On the eve of the MLB Winter Meetings in Dallas, it's only fitting to end the weekend by discussing one of the hottest rumors circulating the big leagues the last day or so—could Prince Fielder be playing first base for the Mariners in 2012?
Sound crazy? Not so fast. This is the time of the offseason when just about anything goes. Remember this time last year when Cliff Lee was definitely either returning to the Rangers or jumping ship for the financially "greener" pastures of New York?
According to a tweet by Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman, the Seattle Mariners are offering conflicting views on their stance in regards to free-agent slugger Fielder. That doesn't really mean too much.
What Mariners fans should focus on is that they are in the discussions at all whatsoever. That's a good sign.
Here are two facts that should surprise no one: 1) The United States economy is in the tank, and 2) the Seattle Mariners can't hit worth a lick.
Coming off of a year that saw them dead last in the Majors in batting average (.233), on-base percentage (.292), and slugging percentage (.640)—if anyone could use some offense, it's the M's.
While anything can happen in free agency, I'm still not convinced that Fielder has much of a chance of landing in Seattle.
The Mariners Can't Afford Prince
In 2011, the Seattle Mariners were slightly below the mid-range in terms of payroll in the Major Leagues. They were 18th, at a shade below $85 million ($84.865 million).
The problem with that payroll is that slightly less than half of the total amount is paid out to just three players—Ichiro Suzuki at $18 million, Felix Hernandez at $11.7 million and Chone Figgins at $9.5 million.
The only one that makes Mariners fans want to eat their hats is the Figgins deal, which, at the time of his signing, many around the league felt was an excellent bargain.
Figgins was bad in 2010, but was even worse last year before injuries shut down his season, almost mercifully. He struck out a career-high 114 times in '10 and matched that in just 81 games played in '11.
Clearly, if the Mariners could work out a trade involving one of these three, they could free up enough in salary to provide more room for signing Fielder.
Hernandez is basically untouchable. It'd be a shame to see him leave Seattle, as he and Michael Pineda are one of the best (and youngest) one-two punches in MLB.
Ichiro, who, at age 38 last year actually began to show some signs of regression (by his lofty standards at least), probably isn't going anywhere.
So that leaves Figgins. He'll be 34 during the 2012 season, and it looks like he might be through. That, plus a salary that guarantees him $17 million the next two seasons, and a $9 million vesting option for 2014 that becomes guaranteed if he reaches 600 PAs in 2013.
Who'd want to trade for that?
Fielder might not want to play in a "pitcher's park"
According to Park Factor statistics that measure whether or not a park's many intangibles are better suited for a pitcher or a hitter, Safeco Field is the fifth-best park for a pitcher (conversely, it's the fifth-worst park for a hitter.)
In other words, it's great if you're a "King" like Hernandez, and not so great if you're a Prince, like Fielder.
Coming from Miller Park, which is in the top 10 in terms of hitter-friendliness, might be too much of a culture shock to Fielder's lofty statistics. Most likely, his power numbers would drop off a tad in Seattle.
Of course, you never know.
Regardless, you'd better believe that Fiedler (and his agent) are well aware of where the balls fly as opposed to where they die.
The Seattle Mariners really don't need Fielder
Sure, that might sound like a ridiculous statement. But is it really? As we're all well aware, the Mariners have a very solid pitching staff—especially the front two with Hernandez and Pineda.
Let's not forget about the exceptionally talented foursome of Mike Carp, Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak.
They're all 25 years old or younger, and have all had a chance to show glimpses of potential greatness.
Aside from Smoak—who easily has the most power potential of the four—all can play multiple positions. Carp batted .276 with 12 home runs and 46 RBI while playing some first base, left field and right field.
Seager hit .258 with three home runs and 13 RBI in limited action while playing some first, second and third base.
Ackley hit .273 with 6 home runs and 36 RBI and also swiped six bags without being caught once. He may have the highest overall ceiling, and he's versatile defensively as well as he saw time at first base and is projected as an above-average second baseman.
Fielder's going to want a contract for approximately seven years, and close to $130 million (maybe more). If I'm the Mariners, I stick with what I've got.
Besides, it won't be too hard to improve on last year's offensive numbers. With a solid young core and a pitching staff that has potential to be elite-level, the Mariners' future is bright.
The Seattle Mariners don't stand much of a chance of corralling Fielder this offseason.
Sure, the acquisition of Fielder would certainly add life to a listless offense. But there is a cheaper and wiser way to improve that offense and it takes nothing more than ensuring that the aforementioned foursome get there fair share of plate appearances in 2012 and beyond.
And, of course, a rebound from Figgins, as well as Ichiro getting back to "normal" wouldn't hurt too much either.
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