As free agents continue to be taken off the board, and trades are made between various clubs around the major leagues, we still await an ending to the Prince Fielder saga. Fans of the Chicago Cubs remain overly optimistic about whether or not Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will be able to reel in the power hitting first baseman now that Albert Pujols has been taken off the market and possible destinations for Fielder appear to be lacking.
Media driven rumors have spread far and wide that the Cubs are the front runner for Fielder, even though Dale Sveum and other front office figure heads continue to downplay the idea of talks taking place between the two camps. They key words though, are they are “not talking to Fielder”, so they could very well be talking to his agent Scott Boras. If I had to decide which of the two sides was more believable, I would have to give the edge to the reporters. I know that most of the time baseball beat writers are just be throwing stuff against the wall to see what, if anything, sticks, but think of the other side of the playing field. Epstein likes keeping his cards close to his chest and never lets on just what is going on in that mind of his. You never really know just what he is trying to do, or what his plan involves.
Everything has been falling the Cubs way so far this off season, so why would they not continue to do so? The Boston Red Sox collapse allows the Cubs to swoop in and grab Epstein to be their new General Manager. After that, the Red Sox make a blunder and let Epstein leave before compensation is worked out basically giving up any chance of getting a real player back. The next domino to fall in the Cubs favor was Pujols leaving not only their division, but the league where we only need to worry about him every few years, unless both teams make the World Series. The dominos continue to fall in the Cubs favor, Fielder may very well be the next one to do so.
If the Cubs are actually in talks with Fielder and his agent, as the baseball writers suggest, I feel that they hold all of the cards in these negotiations. There are reports that there are several other teams interested, but when you break things down, there are only three or four teams that could be potential destinations for him other than the Cubs. The first would be the Miami Marlins who are desperate for a power hitter now that Pujols declined their offer for the Los Angeles Angels, even though they offered more money. He left because he was not going to be given a no trade clause. If the Marlins were not willing to give Pujols a no trade clause, I highly doubt they give Fielder one.
The Toronto Blue Jays could very well be in the mix for Fielder as well, but after reportedly winning the bidding rights on Yu Darvish you have to wonder if they have the money to sign both free agents. Being a small market and low payroll franchise, I think that you can count them out of the running.
Another destination that is frequently mentioned is the Seattle Mariners, but if I had to chose between Chicago and Seattle, I think I would chose Chicago. Plus, if he wants to be on a contending team, Seattle looks as though they would be farther away than the Cubs would be. Especially with two stacked teams already ahead of them.
The biggest contender in my eyes are the Texas Rangers, who desperately want to keep pace with the Angels. They need pitching and an offensive bat to help keep them in contention in the American League West. Adding Fielder to their already impressive offense would certainly do that, and make for a very exciting Summer between the two ball clubs. The question is if they have enough money to sign a talent who would certainly demand a contract that pays him close to $20 Million a year, if not more. They have been pretty quiet in the talks for Fielder this off season, but do not forget they were also very quiet in regards to Adrian Beltre, and wound up jumping in at the last minute to sign him. Do not count them out though.
As I have stated before in previous blogs, I feel that the Cubs almost need to sign Fielder to play baseball for them in 2012 and beyond. If they do not, everyone who follows the team in 2012 will be in for a long season as there is no power threat or a legitimate run producer on the 25 man roster. With the lack of possible destinations for Fielder, the Cubs may be able to sign him for less than what he is looking for, and get him at a steal. Without much leverage, the Cubs might be able to not only get him for less money per year, but could also be able to sign him for a shorter contract than the eight years he was originally seeking.
The Cubs could fill the role in various other ways if they do not sign Fielder to an oversized deal that would match his oversized body. They could make a trade for a young first baseman who is filled with potential like Yonder Alonso, who was just traded to the San Diego Padres, or another young first baseman in the Padres system Anthony Rizzo. Chances are that one of them will be traded during the off season, as Alonso can not play left field in the spacious PetCo park, and you can not have two people playing first base.
Given the choice between the two, the Cubs would be more likely to go after Rizzo who Hoyer received in the trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox a year ago. He is a player who the Hoyer really likes, and would fit in with their plans to go young and build with youth. He would cost a couple of good young prospects like Brett Jackson or Chris Carpenter but a deal like this might make them expendable. He would be a hell of a lot cheaper than Fielder, and is a lot younger. Granted, he is not nearly as much of a power threat as Fielder and would not strike as much fear into opposing pitchers, but he would be a great piece to build around, along with Starlin Castro, going forward. I would not mind at all if Hoyer and Epstein were able to pull off a trade for him.
Yet another cheaper option at first base, would be to stay in house and give Bryan LaHair a chance to play every day for the Cubs in 2012. He certainly has a following with the fans, and has shown to have some power. Have him at first base in 2012 and you get to keep your young prospects as well as save $20 Million a year. Much like with Rizzo though, he is not nearly as threatening as Fielder and is relatively unproven at the major league level.
Regardless of what Epstein and Hoyer decide to do at first base, there will undoubtedly be a lot of angst among Cub fans. Either they will be labeled cheap for not giving Fielder the money he wanted, or they will be labeled as the same old Cubs throwing big money at a player whose contract will handcuff the team for several years. Sometimes, you can not win, and I am glad that I am just a fan!