Free agent talk: Prince Fielder
Today's free agent: Prince Fielder
The Rangers have said they are comfortable going into the season with Mitch Moreland as the starting first baseman (with some help from Michael Young and Mike Napoli). Moreland had the wrist surgery this offseason and the timetable for his return was eight to 12 weeks. The 12-week portion of that range would put him back on the field just as Cactus League games begin in Surprise, Arizona in early March.
Fielder doesn't appear to fit into the budget, but we also know this about the Rangers' front office: They discuss every option open to them to get better. They talked with Scott Boras at the Winter Meetings and Fielder's name, naturally, came up.
There is no doubt signing Fielder makes the Rangers better on the field. First base has not been a hugely productive position since Mark Teixeira was traded at the deadline in 2007.
Here's a quick list of first baseman who have played at least 20 games for the Rangers since the second half of that 2007 season: Brad Wilkerson, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Chris Shelton, Hank Blalock, Chris Davis, Frank Catalanotto, Ben Broussard, Justin Smoak, Jorge Cantu, Mike Napoli, Michael Young and, of course, Moreland.
Since the beginning of the 2008 season, the Rangers have hit .242 at the first base position with 88 homers and 301 RBIs. That's four full seasons at what is supposed to be one of the major power centers on the field. Of course, the club has also been one of the top run-producing offenses in that span, so it doesn't matter where the runs come from on the diamond. But it's worth noting that it has been a weak spot in the lineup.
Last year, things picked up a bit in terms of average thanks to Napoli's red-hot second half and Young's steady, solid season. Yet the club still didn't put up the homers and RBIs you'd expect from the position (18 homers at 71 RBIs from the first base spot).
Prince Fielder? He had 38 homers and 120 RBIs as the Brewers' first baseman in 2011 (started 159 games at first). He has hit at least 28 home runs in each of his six full seasons, including 50 homers in 2007 and 46 in 2009. He's driven in more than 100 runs four times. Can you imagine that kind of power in the already deep Rangers lineup?
But what would it cost? The club is hesitant (as they should be) to sign anyone to a particularly super-long contract (wouldn't Fielder get eight or 10 years)? But what if some of that was backloaded to coincide with the TV contract money kicking in for the 2015 season? What if the club paid Fielder a very-high price per year on a shorter-deal, if he'd take it? Is it worth it if it means waving goodbye to a current player from the core group (a reminder that Josh Hamilton is going to be looking for a long-term deal after this season and that Mike Napoli can become a free agent after 2012 too)?
These are not easy questions. But you can bet they've been tossed around the halls at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. So I ask you: Do you want Fielder? Would he be worth it if it meant the Rangers wouldn't have Hamilton or Cruz or a key member of their core? Should they forget about high-priced position players and go after pitching?
My opinion: I like how this front office discusses anything and everything, even when it seems unlikely. They believe strongly in exploring every avenue because you never know where the road might fork and take you somewhere that could make the team better. In this case, I'd rather put money into the core group and keep some available to do other things down the line (like pitching) than a big contract like Fielder will command. But that's just me. And I know many of you disagree. So speak up here.
We'll take a look at some more pitching options (Yu Darvish, other trade options) as the week progresses.
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