MLB Free Agency: Why Nationals Haven't Pulled the Trigger on Prince Fielder Deal
"The Nationals look like Prince Fielder favorites"—The Washington Post, Nationals Journal
"Nationals still in on Prince Fielder, meet with Agent Scott Boras about him"—AOL Sporting News
Ever since the calendar turned to 2012, headlines like these have done nothing but clutter the web and newspapers everywhere. From business dailies and local papers, to national news and debate forums, the Prince Fielder to the Washington Nationals rumors are everywhere.
In the past month, there have been pieces citing the Nationals and the will they or won't they saga of signing the second-best free agent and best available in this year's class. Several teams such as the Cubs, Mariners, Blue Jays and Rangers have expressed interest in possibly signing Fielder. But the Nationals, as rumor has it, are the front-runners.
Despite all of the talk around Fielder, the biggest question has yet to be answered: where is he going to play in 2012? Surprising to many around baseball, no one knows the answer. It has taken longer for Fielder to find a destination than many expected and it is possible that it might take even longer.
Even though Washington is supposedly the favorite to sign him, they haven't yet. With a guy as powerful and productive as Fielder, people are baffled that he is still on the market. And better yet, that the Nationals haven't inked him to a contract.
He Is Asking for More Than They Are Willing to Pay
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There are many possible reasons why the Nationals may not have signed Prince Fielder and one of the biggest is the money.
After just signing Jayson Werth to a blockbuster deal last year, the Nationals might want to watch their spending. Now it is unfair to evaluate a player in the first year of his contract, but Werth was by no means the million dollar man they overpaid him to be.
With thoughts of this deal in the back of their minds, the Nationals might be a little more cautious when looking at the money that Fielder is asking for.
Although Agent Scott Boras has not expressed this in so many words, it is likely that he is looking for his client to receive a deal somewhere in the range of the contract Albert Pujols received, in both the years and money. Talent-wise, the belief is that Fielder is worth as much as Pujols but fitness-wise, it is still up in the air.
Pujols is not only a better defensive player but he has had a career marked with consistently above-average performances. Prince may be younger, but Pujols is in better shape and at this point considering that he is on an AL team, with the potential to be a DH, it seems that he is more likely to live up to a long-term deal and the $240M invested in it.
The Nationals are able to afford a massive contract for Fielder, but the real question is: are they willing to take the risk an eight to ten year deal could impose? If the answer is yes, it is likely "Fielder to the Nationals" will be more than just a rumor in the near future.
Signing Him to a Long-Term Deal Could Be Risky
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As I touched on in the last slide, it is more than just the money that might be scaring the Nationals and other teams away from the Prince Fielder sweepstakes.
It is very likely that the reason a contract has not been agreed upon yet is that the Nationals are not willing to take the risk signing Prince to an eight to ten year contract could cause.
Prince may very well be worth over $200M but the way his body is, it isn't a sure thing that he will still be able to play first base during the back three or four years of a long-term deal. And with a National League contract, the Nationals aren't going to sign him for that many years unless they can ensure he'll be able to play first for the entire time he wears the uniform. No team can be sure of that though, and that is why a long contract is extremely risky.
Even Albert Pujols probably wasn't worth ten years in an NL uniform. But as an Angel, if his first-base abilities ever decline so much that he can't play the position, he can always DH. If Fielder declines to that point, the Nationals really have no other options for him other than a pinch hitter off the bench. I can guarantee you though that no team is going to pay $200M for a pinch hitter off the bench.
It is likely that the Nationals are not looking at Albert Pujols but rather at the contract of another superstar first baseman, Ryan Howard, when gauging what to offer Fielder. Just like Fielder, Howard is a power-hitting first baseman. Fielder is a better contact and average hitter and is right on par, if not better, than Howard when it comes to power. Surely he is worth more then the $125M over five years, the Phillies gave Howard, right? Wrong.
Fielder might think he is worth more and realistically may very well be, but the crux of the matter is if the Nationals think he is worth more and if they are willing to put out the money and years needed to land him.
Personally, I don't think they do. I think they are well too aware of the risk in signing a big name. Besides looking at Howard's gradual decline, the Nationals have got a seven-year deal for Jayson Werth to think about before they go and spend big on another possible late end of a contract bust in Fielder.
His Agent Is Scott Boras
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Hearing that Scott Boras is representing the free agent you are attempting to sign, isn't exactly what general managers and owners like to hear. In fact, it is often something that will have teams and their fans already knowing if a potential to get a deal done even exists.
The Nationals have had their fair share of dealing with Boras and it seems safe to say that Boras and his client have come out on top each time. Not only did Scott represent Werth when the Nationals inked him to a seven-year, $126M deal, but he also represented the Nats back-to-back first-round draft picks in Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, pictured above.
Considering their track record with Boras, the Nats know full well how he operates. Boras wants $200M plus eight to ten years for his client, and it is likely he won't rest until some team ponies up for the big payday.
Since Pujols signed the deal of the century without Boras as his agent, Scott will not want to be outdone. He is going to look for the Nationals or any other team for that matter to give Prince a deal close to if not exceeding Pujols'.
It isn't outrageous to suggest that Boras' demands might be one of the potential reasons that a deal hasn't been made yet. It also wouldn't be outrageous to suggest that if the demands remain that high, that Fielder could start spring training without a job.
They Already Have a First Baseman
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The Nationals currently have two guys who play first base, one of whom they just signed to a contract extension.
Adam LaRoche is the primary choice to play first if he can stay healthy. His offensive numbers show a huge drop in production compared to Fielder, but a healthy LaRoche offers better play defensively. Even though Fielder is a huge upgrade, the Nationals might feel comfortable with LaRoche or Michael Morse at first.
A sign that the Fielder negotiations may have stalled could be the fact that the Nationals just inked Michael Morse to a contract extension. This move could just be a back-up plan in case they can't land Fielder, but with the Nationals really the expected destination for Fielder, if they don't land him it likely won't be because another team came in and took him out from under them.
Either way, the Nationals have two guys capable of playing first if Fielder does not sign with the team. The Nats might even not go all-in on Fielder if they trust the two other guys who could play first base will give them enough production.
That said, adding Fielder to the fold might just be what the Nationals need to push them among the top of the NL East ranks.
They Feel They Don't Need Him to Win
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The Nationals have a roster bolstered with a great crop of young stars and maybe they feel that Prince just doesn't fit into the equation. It is hard to believe they wouldn't want a player of his talent, but it will likely all depend on the numbers.
If the years and money are right, it would be in the Nats' best interest to go for it, but if not, I think they feel comfortable with their roster as is.
The Nationals currently have what are considered to be two of the best young arms in the game in Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. Although Strasburg has yet to really make a major league impact, he is coming off of Tommy John surgery and looks to be healthy for the first time since he made his debut. With him and Gonzalez at the top of the rotation, the Nats have two pitchers who can solidly compete against the Phillies, Braves and Marlins stellar arms.
In addition to the starters, the Nats have a solid bullpen with closer Drew Storen and set-up man Tyler Clippard. These two are just a notch below the talent level of the Braves young arms and will help the Nats win more games, especially those that Strasburg and Gonzalez start.
Other than pitching, the Nats do have Werth, who is going to be expected to have a big year as far as offensive numbers go in order to live up to his contract. And then there is Ryan Zimmerman, who also will be looked to to have a good year. Ian Desmond is an up-and-coming star in the middle infield and last but not least, Bryce Harper is waiting in the wings to start in right field.
Although this roster isn't perfect, the Nats may feel that it is good enough to compete in the NL East. They may want Fielder but don't absolutely need him and therefore have a little bit of leverage when it comes to negotiations.
They Are in the Driver's Seat of the Negotiations and Are in No Hurry
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Unlike when they signed Jayson Werth, the Nationals are actually coming from a place of want and not desperation as they examine possibly signing Prince Fielder. Although Fielder would be a great addition to the team, the Nats do have options.
As mentioned in previous slides, they have Michael Morse or Adam LaRoche to play first and by signing Morse to a contract extension, it shows they must have at least some confidence in the guy manning the first base bag.
So because the Nationals feel comfortable with their team as is, they can afford to wait it out. It is already pretty certain that they are the front runners and continue to be the front runners as per information tweeted by Jon Morosi of Fox Sports and the other news sites listed at the beginning of this slide. It also looks like the longer Prince stays a free agent, the less amount of teams there are that still have interest.
The Rangers, originally considered to be in play for Fielder, just spent a large portion of their budget on Japanese pitcher, Yu Darvish. Although Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels have not ruled out the possibility of pursuing Fielder, recent comments from co-chairman Bob Simpson, have suggested that they are more focused on working out an extension for Josh Hamilton.
The Cubs also were among the teams thought to make a run at Fielder, but they just signed a young first baseman and it seems they too have given up on getting Prince.
As the teams with interest begin to lessen, the Nationals find themselves in a great place. Prince may have his demands, but the Nats are really the ones in the driver's seat at this point. It will be up to them to decide if Prince is really worth the money and years he is asking for.
For a team that has long been cellar-dwellers, this is a new position for them and one that they are certainly in a great place to be in as the Fielder free agency lingers.