The wait for a resolution to the Prince Fielder sweepstakes continues, more than a week into January and more than a month after the Angels signed Albert Pujols, the only free agent bigger than Fielder.
Friday, there was some speculation that the Cubs’ trade with the Padres for first base prospect Anthony Rizzo might help move along the process of Fielder choosing a team. The Cubs were rumored to have been in the mix, and Rizzo (no relation to Mike) could fill their first base need for a long time. But the Cubs never really had a chance with Fielder – they were well short of the number of years Fielder wanted in his contract.
So, then, the trade actually did nothing to break the deadlock. What is taking Fielder so long to sign, thus keeping Nationals fans on the edge of their seats? Three reasons/theories:
>>> The Rangers are looming over the process, but their attention is diverted as they work to sign Yu Darvish. The Rangers have until Jan. 18 to sign Darvish, an exclusive negotiation they bid more than $50 million for the rights to. The money they spend on Darvish’s contract – perhaps $75 million – could preclude them from another monster signing like Fielder. But the longer it seems like the Rangers are a factor, the more leverage agent Scott Boras has.
>>> The new collective bargaining agreement included harsher penalties for going over the luxury tax, and the Red Sox and Yankees have responded by dialing back their big-spending ways. Both teams, with Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira in place, also have first basemen. Their absence from the Fielder sweepstakes has helped keep down the market for Fielder. Boras has no problem waiting for it to increase, but without the Red Sox and Yankees, he’s forced to.
>>> The last time the Nationals signed a premier Boras client, they blew the league out of the water with a seven-year, $126 million contract for Jayson Werth. The contract was roundly criticized in baseball circles, and Werth underperformed in his first season. It would be naïve to think those negotiations aren’t coloring the Nationals’ current talks with Boras about Fielder.
Now, Fielder is a different player, and things have changed for the Nationals. With Werth, the Nationals, coming off three seasons in which they lost 297 games, were desperate to make a splash and start to reverse their reputation, both as a loser and a tightwad. This offseason, the Nationals have already made a statement with their trade for Gio Gonzalez, and even without Fielder they’re probably an 85-90 win team. They knew they had to overpay to get Werth. Ted Lerner is presumably wary of overpaying another big-ticket free agent. If so, his hard line stance would help draw out the process.
As the Fielder deliberations unfold and more details emerge, we’ll have a clearer picture of just what is taking so long. History tells us Boras will get what he wants, and the consensus around baseball is the Nationals will end up with Fielder. But all anyone knows for sure right now is that Fielder, with 41 days before pitchers and catchers report, still doesn’t have a team.