- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2012

General manager Mike Rizzo has spent much of the past few weeks dispelling the constant speculation that ties the Washington Nationals to free agent slugger Prince Fielder.

Rizzo has downplayed interest in Fielder at every turn without completely closing the door on possibly adding the first baseman to his lineup.

Asked during a conference call Dec. 23 if the Nationals were planning on Adam LaRoche being the team’s first baseman in 2012, Rizzo said, “That’s correct.”

In an interview with MLBNetwork Radio five days later, Rizzo reiterated that point. The team, he said, made decisions on free agents such as Fielder early in the process and had”more or less decided” LaRoche would be at first base this season unless “something extraordinary” happened.

Their denials have been to no avail. Multiple national reports continue to link Washington to Fielder — including a report in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel earlier this week citing a major league official who said word is spreading that the Nationals are the favorites to land the three-time All-Star. Team sources, though, maintain that unless the price for Fielder — specifically in years — comes down, Washington doesn’t consider itself that team.

Agent Scott Boras is said to be seeking an eight- to 10-year deal along the lines of the 10-year, $250 million pact Albert Pujols signed with the Los Angeles Angels earlier this offseason. A contract of that length and magnitude doesn’t appear to interest Washington — but a shorter deal could.

Multiple team officials have noted that the six-player trade with Oakland that landed left-handed pitcher Gio Gonzalez could stand as the big move of the offseason and that the Nationals will fill out their roster with minor moves. Rizzo said as much when asked about the team’s plans for the roster after the trade, saying they’d like to do some “subtle” things — which would not imply adding the top remaining free agent on the market to a lengthy, multimillion-dollar deal.

All of Rizzo’s comments may still stand true and with Boras also representing several Nationals, it’s no surprise when his clients are linked to Washington.

But the speculation isn’t entirely baseless. A source confirmed to The Washington Times that Fielder and Boras visited the Baltimore-Washington area earlier this month on the pair’s tour to meet with several MLB owners. The Baltimore Sun reported the group’s visit Friday but that the two did not meet with Orioles owner Peter Angelos, leaving only one Mid-Atlantic owner left for Boras to peddle his prize free agent to. MLB.com reported that the group had visited the Nationals.

Team sources would not confirm or deny the meeting with the Nationals or any member of the Lerner family, but it wouldn’t be a surprise for the two parties to have at least met. Rizzo and Boras have a good working relationship, evidenced by the contracts the two have reached for Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg, who join Danny Espinosa as Boras clients on the team’s 40-man roster.

Much of Boras‘ negotiations for Fielder have been shrouded in secrecy, and he has declined to name any of the teams the two have met with. At the winter meetings, the agent told a crowd of reporters that Fielder “has a different place in the market and demands for his services are broader. You have teams that are not as playoff-ready that are interested; we have clubs that are very veteran that are interested. You have a whole variety of teams that are interested.”

Boras intimated at that time that they weren’t interested in a shorter-term deal.

Nationals pitchers and catchers will report to spring training in just more than six weeks, and it’s uncommon for one of the game’s biggest free agents to remain unsigned this deep into the offseason. Time is running short, though, so the only thing known for sure is that Fielder’s future will be decided soon.

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