Revisting the Nationals’ pursuit of Prince Fielder

May 14, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Texas Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder (84) drives in two runs with a double during the fifth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

brushback_harperThe Texas Rangers are coming to Washington tonight, and first baseman Prince Fielder, two days off of neck surgery and less than three years into a $214 million contract, will not be coming with them. In an alternate baseball universe, Fielder would be making his home in Washington.

Fielder’s absence will make the Nationals feel even more comfortable with their decision to back away from their pursuit of Fielder in the winter before the 2012 season. It seems like ancient history now, but at one point, the baseball world deemed the Nationals the favorite to land Fielder. Nationals ownership met with him personally, and they had signed Jayson Werth, another Scott Boras client, to a $126 million contract the winter before.

But the Nationals held their ground in negotiations with Fielder and Boras. They would not offer Fielder more than a six-year contract. When the Tigers swooped in with a nine-year, $214 million offer in the wake of Victor Martinez’s sudden offseason knee injury, the Nationals had no intention of remaining in the bidding.

The Nationals stuck with Adam LaRoche, a cheaper alternative who has offered less overall production so far but far better value. Even though LaRoche had the worst full season of his career in 2013, he has been their best hitter this season, and he played a key role in the Nationals’ 98-win 2012 season, finishing sixth in the National League MVP vote.

Per FanGraphs.com, Fielder has accumulated 6.7 wins above replacement since the start of 2012, compared to 4.6 for LaRoche. Over that span, front offices have valued the price of a win at $6 million. Using that as a guideline, Fielder has given his team $12 million more worth of production – but he’s made $32 million more in real money.

LaRoche made $8 million in 2012, and then signed a new, two-year deal that paid him $10 million in 2013 and $12 million in 2014, with a mutual option and a $2 million buyout clause to come in 2015.

So, LaRoche would be the better value even if we just stopped here. Of course, LaRoche is the better value for far more pressing reasons. LaRoche will continue to play this season, during which he has performed at all-star level when healthy so far. The Nationals can try to bring back LaRoche at a reasonable price, or they can let him walk for $2 million.

Fielder is finished for the year, and once the season ends, he will be owed $144 million over six more years. In 2015, he’ll be 31 and coming off neck surgery. The Tigers decided to unload what they could of his contract after just two seasons. He had been more durable than any player in baseball over the previous decade. Now, he’s a big-bodied slugger pushing close to the end of his prime with a hefty price tag. Fielder may have been a better player than LaRoche before the 2012 season, but it already seems clear that the Nationals made a prudent choice.

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Syracuse 5, Rochester 1: Taylor Hill allowed one run in eight innings on three hits and a walk, striking out two. At one point, Hill stretched his scoreless innings streak to 22. Hill, whom the Nationals chose in the sixth round of the 2011 draft, is 7-1 with a 1.57 ERA. He’s 25, 6-foot-3, about 230 pounds and perhaps turning into a legitimate prospect with his performance. Manny Burriss went 3 for 5 with a double. Steven Souza went 3 for 5. Zach Walters went 2 for 5 with a double. Destin Hood extended his hitting streak to 16 games.

Erie 5, Harrisburg 1: Michael Taylor went 3 for 3 with a walk. He’s hitting .315/.395/.614 with 14 homers in 49 games while playing elite defense. Jason Martinson went 2 for 3 with a walk.

Potomac 14, Winston-Salem 4: Randolph Oduber went 4 for 6 with a double. Oscar Tejada went 4 for 6 with a homer. Matthew Spann allowed no runs in six innings on four hits and three walks, striking out one. Spann, 23, has a 1.85 ERA over 24 1/3 innings at Potomac.

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