The Washington Nationals, despite their early suggestions to the contrary, do appear to be deep in the mix for star free agent slugger Prince Fielder. They may even justifiably be seen as a favorite at this point. But with several other teams showing strong interest and as many as seven or eight others showing some level of interest, it may be a bit too early to declare them as “the’’ favorite.’’
Reading all the hints, suggestions and tea leaves (not to mention deciphering the requisite downplaying of many), here’s the way I see things as we head into what might be the final several days (in order of most likely to least).
- Nationals. One Nationals player told me last week they were “shooting for’ Fielder, and team officials have seemed to stop downplaying their involvement, as more snippets of interest have gotten out. The Nationals have done a lot of deals with agent Scott Boras and certainly aren’t about to let the $8 million left on Adam La Roche’s contract stand in the way.
- Mariners. GM Jack Zduriencik, who picked Fielder No. 1 when Zduriencik was scouting director in Milwaukee, loves Fielder. The feeling apparently is mutual. The one question is whether Fielder wants to play 3,000 miles from his Orlando, Fla. home and in a ballpark that isn’t conducive to home runs (though it’s better for lefthanded hitters than righties).
- Brewers. Milwaukee all but publicly wrote it off around the time they signed Aramis Ramirez. But owner Mark Attanasio has built the Brewers into a phenomenon in Milwaukee, and it’s also possible Ryan Braun’s surprise banned substance issue could intensify the interest in keeping Prince. It doesn’t appear Attanasio has dived in yet, but he’s a guy who hasn’t let the small market stop him in the past.
- Mystery team. I have no idea even if there is a mystery team. But let’s not overlook recent history. Cliff Lee and Albert Pujols wound up going to the mystery team after weeks of talks and speculation about anyone but the Phillies and Angels, respectively.
- Marlins. Some Marlins execs have said they are not going for Fielder. But others have suggested that at least some of their people are quite intrigued. One possible issue: they have a team policy not to give out no-trade clauses.
- Rangers. The Yu Darvish pickup (and everyone believes Darvish will be signed, for something just above Daisuke Matsuzaka’s $52-million deal) likely has lessened the possibility of Prince. The Rangers clearly are now focused on Darvish, and while they could possibly afford both thanks to their new TV deal, it might be seen as something of a stretch.
- Orioles. They have some interest and seem to have the spending money, but their recent history and prospects for the near future could make this one a tough sell.
- Cubs. Cubs people love the idea of adding a young slugger like Fielder to their needy lineup. But club officials have suggested they plan to limit offers to five years. That won’t get it done.
- Blue Jays. Like the Cubs, their people are hinting strongly that five years is their limit for anyone, even Prince. Opinions can change, but they’d have to go a lot longer than five (at least eight) to get into the game.