Fielder’s Leverage Weakening?

All has been quiet on the Prince Fielder front. With pitchers and catchers due to report to camp between February 12th and 23rd, and full squads between 2/18 and 2/28, time seems to be running out.

While Fielder’s stop at the Four Seasons Hotel in Dallas was said to be his first on a road tour of approximately four sites, the hard-to-miss first baseman hasn’t been publicly spotted anywhere since his Texas meeting with Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan. It’s the time of year when trades involving Marco Scutaro make headlines, and still, nothing.

The only two teams to have publicly expressed interest, the Nationals and Rangers, have made moves that would serve as contingency plans should Fielder land elsewhere. The Rangers signed former All-Star Brad Hawpe to a minor league contract, and the Nationals agreed to a two year deal with Michael Morse. While Morse’s talent leaves Washington with more than just a contingency plan, Scott Boras’ negotiation strategy could be running its course.

Boras has traditionally urged his clients to refrain from signing until late in the offseason so that they would be the last available option; thus driving up his price in a market with limited supply. However, it’s possible that there could be a conflict. Fielder came just short of reaching his first ever World Series in 2011, and it’s possible that he wants to play for a winner. If that’s the case, there is only one likely contender seemingly interested in his services.

Has an apparent lack of demand driven down Fielder’s price? Did the Rangers only meet with Fielder as a back-up plan for Yu Darvish? Nolan Ryan weighed in on ESPN radio:

“Hard to say because they’ve never made a firm proposal to us,” Ryan said. “They talk in generalities and numbers and other people’s contracts, and so you can speculate what it is. One time they’re talking eight years, one time they’re talking 10 years, one time they’re talking about a contract bigger than Ryan Howard’s in Philadelphia.”

Ryan’s statement indicates that his meeting with Fielder was not just an investigation of a fall-back option should Darvish not sign, and was in conflict with a statement by owner Bob Simpson this weekend.

“He’s been considered, but given our set of cards, too pricey,” Simpson said. “If that were to change, I guess they’d look at it harder. Right now he’s priced himself out of what we could do.”

Simpson also said that he would prefer Josh Hamilton to Fielder. While I disagree that this would be the right decision, the statement neglects one key fact: signing Fielder would mean that they would have both, at least for one year.

It is very possible that the 27 year old Fielder will accept a shorter contract that will allow him to test the free agent market once again while still in his prime. Playing at Rangers Ballpark could help Prince boost his profile, pad his stats, and improve his bargaining position for another future deal.

Players are considered to be in their prime between the ages of 27 and 32, but I’m not sure a five year deal would be ideal for either party. The Rangers payrollcurrently is currently in-line with their estimated budget at about $125 million. Their television contract doesn’t kick in until 2015, and Michael Young doesn’t fall off of the books for another two years. A six year deal would make financial maneuvering easier for Texas, but could limit Fielder’s next deal as it would leave him a year older.

It sounds like that if Fielder truly wants to sign with Texas, Boras may have to be willing to accept an un-Boras-like contract.