat Latos blockbuster. They dealt Rizzo to the Chicago Cubs earlier this month.
Of course, it also comes down to money. The Padres' ownership situation is an added problem, as MLB owners voted down the sale of the team to Jeff Moorad at last week's quarterly meetings. It's not like the team would suddenly have the money to sign Fielder if Moorad took over, but with the team in transition, virtually ANY major addition becomes unlikely.
San Francisco Giants: 49-to-1
First base is one position at which the Giants have some depth, including Aubrey Huff and Brandon Belt. It might also behoove them to keep first base open for Buster Posey, even if he need play there only once or twice a week.
That said, Belt can play a corner outfield spot, Huff is not an impact player and Posey is best if he can play catcher at least the majority of the time. The Giants never did make anything resembling an impact addition this winter, so they should have some money available.
Tim Lincecum could complicate matters. He and Matt Cain present pressing cases for major extensions and should get huge raises this winter regardless of whether those deals come to fruition. The Giants have gone too long without an elite slugger, though, and need to find offense somewhere if they want to win again soon.
Seattle Mariners: 9-to-1
Seattle is a mid-market team with a rich owner. They have already expressed interest in Fielder, which makes sense. It's not as though Jesus Montero solves all the Mariners' offensive problems.
Imagine, though, if their lineup led off with Ichiro Suzuki, Dustin Ackley, Montero and Fielder. Combined with a rotation led by Felix Hernandez and (coming soon) Danny Hultzen, that would be a lot of star power, and potentially a competitive and compelling team. It's not especially likely, but it can't be dismissed, either.
St. Louis Cardinals: No Line
Even with Allen Craig working his way back from injury, the Cards lack the versatility to make Fielder fit on their team. They made savvy moves after watching Albert Pujols walk and will go into 2012 with Lance Berkman at first base and Carlos Beltran in right field.
Unfortunately, Beltran's knees are a bit too shaky for him to patrol center field anymore, which pins Berkman at first base and blocks any relationship from developing between Fielder and the Cardinals. Of course, if the team could not pony up enough to keep Pujols, they were never going to replace him with Fielder.
Tampa Bay Rays: No Line
No competitive team needs a first baseman anywhere near as badly as the Rays. Ben Zobrist is listed there on their current depth chart, but he would be massively wasted by that switch.
Unfortunately, Tampa has (as usual) no money. Carlos Pena could be on the radar; so could last year's solution, Casey Kotchman. They're only one impact player away from being the league's best team by some margin, but the inequities of the MLB economy will not allow them to pull it off.
Texas Rangers: 11-to-9
Mitch Moreland is not much of an asset to the Rangers at first base. That's the one real hole in their lineup. Texas would surely love to use Michael Young and Mike Napoli periodically there, but their courtship of Fielder seems to have gone stunningly well so far. In addition to balancing an excessively right-handed lineup, Fielder would make Texas the most potent offense in baseball.
Toronto Blue Jays: 49-to-1
Toronto should have the money to make a huge signing like this one now and then, and Alex Anthopoulos is (generally) very aggressive.
For whatever reason, though, the sudden rage and fury with which baseball people have been waiting for the Jays to hit the open player market has never developed. Anthopoulos seems to content to follow ownership directives to keep payroll in line until fans show up at Rogers Centre in greater numbers, and with greater enthusiasm.
This is one of the delightful teams to watch anywhere in the league, but they're a solid stride behind the three-headed monster atop the AL East, and because of the organizational philosophy in place, they are very unlikely to use Fielder to fill a hole that (frankly) ranks down the list of their flaws. Starting pitching is likely to be a higher priority.
Washington Nationals: 19-to-6
Along with Texas, the Nationals are a finalist for Fielder. They should be able to make a very fair financial offer, plus the promise of lineup support in the persons of Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos and (soon) Bryce Harper. Already becoming one of the most talked-about teams in the league, Washington could become one of the best in the NL with this move.
Matt Trueblood is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist on MLB, and a Loyola University Chicago graduate with a degree in journalism.