The 2011 MLB season has come and gone, making way for an entirely new, more intriguing juncture: free agency.
Truth be told, we’ve never seen such a loaded MLB free-agency class such as this year. Many of the game’s top sluggers and pitchers will become available for signing and re-signing in just a few short weeks.
Of those sluggers, is [former] Milwaukee Brewers first-baseman Prince Fielder. The burly vegetarian was simply incredible in 2011, amassing MVP-caliber numbers at a minimal rate. That said, many teams will be vying for Fielder’s services in 2012 and beyond, and it’s becoming quite clear that there is no clear-cut front-runner in the sweepstakes.
Insert the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Finishing their 2011 season at a 82-79 mark, manager Don Mattingly (despite all the speculation and hatred surrounding owner and chairman Frank McCourt) does have a talented ballclub that could be just a free-agent signing away from a World Series.
Here are five reasons Los Angeles could sign Fielder this offseason.
Budding Relationship with Matt Kemp?
We see this every so often in sports, but we fail to recognize it.
Back in July, Fielder was appointed as the “captain” of the National League in the MLB Home Run Derby. His duty was to recruit players he deemed best fit to carry the NL to victory over the AL. Consequently, he turned to fellow MVP-candidate Matt Kemp, who just so happens to be a Dodger himself. From what was noticeable, the two superstars seemed to harmonize quite easily.
Could this become a potential reason for Fielder to make his way out West this offseason? You bet it does.
27-year-old first-baseman James Loney has been a hit-or-miss talent for the better part of his six seasons as a Dodger.
Alongside Matt Kemp in Los Angeles’ lineup, Loney has amassed at least 88 RBI and 25 doubles in three individual seasons, and has additionally posted a career .288 BA, to boot. However, if there’s one thing holding him back from super-stardom, it’s his unmistakably below-average power. Loney has never compiled more than 15 HR in a single season, and has witnessed a progressive drop in OPS from .919 in 2007 to .775 in 2011.
He’s arbitration eligible this offseason (for the third straight year), and I’m convinced many teams will be willing to pay him at or near the approximately $5 Million he made in 2011 if the Dodgers are willing to trade him away to help make payroll room for Fielder.
Money Will Likely Be Set Aside
The Dodgers inherited a $104 Million payroll heading into 2011, enough to be MLB’s 12th-largest team payroll at the time. This offseason, that could change — drastically.
Former closer Jonathan Broxton, who made a healthy $7 Million in 2011 for pitching just 12.2 total innings, is set to become a free-agent this offseason, meaning hit contract is also set to come off the books, as well. That will (and should) play a colossal role in how the Dodgers go about pursuing Fielder this offseason.
Other players with expiring contracts can be viewed here.
This map displays the mere 44 miles separating Ontario, California (Fielder’s hometown) from Los Angeles. Could we be in for a homecoming fit for a king?
Don’t discount it…
All the Talent Is in Place…
It’s astonishing for how dreadful a situation the Dodgers are in, yet they’re still one of the most talented teams in the league right now.
Between Kemp, Andre Ethier, Tony Gwynn and a solid batch of minor league prospects moving their way up, Los Angeles is already an offensive juggernaut. You think Ryan Braun-Prince Fielder is a lethal combination? Try Kemp-Fielder.
Likewise, Clayton Kershaw will inevitably be named NL Cy Young of 2011 (at just 23 years old, nonetheless), and he’ll only get better with age. If they can get decent starting pitching in 2012, they should cruise to the franchise’s 12th NL West title.