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Posted at 02:02 PM ET, 01/09/2012

Ask Boswell: What’s happening with the Nationals and Prince Fielder?

As part of Thomas Boswell’s weekly chat (Monday 11 a.m.), he answered a handful of questions about the Nationals and Prince Fielder. The complete transcript of Boswell’s chat can be found athttp://live.washingtonpost.com/ask-boswell-010912.html.

Q: Santa Rizzo delivered Nats fans a badly needed power lefty in Gio Gonzalez - even though the cost was very high. I was very impressed with Detweiler's improvements in his confidence and command in the second half of last season. I think he has excellent stuff and could end up being a better pitcher than Gio in the long term. What's your take on Detweiler? 

Boswell: Detwieler looked good the last two months: 3.20 ERA, 4-5 in his last nine starts and only threw 82 pitches a game because he had to build up arm strength after being in the bullpen. They like him a lot and Davey, all things being equal, would prefer three lefties in a division with Phils and Braves. But he also knows the value of someone like Wang who's mature, been through the wars and thinks of himself as that back-to-back 19-win guy in NYC. 

I assume they are going to give Detweiler a serious shot at the rotation because he's got good stuff (not as good as Gonzalez whose curve is sharper) because lefty Matt Purke is a fast-to-the-majors type and they paid 1st round money ($4.15M) to sign. 

Q: Boz- any new rumors on the Nats and Prince? I feel like we've been talking about this for a while, and nothing's happening either way. I am wondering if the Nats have offered him a good annual rate, but for fewer years than he wants, but nobody else is willing to beat it. Is there just no market for this guy this late in the off-season? 

Boswell: As I mentioned in my column a couple of weeks ago, Jan 18 is the date that matters. That's the deadline for Yu Darvish to sign (or not) with the Rangers. As soon as he does, and the Rangers have spent their $100M+ on him, they will be far less of a factor in Fielder. If they don't get Darvish, then they will be the REAL "mystery team" in about five seconds. And they'll get Prince. 

The Nats have no reason to move a muscle until the Darvish deal is done and the list of teams that "What Fielder" is very small and the number of teams that actually NEED Fielder is down to zero. 

Then the Nats might have to think seriously about doing a contract which, frankly, causes them a lot of problems down the road with extending Z'man, keeping Morse after '13, extending Strasburg, Zimmermann and/or Harper when the time comes. And nobody lets a catcher like Ramos go; how do you replace him? All that is going to cost money. 

Because the Nats don't need Fielder, that should (finally) put them in the driver's seat in a negotiation. If there even is a serious one. EVERY other $140M+ signing for a first baseman has been for a team that saw that slugger as a perfect fit for them: M Cabrera ($152/8yrs), Justin Morneau ($80/6), Adrian Gonzalez 154/7, Teixeira (180/8), Pujols. The Nats have a decent 1st baseman in LaRoche and, more important, a 1st baseman in waiting in Morse whose stats the last two years, per at bat, are fairly close to Fielder. 

Unless the Nats get wind — and not from Scott — that the Darvish deal is dying, they should sit tight. The Cubs just traded for a young 1st baseman. Seattle clearly doesn't want a Prince-sized contract. Toronto has never spent much. The Nats should just wait. There's no rush and there's no need. There may, however, be an opportunity. 

Q: So here is what I am hoping to see happen for the Nats. Some other team signs Prince Fielder to the monster deal Boras is known for. Adam LaRoche comes out of the gate healthy and tearing through the league crushing the ball in the first half of the season, making him a very attractive trade chip. The Rays, fighting tooth and nail in the tough AL East need a bat for a tough stretch run for the playoffs and have been getting little to no production from their very thin 1B depth chart. So in a deadline deal a package is put together that ships LaRoche to the Rays for Upton. By then, Harper is in DC (RF), Morse slides right back into 1B, Werth moves to LF and Upton patrols CF. What do you think? 

Boswell: I think I like it a lot. And I think LaRoche will come back and do well. He profiles at age 32 like several hitters who did very well after that age, like Paul O'Neill. LaRoche is an average hitting first baseman, but he is far above an average hitter with an .815 OPS. He's far from Fielder, but LaRoche's excellent glove, and Prince's poor one, makes up a bit of the different. So, his trade value may be considerable, especially since there is a $10M team option in his contract for '13, and that's just about the time you want to bring up Harper and are beginning to want to find a spot for Rendon someday. 

Q: Is there ANY chance Boras goes for something like 3yrs/$75mil for Prince? That would clear the books in time for the Nats to extend some young core guys and/or pay their arbitration raises AND put Prince back on the market at a still very valuable 30 years old. Win-win, no? 

Boswell: Never happen. Too humiliating for Boras and Prince. It's not illogical. I still remember when A-Rod "opted out" during the last game of the World Series, got terrible flack for it, then changed agents, ripped Boras and negotiated directly with the Yankee ownership __and got his monster deal that's now strangling (even) the Yankees. Neither has many kind words to say for the other. 

As I've said before, the biggest issue for the Nats is how big they ultimately think their payroll can get? How rich is the Nats market? Can they afford to spend ~$63M on Werth, (extended Z'man) and Fielder starting in '14 and going for many years? Here are some numbers to help you think about it. It's been suggested that the Nats could Do It All if they were willing to go to a $140-145M budget in a few years. Oh, indeed? How nice. But how many teams have a fan base and TV deals to support anything close to that? 

Top Average Payrolls the last three seasons. Over $100M = Nine teams: Yanks (207), Red Sox (151), Phils (139), Mets (139), Cubs (137), Angels (125), Tigers (118), White Sox (109), Dodgers (107). Others over $90M = Five teams: Giants (99), Cards (97), Seattle (94), Minnesota (92), Braves (90). 
That's 14 out of 30 teams. The Nats were 22nd in total attendance last year. I've maintained for years that the Nationals should be in the $85-to-$100M range. Maybe more if the MASN deals increases a lot. But if you give $60 to $63M/yr to Fielder, Werth and Zimmerman, how do you build the rest of the team and how do you extend any of your young players when they reach their arbitration years — and that's a long list: Strasburg, Zimmermann, Storen, Ramos, Espinosa, Morse, Harper and plenty of others, like Clippard, Rendon, Matt Purke. 
If you sign Fielder and Z'man out to '19 with Werth already out to '17, and you also want to keep a reasonable percentage of your young stars, then Nationals Park better be packed, and I mean 35 to 40K every night, not just 30 to 35K, for years at a time. It's nice to be optimistic. But this strikes me as foolish. 
Finally, if Strasburg, Z'mann or Gonzalez gets hurt — just one of them turns out to have a short career like Prior — where do you get that third top-of-rotation starter? That may be where the free agent money needs to get spent in '13-1'14-15. 
The question is not "Would you like to have Fielder on your team?" Of course you would. The question is: How much and how long. And, because Fielder is not a "fit" for the Nats position needs and because the N.L. has no DH, he should not be worth nearly as much to the Nats as he would be to the proper A.L. team. 
However, this year, that "proper A.L. team" doesn't exist. Unless it turns out to be the Rangers, which is quite doubtful. 

Q: If you assume a team would need 90 wins to get a playoff spot, then you assume the pitching staff improves to the level of the Dodgers/Padres/Rays and gives up about 612 runs, the Nats will still need to add about 60 runs to their 2011 offense to reach the 90-win mark (using the so-called Pythagorean model). If not from Prince Fielder, where do Nats find those 60 additional runs? 

Boswell: By getting back to '09 Nats levels when they scored 710 runs — 86 more than last year — with Z'man, Willingham and Dunn. Can Z'man (who had a very poor '11), Morse and LaRoche equal that trio? Probably not. But the '09 team didn't have Espinosa and Ramos who hit almost 40 homers last year. And, by mid-season, Harper may add something. 

So, finding the runs isn't as hard as it may seem. BUT Z'man, Werth and LaRoche all have to hit up to their career norms and stay reasonably healthy. Obviously, Fielder would erase the runs problem. But this is not a team with a one-yr win-now window, especially with Strasburg getting shut down by Labor Day. All the Nats questions should be in search of long-term answers. That might be Fielder. But the idea that a team with a future as bright as the Nats should be drooling over what Fielder would help create in '12-'13 is not good baseball planning. Of course, Prince should be delighted that we're talking about this. It's how you "build a market" — or the appearance of one — where no natural market for a player exists. 

Q:: If they start winning, they'll fill up Nats park. The TV deal may actually be a blessing since it can be reset every five years. Imagine the money they'll get in 2016 if they win a WS and have players like Harper, Strasburg, Fielder, and Zim. Look at the Redskins and Caps. This team is a potential gold mine. 

Boswell: Scott, thanks for joining the chat! 

But it's a point. 

Two years ago, you couldn't get anybody to talk about the Nats. Now it's "how many World Series will they be in?" Patience, dear folk. They are a nice team with a lot of promise. But it's harder than it looks. Harper hasn't succeeded at AA yet. And a dozen other question marks. 

Q: Boz, Why isn't anyone talking about how the Werth signing is killing the Nats right now unless they sign Fielder. It continued a good run with Boras, only makes sense if you keep it going. But the cost of Werth/Fielder/Zimm wasn't a secret last year when they were signing Werth - did they just completely lack foresight? The only explanation I can buy is that they didn't think Fielder would be an option because an AL team would be much more motivated. 

Boswell: They didn't think Fielder would be in their picture. Nobody anticipated a collapsing market for him. It's been pretty amazing to watch. 

Q: What I'm curious about is how the TV deal can increase with relatively few people watching? I know it's better than a couple years ago, but still it's not like a million people are tuning in every night. 

Boswell: MASN agreed to a deal, adjusted every five years, based on RSN prices in comparable cities based on market size — not team record or attendance. And, if I remember the arbitration process correctly, Selig is the tie-breaking vote. The comps are Houston and Dallas — all 2 to 3 times as high as the Nats ~$28M. 

Q: I still see Toronto as the likely destination for Prince. I believe that they were all-in for Darvish and if he signs with Texas, they will look to invest in the next (only?) big name out there. They have a pretty big hole at 1B. If the Nats do sign Prince, any reason why they wouldn't trade LaRoche to Milwaukee to get a couple prospects back and fill the Brewers biggest need? 

Boswell: All good points. Toronto is the best fit. And they were 81-81 w Bautista to pair with Prince in the middle. They have nice young players coming. But do they have the money, does Fielder want to play in Toronto w the Yanks and Red Sox outspending the Jays forever?

Q: I see the Nats as trying to build a consistent contender for a decade. For that reason, I’m not sold on Prince Fielder. The 114-win Yankees of 1998 had not a single hitter with 30 home runs. They were made up of guys like Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Scott Brosius, etc. who were good (not great), but their cumulative consistency added up to the greatest team of this era. Maybe Prince could hit 50 homers in 2012 and propel the Nats on a pennant run. Maybe they could even add Prince and lock up Zim and Strasburg as lifetime Nats. But they can’t do all that AND lock up Espinosa, Ramos, Morse, J-Zimm, Storen, etc. NatsTown is so desperate for a winner that it’s tempting to sign Fielder and make them a winner instantly. But I’d rather have an 8-to-10 year run of contention with a balanced team than 1 or 2 go-crazy seasons and then a long run of being saddled with massive contracts like the Mets/Cubs of today or the Orioles of the late-1990s.

Boswell: It takes forever to get through all the questions. Sorry. Some are just so well written or interesting that I post them late. Like this one that summarizes one side of the Fielder analysis. That’s it. Thanks again.

MORE NATIONALS COVERAGE

Why wait on Prince?

REID: For Nats and Fielder the time is now

BOSWELL: Prince Fielder’s price is not right for Nationals right now

By Washington Post Editors  |  02:02 PM ET, 01/09/2012

 
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