Well it looks like I am delayed today, which means that at least there will be some fresh sports content between Friday at
noon and Monday morning. However, I am not the only one procrastinating- Prince Fielder is still on the market and while the Orioles are most certainly not in the running for his services (even Washington is more competitive and there is no doubt they would back up the Brinks truck for him) he will have a significant role in some team’s long-term future. Personally I am rooting for him to join the Rangers, a team that would seemingly be strung as far as they can go after their Yu Darvish signing, but Tom Verducci has a very compelling idea of how they could go after him by offering him an opt-out after three years. Regardless, this is another example of Scott Boras taking a big risk and hoping it pays off.
There is a reason why star players tend to be signed by the time people are making Spring Training flight reservations. For one, teams aren’t going to wait forever in the hopes of getting that one free agent, so uncommitted payroll dries up quickly once the buying begins. There will be a few initial signings to set the market and then players will move around that. Boras has known Fielder’s price for a while, but he didn’t become a superagent by taking the market value for his players. He is the kind of agent who sets his own price and dares the team not to sign his player- which is great, unless the team moves on.
Look at what happened with Ryan Madsen. The Phillies may or may not have offered Madsen a four-year, $44 million extension, which blew up as Boras held out for more. Instead the Phillies broke the bank on Jonathan Papelbon while Madsen was left scrounging for a one-year deal with Cincinnati. Just a couple years ago he talked a big game for Johnny Damon, getting an allegedly $14 million offer from the Yankees. When Boras wanted more, Damon wound up signing with Tampa Bay for $5.25 million on a one-year deal. This type of brinksmanship comes with definite risks, because if the player waits too long then suddenly he is at the mercy of a market where teams have satisfied all or most of their needs without their services.
Fortunately for Fielder, he has at least one team more than willing to spend for him. The Nationals, desperate for more television viewers and attendance, would almost guarantee at least a $180 million, 8-year deal a la Mark Teixeira. He would get them exactly what they want in terms of hype and be a great battery-mate for Bryce Harper. Perhaps the very presence of the Nationals allows Boras to leave Fielder dangling and hope for more. But if Washington is smart they will recognize that there aren’t too many teams who are desperate enough for a first baseman with a great bat and mediocre defense, despite being an All-Star player.
First basemen are easy to find, and the aging, bargain basement power-hitting first baseman/DH is almost a cliché. If a team isn’t really hurting for a game-changer they may easily be content in late January to just sign a one-year stop-gap and hold off on the franchise-altering moves. There is a major question as to whether Texas would even be inclined to add payroll even if they could afford it in 2012, given the commitments made (or need to be made) to Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, and others. If Texas can’t come close to offering a competitive deal to Fielder then what is to stop Washington from offering a sub-par deal except to keep Fielder happy long into the contract.
At the end of the day, Fielder is too good not to get nine figures, but players who aren’t quite at that level may want to think twice before they put their faith in a boom or bust agent like Boras. He is the best in the business for what he can get, but he may be the riskiest for what he passes up.