After a magnificent 2011 regular season in which he produced massive MVP-caliber numbers, Prince Fielder has solidified himself as this offseason’s hottest free-agent commodity. The only question is, where will he sign?
Several teams will battle it out for the right to MLB‘s most famous vegetarian, but some are beginning to separate themselves from the pack as the postseason winds down. With the offseason just around the corner, here’s an in-depth look at the six teams most likely to nab Fielder this winter.
2011 Team Payroll: $68 million. Noteworthy Expiring Contracts (with 2011 salary): Ivan Rodriguez ($3 million), Mike Morse ($1.05 million), Tom Gorzelanny ($2.1 million)
Maintaining MLB’s ninth-lowest payroll, the Nationals finished their 2011 campaign with a surprisingly competitive 80-81 mark, despite the absence of Stephen Strasburg. Ranking 17th in baseball in home runs (154), 24th in RBI (594), 25th in OBP (.309) and 22nd in SLG (.383), the Nationals lacked the offensive power necessary to compete in a power-packed NL East. With the addition of Fielder and a Bryce Harper promotion, that could change substantially.
The Nationals won’t have nearly as much money to throw at Fielder as some of the more desperate teams, but they do have one thing going for them: young talent. Fielder would be wise to recognize the tremendous potential in D.C., with Strasburg, Harper, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and a slew of up-and-coming prospects making the Nationals top competitors for No. 28 this offseason.
2011 Team Payroll: $86 million. Noteworthy Expiring Contracts (with 2011 salary): David Aardsma ($4.5 million), Jason Vargas ($2.5 million), Brandon League ($2.3 million)
If Fielder is keen on getting his money’s worth this offseason, he should look no further than Seattle, where it’s safe to say they’ll be desperate to gain big-time offensive firepower. Ranking dead last in runs scored (556), hits (1,263), RBI (534), OBP (.292) and SLG (.348) in 2011, the Mariners will likely set their sights on Fielder’s big bat in order to reshape their once-proud franchise.
Toronto Blue Jays
2011 Team Payroll: $63 million. Noteworthy Expiring Contracts (with 2011 salary): Kelly Johnson ($5.8 million), Yunel Escobar ($2.9 million), Frank Francisco ($4.0 million), Brandon Morrow ($2.3 million)
Picturing Prince Fielder and Jose Bautista in the same lineup is frightening.
The Blue Jays, who have now gone 18 illustrious seasons without a postseason appearance, would be thrust into postseason contention with the addition of a talent such as Fielder. With the talent they’ve already assembled, an AL East title may be on the horizon.
Granted, it’s easier said than done. Toronto has a number of contracts that will need to be restructured this winter, including re-signing Brandon Morrow to a respectable new deal. The money won’t be flowing quite as much as it will in Seattle; however, there’s more to be had than his $15.5-million contract with Milwaukee. This deal could certainly be a possibility.
2011 Team Payroll: $125 million. Noteworthy Expiring Contracts (with 2011 salary): Aramis Ramirez ($14.6 million), Jeff Baker ($1.2 million), Matt Garza ($5.9 million), Carlos Pena ($10 million)
With Theo Epstein now running the free-agent show in Chicago, anything is possible. Inking Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142-million deal last December, the former Red Sox general manager isn’t hesitant toward wafting around vast amounts of cash.
Wrigley Field has been a home away from home for Fielder throughout his career. Batting .298 with 11 HR and 34 RBI to go with a 1.003 OPS in 49 games at the friendly confines, Fielder should be Chicago’s primary offseason target as the Cubs prepare for next season.
San Francisco Giants
2011 Team Payroll: $117 million. Noteworthy Expiring Contracts (with 2011 salary): Mark DeRosa ($6 million), Carlos Beltran ($20 million), Cody Ross ($6 million)
It remains to be seen whether San Francisco chooses to pursue re-signing Carlos Beltran, but with the way things turned out, it would shocking if they did. Struggling to produce runs at the plate all season long, the Giants will be on the hunt for a bat such as Fielder, who can also take over the reigns at first base along with driving in runs.
Other than signing Tim Lincecum to a contract extension, San Francisco doesn’t have much else on their plate this offseason. We’ll see if that plays into their aggressiveness with Fielder.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2011 Team Payroll: $138 million
Noteworthy Expiring Contracts (with 2011 salary): Joel Piniero ($8 million), Fernando Rodney ($5.5 million); Howard Kendrick ($3.3 million)
The Angels avoided arbitration by re-signing Jered Weaver back in August, locking the star right-hander up with a five-year contract extension worth roughly $85 million, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras, tries to woo the slugger to Anaheim.
They Angels will look for more starting pitching via free agency or trade this winter, but there is one clear lingering issue restraining Mike Scioscia’s ballclub from postseason contention: the ability to hit the long ball.
Stacked up against AL teams, the Angels ranked eighth in home runs (155), 10th in RBI (629) and 11th in OBP (.313), and still nearly snuck into the playoffs. With the addition of Fielder, they could be early favorites to represent the AL in the World Series next season.