In early November, I wrote that the Los Angeles Dodgers should sign Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols even though the team was in bankruptcy, even though the team was for sale.
“If anything, the signing of such a player might be the perfect first step as the Dodgers prepare to negotiate their new TV contract and rebuild their season-ticket base,” I said then.
Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras, agreed, saying, “If you’re going to optimize the TV value, you’re going to do it with ratings and stars.”
Sure enough, the Dodgers tried to do just that, making a strong run at Fielder before he signed with the Detroit Tigers, according to major-league sources.
The Dodgers’ offer, first reported by CBSSports.com, would have included an early opt-out provision, the source said. The deal, if it had come to fruition, would have been in the seven-year, $160 million range. Fielder signed with the Tigers for nine years, $214 million.
As it turned out, the Dodgers recognized that they stood little chance on Fielder nearly a week before he agreed with Detroit. At that point, Boras informed them that were $50 million to $60 million short of an offer that he already had — the offer that turned out to be the Tigers’.
“It didn’t get to the ninth inning. It got to about the sixth inning,” the source said.
Owner Frank McCourt, however, clearly viewed Fielder as a way to enhance the value of the club, which is in the process of being sold.
The pairing of Fielder and center fielder Matt Kemp, both 27, would have given the Dodgers a dynamic middle of the order, if only for a few seasons before Fielder opted out.
— Ken Rosenthal
• The recent four-player Yankees-Mariners trade likely will be debated for years.
One good sign for the Mariners: Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers, who worked for the Yankees in 2010, is a fan of right-hander Hector Noesi, who went to the Mariners with catcher Jesus Montero for righty Michael Pineda and minor-league righty Jose Campos.
Towers, renowned for his pitching expertise, asked for Noesi as part of a trade package when he spoke with the Yankees about outfielder Justin Upton after the ’10 season, according to a rival executive.
• The obvious benefit of the Nationals’ failure to sign free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder is that it allows the team to retain positional flexibility, particularly in center field.
A long-term deal for Fielder eventually might have forced the Nats to use an outfield of Michael Morse in left, Jayson Werth in center and Bryce Harper in right. Without Fielder, they can move Morse to first after Adam LaRoche plays out his contract this season and pursue a legitimate center fielder.
Michael Bourn, Shane Victorino and B.J. Upton are eligible for free agency next offseason, and the Nats also are high on three of their center-field prospects – Brian Goodwin, Michael Taylor and Eury Perez.
None, though, has yet to play above Class A.
Goodwin, the 34th overall pick in last year’s draft, is the team’s fifth-ranked prospect, according to Baseball America. Taylor, who draws comparisons to Mike Cameron, took perhaps the biggest jump of any player in the system last season. Perez is a speedster with offensive potential.
• As I reported on Twitter earlier this week, the Cubs, Marlins and Tigers are the three clubs scouting Cuban outfielder Yoennis Cespedes most closely in the Dominican.
Cespedes finally hit the open market Wednesday. The bidding for him is certain to be intense, if for no other reason than the new spending limits on international amateur talent will limit clubs in most foreign markets. (Cuban defectors and Asian players who are older than 23 and have more than five years professional experience will not be subject to the restrictions.)
Starting with the 2012-13 signing season, each club will be allocated a signing-bonus pool. The pools will be equal in 2012-13, then will vary based on reverse order of winning percentage thereafter. Clubs that exceed their respective limits will be subject to penalties.
• Remember Kosuke Fukudome?
He remains a free agent, and the Brewers showed interest in him before paying a combined $4.75 million for Japanese outfielder Norichika Aoiki — a $2.5 million posting fee and a two-year, $2.25 million contract.
Fukudome, who had a combined .712 OPS last season for the Cubs and Indians, wants to remain in the majors, according to a source with knowledge of his thinking. Some executives, however, believe he may end up back in Japan.
• Speaking of Japanese players, Rangers right-hander Koji Uehara had such a positive experience in Baltimore, he recommended the Orioles to the two free-agent lefties the team signed out of the Japanese league, Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Yin Chen, according to a major-league source.
Uehara invoked his limited no-trade protection to reject a deal to the Blue Jays this week, sources say, prompting the Jays to sign free-agent righty Francisco Cordero to a one-year, $4.5 million contract.
A trade back to the Orioles is a possibility.
• The Red Sox are talking to free-agent right-hander Edwin Jackson, who could be open to a one-year deal.
Two years ago, agent Scott Boras negotiated such a “pillow” contract with the Red Sox for another of his clients, third baseman Adrian Beltre.
One executive, however, points out that the AL East offers no such soft landing for a starting pitcher. If Jackson signs for one year, he might be better off in the NL, where he could produce better numbers before going back into the open market.
— Ken Rosenthal
The Rangers are becoming increasingly optimistic about their chances to sign Yu Darvish, a major-league source said Thursday.
The team has until 5 p.m. ET Wednesday to reach agreement with Darvish, after obtaining his negotiating rights last month. Darvish’s team, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, will collect the Rangers’ $51.7 million posting fee if the ace right-hander signs with Texas.
If the Rangers sign Darvish, it will probably signal that they are no longer pursuing free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder. One source with knowledge of the Rangers’ finances said this week that it’s unlikely the team can afford both players.
Darvish would return to the Fighters for the 2012 season if he fails to reach agreement with the Rangers. After the upcoming season, he would again be eligible to come to the major leagues via the posting system. But that scenario appears increasingly unlikely, as the Rangers’ confidence grows.
-- Jon Paul Morosi
Oakland’s Andrew Bailey isn’t necessarily the only big-name closer left on the trade market.
Some within the industry believe the Mariners are willing to move Brandon League — if not now, then perhaps closer to spring training. A number of teams have contacted the Mariners to express interest, sources say.
It would be difficult for the Mariners to trade League, an All-Star this year, while attempting to convince free agent Prince Fielder that they are serious about winning. But if Fielder signs elsewhere, the Mariners will likely reconsider League’s trade value — particularly considering he will become a free agent after the upcoming season.
Sources say the Reds, Red Sox and Angels are interested in acquiring a closer, although it’s not clear if any of them have had serious talks with the Mariners about League.
The Dodgers inquired about League’s availability during the winter meetings, but their interest is not believed to be serious.
For now, League’s status with the Mariners seems analogous to Heath Bell’s situation in San Diego entering the 2011 season: He will be closing for a team that’s not expected to contend and therefore should have greater value to other clubs. If anything, the Mariners should be more motivated to trade League than the Padres were with Bell, because of the changing nature of draft-pick compensation under the new collective bargaining agreement.
— Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi
Once the winner of the Yu Darvish sweepstakes is identified, expect the losing bidders to shift quickly into trade mode.
If the Rangers fail to get Darvish, they could accelerate their talks for Athletics left-hander Gio Gonzalez.
If the Blue Jays strike out on Darvish, they could increase their pursuit of Cubs right-hander Matt Garza.
Both the Rangers and Blue Jays like Garza, but the Rangers prefer Gonzalez, who is under club control for four more seasons, major-league sources say.
Garza, who is under control for two more years, is attractive to the Jays because of the success he enjoyed in the AL East while pitching for the Rays.
The Cubs are drawing heavy interest not only in Garza, but also left-handed reliever Sean Marshall, sources say. The lack of depth in their minor-league system – and the restrictions on spending in future drafts - would be the motivation for a trade of either or both.
If the Cubs chose to rebuild in such fashion, they would be more likely to trade for Padres first baseman Anthony Rizzo than spend heavily on free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder.
Rizzo was one of the players that Cubs president Theo Epstein, during his tenure as Red Sox GM, traded to the Padres for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
Rival executives believe that the Padres will move Rizzo, who became expendable when the Pads acquired first baseman Yonder Alonso in the Mat Latos trade.
Yes, the Milwaukee Brewers plan to meet with the agents for free-agent shortstop Jose Reyes at the winter meetings. No, they will not be a serious bidder for Reyes — at least not in the range of the Marlins’ reported six-year, $90 million offer.
The Brewers, like many teams, are wary of allowing media reports to set the markets for free agents. They want to hear firsthand what Reyes and other players want before determining how to proceed.
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins and third baseman Aramis Ramirez are among the other prominent free agents who have received inquiries from the Brewers.
“That’s why we’re here at the meetings — to meet with people,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said Sunday. “It doesn’t mean we have that (same) level of interest.
“There is a perception that we’re going to spend $20 million if we don’t get Prince (Fielder). That’s not right.”
The reason, Melvin said, is that many of the Brewers’ remaining players will earn significantly more in 2012 than they did in ’11.
Second baseman Rickie Weeks will go from $3.5 million to $10 million, right fielder Corey Hart from $6.5 million to $9 million, left fielder Ryan Braun from $4 million to $6 million, right-hander Yovani Gallardo from $3.25 million to $5.5 million.
In addition, reliever Kameron Loe will enter his second year of salary arbitration, and outfielder Nyjer Morgan and third baseman Casey McGehee are arb-eligible for the first time.
— Ken Rosenthal
In his talks with clubs about Prince Fielder, agent Scott Boras has suggested that Fielder is the game’s last young power bat until Marlins right fielder Mike Stanton joins him among the game's elite.
If you believe that assertion — and many club executives agree that there is a dearth of power throughout the majors and minors — wouldn’t it be tempting to put Fielder and Stanton together on the same team?
Fielder is about the only major free agent to whom the Marlins have not made an offer. They are more focused on Albert Pujols, in part because Pujols, a native of the Dominican Republic, would be a bigger draw for Miami’s Hispanic community.
The team, however, has discussed Fielder internally and done background work on his makeup, major-league sources say — and yes, some club officials are indeed enamored of the idea of pairing Fielder, 27, with Stanton, 22.
The idea has merit from several perspectives:
• Fielder, a left-handed hitter, would fit the Marlins’ heavily right-handed lineup better than Pujols. Left fielder Logan Morrison currently is the Marlins’ only left-handed hitter with power.
• Fielder lives in Orlando, and frequently returned home from Milwaukee on off-days while playing for the Brewers. By signing with the Marlins, he would be in the National League city closest to Orlando.
• Fielder, who is nearly 4 1/2 years younger than Pujols, is roughly in the same age category as Stanton, Morrison and Hanley Ramirez, not to mention another free agent the Marlins are pursuing, shortstop Jose Reyes.
To this point, the Marlins have had minimal contact with Fielder — they first will exhaust their options with Pujols and Reyes, sources say.
What’s more, if the Marlins sign Reyes, their next big move could be for a starting pitcher and not a first baseman; the team already has two options at first, Gaby Sanchez and Morrison.
Still, Fielder to the Fish cannot be entirely ruled out. The Marlins proved they were serious about spending by reaching agreement with closer Heath Bell on a three-year, $27 million contract. And clearly, they aren’t finished yet.
— Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi
Free-agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez has met with the Angels, sources say, and a contract offer is likely forthcoming.
It’s believed the meeting took place this week.
The Brewers also are among the teams pursuing Ramirez, sources say. If Milwaukee signs Ramirez, then Mat Gamel and incumbent third baseman Casey McGehee could combine to replace Prince Fielder at first base.
Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin has been aggressive in attempting to upgrade the infield, with Jerry Hairston Jr. and Jimmy Rollins among his targets. The Brewers are not interested in Jose Reyes at his present contract demands, sources say.
-- Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi
The Texas Rangers announced Wednesday evening that first baseman Mitch Moreland will need a recovery period of 8-12 weeks after undergoing surgery to remove the pisiform bone from his right wrist.
It’s impossible to know if Moreland will be game-ready when the Rangers’ spring-training schedule begins, raising an obvious question: Could the uncertainty surrounding Moreland’s immediate future nudge the Rangers into a more serious pursuit of free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder?
Right now, at least, it appears the answer is no, particularly given the existence of in-house contingencies Michael Young and Mike Napoli.
The Rangers have interest in Fielder, sources say, but CEO/president Nolan Ryan downplayed the possibility of signing Fielder or Albert Pujols for seven or eight years in an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram earlier this offseason. Sources describe Fielder as not high on the Rangers’ priority list, citing a more pressing need to upgrade the rotation and bullpen. Texas is keeping tabs on free-agent starters Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson.
The Brewers, Cubs, Mariners and Nationals are among the teams with interest in Fielder, sources say.
At this point, the Rangers are not seriously courting Pujols, sources say.
-- Jon Paul Morosi and Ken Rosenthal
The Milwaukee Brewers have all but conceded they cannot sign first baseman Prince Fielder long-term, even though they agreed to a one-year, $15.5 million contract with him on Tuesday.
The team's other problem: Second baseman Rickie Weeks also could be slipping away.
The Brewers continue to explore multiyear scenarios with Weeks, but the two sides are not close to a deal, major league sources say.
Weeks, 28, could end up following the same path as Fielder, staying with the team for one more season before becoming a free agent.
— Ken Rosenthal
The Brewers’ inability to trade first baseman Prince Fielder to the White Sox underscores the difficulty of moving Fielder in the current market.
The teams exchanged thoughts on Fielder before the White Sox reached an agreement with free agent Adam Dunn on Thursday. But the talks failed to advance beyond the exploratory stages, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions.
The White Sox chose to sign Dunn for $56 million over four years and forfeit a high draft pick rather than give up the quality pitching the Brewers desired.
Few teams are deep in pitching, and the White Sox are approaching a critical stage; both left-hander Mark Buehrle and righty Edwin Jackson are free agents after next season.
Amid such uncertainty, it's difficult for the White Sox to trade a younger pitcher such as right-hander Gavin Floyd, who's signed to an affordable contract that could tie him to the club through 2013.
Market forces, then, are conspiring against the Brewers.
Pitching is scarce. The free-agent market is flush with first base/DH types, and Fielder’s contract is the baseball equivalent of a hot potato.
Fielder stands to earn a significant raise from $10.5 million in arbitration next season, then become a free agent. His agent, Scott Boras, rarely agrees to contract extensions, preferring his clients’ values to be established by the open market.
Thus, any team that gets Fielder likely will keep him for only one season, and few teams are willing to part with the pitching the Brewers would require.
Not a great dynamic for a trade.
Here's the best reason yet to think the Brewers will try hard to trade first baseman Prince Fielder or second baseman Rickie Weeks.
The team won't aggressively pursue a starting pitcher through free agency, said a source with knowledge of the club's thinking.
The reason: The Brewers have fared poorly in their free-agent pitching decisions in recent years and don't want to get burned again.
Also, the market beyond left-hander Cliff Lee is thin. Righty Carl Pavano and lefty Jorge De La Rosa, a pitcher the Brewers once traded for Tony Graffanino, are among the top remaining choices.
Trades, then, would be the only way for the club to improve its rotation, which last season ranked next to last in the NL in ERA.
Fielder and Weeks are eligible for free agency at the end of next season. The Brewers also are open to trading other players such as third baseman Casey McGehee and prospects such as second baseman Brett Lawrie.
The interest in Fielder, in particular, might not be what the Brewers desire. Fielder stands to earn a significant raise from $10.5 million in his final year of arbitration, and his agent, Scott Boras, almost always seeks market value in free agency.
The Brewers plan to explore a contract extension with Weeks, who's represented by Greg Genske. But Weeks, like Fielder, might prefer to determine his value in free agency.