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Fielder’s choice: Slugger still waiting on right offer

- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION

"It's a big day for the Rangers." Texas general manager Jon Daniels, moments after the defending American League champion Rangers signed Japanese ace Yu Darvish to a six-year, $60 million deal.

Prince Fielder, you're officially on the clock.

The last domino fell Wednesday. The final barrier in a free agency that has lasted longer than anyone could have predicted came down when Yu Darvish and Texas finalized a deal that will cost almost $122 million in salary and the posting fee the Rangers had to pay his Japanese team. The rest of the free agent market pales in comparison so, Prince, it's your call.

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels told reporters it's "very unlikely," the team has the means to add Fielder at this point — even though the latest reports, including one from USA Today, said he remains firmly on their radar. The Miami Marlins insist they're not interested. The Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago Cubs haven't seemed to be in the heat of the race for weeks. One former general manager joked Wednesday that there were 30 teams saying they didn't think they'd end up with Fielder ... though it was likely one would.

And then there are the Nationals, the patient pursuers who met once with Fielder and agent Scott Boras in Washington and again at the owners' meetings. The reports citing rival executives who name the Nationals as the favorites to land Fielder are plentiful — even though the team hasn't publicly acknowledged any aggressive pursuit. Boras was thought to be seeking a deal comparable to the 10 years, $240 million Albert Pujols got from the Los Angeles Angels. The general party line of team sources when asked has remained firm: not unless the price drops.

It begs the question: if Fielder truly wanted to become a National, wouldn't he be one by now?

General manager Mike Rizzo said a few weeks ago that he was unsure why Washington was considered the "favorite" to land the slugging first baseman. The Nationals' stance, he said then, hadn't changed since the winter meetings in early December when they were barely mentioned in the Fielder conversation. But with less than 30 days to go before pitchers and catchers report to Viera, Fla., it's almost as if they've become that by default. As the denials of interest come at every turn, really, who else is there?

The truth is that negotiations are rarely pretty. They're a difficult process, sometimes arduous, sometimes contentious. But Nationals principal owner Ted Lerner knows Boras. He knows Fielder. And you have to imagine he knows what they want to sign. By now, they must know what the Nationals would consider paying. If it was anything close to what Fielder wanted, shouldn't this dance be over?

There is not a single free agent in major league history who's signed a nine-figure deal this late in the offseason. That doesn't mean it can't happen, it just means that in 36 years of free agency, no one has waited as long as Fielder to find precisely that right fit.

Maybe it'll all become clear when Fielder eventually signs. Maybe it'll be for the type of money and years that he and Boras envisioned when they embarked on this journey in November. But if the market is indeed the way it appears, that won't happen.

If the market for the 27-year-old — who's averaged 38 home runs in the past six seasons and has a career on-base percentage nearing .400 (.390) — is the way it appears, and we're attending a Fielder news conference in D.C. sometime in the next few weeks, the Nationals will have played these negotiations perfectly.

Until then, we're left to wonder: Prince, what could possibly be taking so long?

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