A few weeks ago, Ryan Braun signed a long-term deal with the Brewers that will keep him in Milwaukee through at least the 2020 season. Braun expressed a desire to finish his career where he started and declared his love for Milwaukee.
Prince Fielder hasn’t signed a new contract and has not professed his desire to remain with the Brewers. Reading the baseball tea leaves, that isn’t going to change, either. Fielder is highly unlikely to remain with the Brewers for two related reasons. First, he hired Scott Boras to represent him and Boras ALWAYS takes his clients into free agency. Second, every Boras client goes on the auction block and signs with the highest bidder, period. The only player that Boras has recently negotiated a contract for without being a free agent was Carlos Gonzalez last winter. But CarGo only gave up three free agent years to get his $80M guaranteed and he wasn’t scheduled to be a free agent until after the 2014 season.
Boras’ history is to negotiate landmark contracts both in terms of length and money. Notable contracts negotiated by Boras include both of Alex Rodriguez’ free agent contracts, Mark Teixeira, Matt Holliday, every JD Drew contract since he was drafted, and most recently, Jayson Werth’s contract with the Nationals. In addition, Boras has represented the past two #1 picks in the draft, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper of the Nationals.
Boras makes no bones about his negotiating style and teams know exactly what his stance will be with his clients. Unless the Brewers are willing to outbid the entire market for Fielder, they will be looking for a new first baseman during the winter.
In Fielder’s first five full seasons before 2011, he averaged 38 HR, 105 RBI, and 95 R along with 32 doubles. His percentages are .279/.386/.536. There aren’t many better hitters in baseball over the past five seasons than Fielder and he just turned 27 earlier in May. That kind of production and the potential for even more improvement is what Boras will be selling to all 30 teams in the winter.
Fielder is going to command a contract in the 8-year, $200 million or more area. If Boras can entice a second team into the bidding, either real or imagined, the contract could approach $250M and be worth over $30M annually. Those aren’t numbers that the Brewers or most teams are going to be willing to spend. But some team will step up. With Boras, that’s always the case.
So who might spend that kind of money on a superstar with prime years remaining?
1. Washington Nationals
Don’t laugh. Historically, Boras deals with a small handful of teams and he’s developed a very nice relationship with the Nationals over the past few years. As mentioned earlier, Strasburg, Harper, and Werth are all Boras clients and while Werth’s signing seemed to come out of nowhere, observers should have seen it coming due to Boras’ recent relationship with GM Mike Rizzo and the Nationals owners. That budding relationship will enable the Nationals to be ”in the loop” on Fielder and they could either drive up his price or become his eventual destination.
The Nationals will be looking to make a big splash in the offseason with Strasburg expected to return from Tommy John surgery next season. In addition to a big bat like Fielder, expect the Nationals to target a free agent pitcher, like Edwin Jackson, to bolster their chances for success in 2012. Jackson, coincidentally, happens to be represented by Scott Boras. Jackson and Fielder to the Nats could become a package deal.
2. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs currently have a Boras client, Carlos Pena, manning first base on a one-year deal. The Cubs are also the team most-rumored to likely pursue Albert Pujols when the season ends, but it might make more sense to target the first baseman on their NL Central rivals to the north.
The Pujols/Fielder choice for the Cubs, if they have a choice is intriguing. Fielder will most likely be a few million a year cheaper and he’s four years younger. Pujols isn’t a slam dunk to leave St. Louis either and could just use a team like the Cubs to drive up his price.
So if you’re the Cubs, why not drive up his price? One of the biggest reasons why Pujols hasn’t re-signed with the Cardinals is because they don’t want to allocate such a large portion of their payroll to one player; at least not before they have to.
The Cubs could help Pujols get the $30M annually that he’s seeking, help to hamstring the Cardinals payroll, and then come in and get Fielder for $26-$27M over 7 or 8 years. They have the money available as they can use Kosuke Fukodome’s $14M and Carlos Pena’s $10M to pay for most of the salary. That would be a win-win-win for the Cubs as they would hurt two division rivals and add one of the best bats in baseball. Unfortunately, as Cubs fans know, out-strategizing other teams is not a Cubs trademark.
3. St. Louis Cardinals
This only becomes a possibility for Fielder if Albert Pujols leaves the Cardinals. But if he does, the Cards could go after Fielder and they already have a pair of high priced Boras’ clients on their roster with Matt Holliday and Kyle Lohse. They know his style and have been willing to play ball with him in the past and might determine that Fielder fits their payroll better than Pujols will four or five years down the road.
The Cards have money available, just not the $30M that Pujols reportedly wants. But if the bidding for Fielder doesn’t go above $25M and Pujols gets a $30M+ offer, wouldn’t it make more sense to go with the younger, cheaper option?
While the speculation regarding Fielder replacing Pujols can be fun, the only realistic way that could happen would be if the Cubs completely outbid everybody on Pujols and gave him over $300M for at least 10 years. That could be too much for the Cardinals to stomach and redirect them to Fielder. Otherwise, the Cards will most likely re-sign Pujols after both sides compromise a bit.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers possibility is contingent on them getting new ownership before free agency begins. If they do, they have Rafael Furcal’s $13M coming off the books along with a few others and would be able to move James Loney and the $5M or so that he would probably get.
The Dodgers are a far cry from the Lasorda and Alston days when they would always have rookie of the year candidates and compete for the NL West titles and NL pennants. It’s been 23 years since their last NL pennant and they’ve only been to the playoffs six times since that 1988 World Series championship.
The Angels now draw more fans and much more successful than the Dodgers. Signing Fielder would at least help them win the offseason in Los Angeles. With all of the PR problems that the club is having under the current ownership, a new owner can begin to earn the trust of the fans with a big signing like Fielder.
5. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles? Yes, the Orioles are getting better with some very good young pitching and have Derrick Lee playing first base on a one-year contract. The Orioles have close to $30M coming off of their payroll going into the winter and they will have a need for a big bat in the middle of the order.
The Orioles have a chance in the Fielder sweepstakes because their division rivals, Boston and New York, don’t have room for Fielder as a first baseman. Unless the 27-year old Fielder is interested in becoming a full-time DH, then he’s not going to those two teams, Detroit, or the Chicago White Sox.
The Orioles have couple of very good young everyday players with Nick Markakis and Adam Jones and also have a shortstop prospect that’s being compared to Alex Rodriguez, Manny Machado. Their young pitching is showing signs of becoming really good and adding Fielder would make them a winning team immediately and give them a chance to contend in the AL East.
Owner Peter Angelos has been quiet in recent years, but has a history of spending money on big name free agents. Perhaps a chance at a stud hitter in his prime will entice him to pull out his checkbook for Fielder.
Fielder’s biggest problem will be the lack of the Red Sox and Yankees in the bidding process. It’s highly unlikely that those two teams will be involved. Also, ownership issues with the Dodgers and Mets could eliminate both of those potential big market teams. The Phillies already have a huge bat at first base and the White Sox have two players who can play there.
Even though the market will be limited, Scott Boras’ history has shown that he can create a bidding war for anybody. If he can get Jayson Werth $18M annually, he should be able to get the prolific hitting Fielder at least 30-40% more than Werth. Now he just needs to find the right owner.