As we head into the Christmas weekend, Prince Fielder remains a free agent, and even the incessant hum of the rumor mill seems to have been largely silenced.
Many observers around baseball want to link the Nationals to the slugging first baseman, which makes plenty of sense. They have a deep-pocketed owner who is perceived as something of a wild-card within the industry. They have a strong relationship with Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras. And they are clearly only another piece or two away from being a bona fide contender in 2012.
Here are a few thoughts on the Nationals and Fielder on the eve of Christmas Eve:
*If the Nationals get into the Fielder sweepstakes, it is unlikely to become public knowledge until the very end. Remember how the Nationals came out of nowhere a year ago to snag Jayson Werth, another Boras client? Boras’s modus operandi, when it comes to his biggest clients, is to negotiate directly with ownership, bypassing the general manager. He’s been doing it that way for years. Not only is the owner the one who holds the purse strings (remember what the bank robber said when asked why he robbed banks), but there are also fewer leaks that way. Given the public invisibility of Ted Lerner, it’s hard to know what’s in his head. If he gets in on Fielder, it’s possible no one – not even Mike Rizzo – will know.
*The trade for Gio Gonzalez would make more sense if paired with the signing of Fielder. The Gonzalez trade falls under the heading of Go-For-It moves – with the Nationals giving up four desirable prospects, it was the kind of trade a rising power makes when it sees itself as on the cusp of contending. But the Nationals still appear to be a piece shy – specifically, a middle-of-the-order bat. It makes sense that the Nationals see their present window of opportunity as roughly 2013 to 2017, with the understanding that under the right circumstances that window could open in 2012. They clearly need a big bat, but they don’t absolutely have to get it this winter. The real Go-For-It winter is the next one.
*The Nationals have the financial wherewithal to sign Fielder, but that doesn’t mean they have the inclination. By filling their need for a front-line starting pitcher on the cheap (Mark Buerhle would have cost them $13 million in 2012; Gonzalez will cost around $500,000), they gave themselves plenty of payroll flexibility. But let’s be honest – the Nationals could have afforded Fielder anyway. Ted Lerner is the richest owner in baseball, and the Nationals’ take from the MASN deal is about to increase significantly. On the other hand, you can make a sound baseball argument that Fielder — because of his weight, because of his genetics — isn’t a wise signing, at least not at $25 million per year for the next seven to 10 years.
*Would the insertion of Fielder in the middle of their lineup make the Nationals instant contenders in 2012? Are you kidding me? Of course it would.