My instant analysis from last night concerning the effect of Yu Darvish’s contract on Prince Fielder already seems woefully wrong. I still liked the Rangers’ chances to land Fielder, and then Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels said of signing him, “I’m intimately aware of our budget, and it’s very unlikely.”
I still believe the Rangers have gobs of television money and people who are smart and creative enough in their front office to dance around budget constraints. And hitting at Rangers Ballpark, surrounded by that lineup, has to be enticing for Fielder. I’m still not totally counting Texas out. But that is one undeniably strong statement by Daniels.
And if the Rangers aren’t going to sign Fielder, the Nationals have to be considered the frontrunner now. Who else is there? Any team planning to make a stealth run at him probably would not have risked waiting until late January to make its move. The Brewers and Mariners have been on the periphery, but not as involved as the Nationals. You never know, but it looks like the Fielder sweepstakes is the Nationals’ to lose.
The process has been fascinating, and it looks for now as if the Nationals have played it perfectly. They held firm at their price for Fielder, and with the apparent (and stunning) relative lack of interest in one of baseball’s great sluggers, the market has come to them. They let agent Scott Boras dictate the terms of the Jayson Werth negotiations last winter. The Lerners struck back this time. Or at least that’s the appearance right now.
In the background of their discussions with Fielder lies the Nationals’ under-construction television deal with MASN. Like the Rangers, the Nationals could soon be expecting more cash from their rights fees. The details are few, but the stakes are explained in the story from today’s paper, with help from Chuck Greenberg, an architect of the Rangers’ massive TV deal.
The Nationals, experts say, can expect enough new revenue from their renegotiated rights fees to pay for Fielder’s potential contract – and then some. Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor and sports business expert, said signing Fielder could enhance the Nationals’ argument for higher rights fees from MASN.
“I think it would,” Zimbalist said. “Somebody like Fielder offers the possibility of not only the team being more competitive, but generating excitement in his own right.”
With the Darvish signing out of the way and February beckoning – pitchers and catchers report one month from today! Stephen Strasburg is throwing bullpens! – Fielder’s destination should be decided soon. More than ever, the Nationals look like the favorites.