Prince Fielder is in an interesting position as he prepares for free agency. Just look at the positives working in his favor:
- He will be just 27-years old at the start of the 2012 season, right in the prime of his career. So, for teams willing to hand out a seven or eight year contract, there isn’t quite as much risk as an older free agent (though, that’s not to say that there is no risk).
- He’s hit at least 32 HR each of the past five seasons including years of 46 and 50.
- He has three seasons of at least 119 RBI, including driving in 141 in 2009.
Players like this are not supposed to reach free agency. They aren’t supposed to be available for the highest bidder. However, here we are. You would think that the options would be unlimited, but in fact a lot of the large market teams are already set at the position.
You also have the complication of Albert Pujols’ presence on the free agent market, just adding an extra bit of difficulty in trying to determine who will actually be involved in the bidding for Fielder.
With all that said, here are the Top 5 teams I see getting into the mix:
5) Baltimore Orioles
Here is a team that seems like a perfect fit for a major slugger. They have a number of young pitchers, though it will be interesting to see how many of them actually develop into steady Major Leaguers. While they have a good young base in the lineup (Adam Jones, Matt Wieters), they do lack that truly feared bat in the middle of the order.
As things stand right now Mark Reynolds is inline to be the team’s starting 1B in 2012. It’s great that he can hit a lot of home runs, but is that really enough? He’s not an ideal 1B, having made 11 errors in 78 games at the position in his Major League career. Vladimir Guerrero’s $8 million salary is coming off the books, which would allow the team to move Reynolds to DH as well.
The Orioles could be a longshot, because they are not one player away from competing in the AL East. However, that hasn’t always stopped teams from making moves in the past.
4) Toronto Blue Jays
It is not hard to imagine Adam Lind becoming a full-time DH in Toronto, is it? The real player who would lose his spot is Edwin Encarnacion (since he has already lost his spot at 3B to Brett Lawrie), who the Blue Jays hold a $3.5 million option for in 2012. I don’t think anyone is avoiding Fielder because of him, do you? The team actually could pick-up the option, considering the reasonable price tag, to have him as a security blanket.
In 2011 Toronto had an Opening Day payroll of roughly $70 million. It wasn’t long ago that they entered the 2008 campaign at nearly $98 million, so it certainly isn’t unthinkable that they add a major chunk to their payroll.
It’s possible that they instead focus on strengthening a starting rotation that is in need of some depth behind it’s top two pitchers (Ricky Romero & Brandon Morrow) , but could you imagine a combination of Jose Bautista and Fielder in the middle of the order? That could arguably be the best 1-2 punch in the game and make the Blue Jays a very scary opponent.
In order to compete with the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays the Blue Jays will eventually need to make a splash. This seems like a good opportunity, though again, seeing them instead look to improve the rotation (Yu Darvish?) could be more likely.
3) Milwaukee Brewers
The general consensus has been that he will not return to Milwaukee. With a deep run into October, do we really want to completely write them off? If Fielder goes out onto the open market and does not come up with the offers he’s expecting, who’s to say he doesn’t “settle” for a contract similar to the six-year, $120 million that he’s been rumored to have been offered from the Brewers.
If Milwaukee feels that they can still make that offer, knowing that they will eventually have to address their pitching again (Zack Greinke is only signed through 2012), is a different story. However, I think they have to be considered a realistic option.
2) San Francisco Giants
Stocked with some of the best pitching in the league, the Giants desperately need help in their lineup. They were second worst in the league in runs scored with 570, above just the lowly Seattle Mariners (556). Considering they had the second best ERA (3.20) and all of their key pitchers returning, a few extra runs would go a long way.
Aubrey Huff will be 35-years old at the start of the 2012 season and while he is already signed, I don’t see his presence stopping the Giants from getting the player they sorely need. With Brandon Belt capable of playing the outfield (as is Huff), there are definitely ways to clear the spot.
Things would be better if Barry Zito were to be coming off the books, but the Giants know what needs to be done if they want to continuously compete for World Series titles. If there is any potential to sign Fielder, Brian Sabean will find a way to clear the salary to do it.
1) Chicago Cubs
With Theo Epstein taking the reigns in Chicago (eventually it will become official) you know the team is going to be looking to make an impact. A lot of the rumors are that they will make a major bid for Pujols, though I think Epstein’s presence could alter that line of thinking.
It’s not that Pujols is not currently the better player, but he’s already 31-years old (he’ll be 32 before the start of the 2012 season). Sooner or later you have to think that he is going to start to regress. Just look at Alex Rodriguez as one example.
Would you want to give him a seven or eight year contract and risk paying him over $20+ million when he is in his 38 or 39-year old seasons? That’s not to say that Fielder doesn’t have his own risks (like his weight), but I could easily see the Cubs instead focusing on the younger player who could perform throughout the length of his contract.
With new owners and a new regime at the top, the Cubs will likely be in position to make some moves.
Other Potential Suitors
I know there are going to be rumors about a few other teams also getting into the mix, but here are my thoughts on why they fell short of the Top 5:
- Dodgers – It’s hard for me to imagineLos Angelesas a reasonable location, with new contracts for Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Clayton Kershaw coming up soon and the team already in bankruptcy.
- Rangers – Is offense really where they need to improve? While there is a bit of a hole at 1B I would expect them to potentially go a lot harder after CC Sabathia or Yu Darvish and retaining C.J. Wilson. The starting rotation is where they need the ace. Signing someone like Fielder is just something that they don’t need considering they already boast a lineup featuring Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz & Josh Hamilton.
- Marlins – Given their move to a new stadium it appears like they have money to spend. However, where would that leave Gaby Sanchez? I do believe the Marlins are going to make a splash, but I don’t think 1B is the spot that makes the most sense.
- Yankees – I just see them as a long shot at this point. Barring a traded of Jesus Montero he could be an option at DH. You also have Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter who are getting up there in years and will need an occasional day off. By signing someone like Fielder to be a full-time DH, they would lose their bats in the lineup completely.
What are your thoughts on where Fielder may sign? What are your top five potential destinations for him?
Make sure to check out these other great baseball lists from Rankings Professor:
- The Top 5 Tampa Bay Rays Most Likely To Be Traded Prior To 2012
- Projecting Free Agency: The Top 5 Most Likely Landing Spots For Jose Reyes
- Top Five Offseason Questions Facing The Philadelphia Phillies For 2012
- Top 5 Players Theo Epstein & The Chicago Cubs Should Part Ways With