Despite a report on the team’s official Web site today playing down the Nationals’ chances at signing free agent first baseman Prince Fielder, a person familiar with the situation said the Nationals are “patiently and aggressively” pursuing Fielder — a pursuit that included a new twist today.
The Nationals’ push for Fielder continued when Nationals principal owners Ted and Mark Lerner met with Scott Boras, Fielder’s high-profile agent, at the owners’ meetings in Arizona this evening, the person said. The details of the conversation are not known, but the sides previously discussed Fielder this offseason in Washington. In the past, the Lerners have been part of negotiations for lucrative contracts with Boras for Jayson Werth, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.
Boras also met with a handful of other owners at the meetings. While the Miami Marlins have played down interest in Fielder, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria was among the small handful of others owners who chatted with Boras.
The market for Fielder, the top free agent remaining, has been slow to develop, which Boras has attributed to the logistical issues of negotiating in person with ownership groups. Many teams have been hesitant to give Fielder the length of contract he seeks – between eight and 10 years – because of concerns about how a player with his burly frame (5-11, 275 pounds) will age.
But Fielder has credentials few free agents in recent memory can match, starting with his age – he’s only 27, meaning even an eight-year deal would take him to 35 years old. He’s hit 230 home runs, including 38 last year. Twice, Fielder has finished a season with an OPS over 1.000. Three times, he has finished in the top four in MVP balloting. He is one of the best sluggers in baseball, and his age suggests he is only entering his prime.
Concerns about his body – and his ability to age without the option to play as a designated hitter – may be valid. But Fielder, on the heels of the Nationals’ trade for left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez, would make the Nationals an immediate, serious contender in the National League East.
A resolution to the Fielder sweepstakes does not appear to be imminent. Whether or not he ends up with the Nationals, seen by many as the favorite to sign him, remains to be seen. But for now, they at least haven’t given up the idea.