(Here is the latest Mariners’ winter league update).
There’s been a lot of talk emanating from the winter meetings about all the teams that don’t plan to go all-in on a Prince Fielder bid, and how the market, and the price tag, might be shrinking. The tweet above, sent earlier today by former MLB general manager Jim Bowden, now with ESPN, is causing a lot of excitement amongst Mariners fans, for obvious reasons.
I’m skeptical, however, that the Fielder market won’t ultimately expand. To think otherwise
might be wishful thinking on the part of teams hoping to get a bargain (and I should put sarcastic quotes around the word bargain, because in this wacky world, $100 million constitutes a real steal of a deal). But history shows that Scott Boras, who just happens to be Fielder’s agent, will get something close to the deal he is seeking. And I’d have to think that’s something north of what he got for Mark Teixeira from the Yankees in 2008: eight years, $180 million.
Boras will plop a big fancy book in front of general managers with charts, graphs and statistics to show why Fielder is even a better bet than Teixeira, starting with the fact that he will play next year at 28, a year younger than Teixeira was in his first Yankees season. Boras will point out that no young slugger of his caliber will potentially be on the market again until Florida’s Mike Stanton becomes a free agent five years down the road. He’ll no doubt try to show, as he always does with the players he deems “iconic,” how they will pay for themselves through attendance increases and improved television ratings. You can see the crux of his arguments here.
You might roll your eyes, and GMs might even roll their eyes, but Boras must make compelling arguments, because he almost always gets his deal, dating all the way back to 1992, when he landed a then-landmark five-year, $28-million contract with the Braves for free agent Greg Maddux.
Since then, the huge contracts negotiated by Boras have become a virtual annual occurence — often preceded by the same skepticism that exists now:
–five years, $51.5 million from Atlanta for Maddux in 1997.
–seven years, $105 million from the Dodgers for Kevin Brown in 1998.
–seven years, $87.5 million from the Yankees for Bernie Williams in 1998.
–10 years, $252 million from the Rangers for Alex Rodriguez in 2000.
–five years, $64 million from the Mariners for Adrian Beltre in 2004.
–seven years, $119 million from the Mets for Carlos Beltran in 2005.
–five years, $75 million from the Tigers for Magglio Ordonez in 2005.
–five years, $60 million from the Rangers for Kevin Millwood in 2005.
–seven years, $126 million from the Giants for Barry Zito in 2006.
–two years, $36.2 million from the Dodgers for Andruw Jones in 2007 (coming off a .222 season).
–eight years, $180 million from the Yankees for Teixeira in 2008.
–two years, $45 million from the Dodgers for Manny Ramirez in 2009.
–seven years, $120 million from the Cardinals for Matt Holliday in 2010.
–seven years, $126 million from the Nationals for Jayson Werth in 2010.
–six years, $96 million from the Rangers for Adrian Beltre in 2011.
And that’s just a fraction of the Boras oeuvre. My point is, under-estimate his deal-making ability at your own risk. No, he’s not infallible. At various times, he’s accepted one-year deals when the market didn’t develop to his liking (Barry Bonds in 2001, Maddux in 2002, Beltre in 2010, most notably). But I’ve heard the talk before about how Boras has overplayed his hand, and he’s not going to find any teams willing to reach a certain threshold in years and/or money, only to see him ultimately pull off that very deal, or something close to it.
True, there are no Yankees, Red Sox, Mets or Dodgers involved in the Fielder negotiations to serve as the all-important stalking horse. But there are enough potential suitors — including the Cubs, Orioles, Angels, Rangers, Blue Jays, Nationals, and the sure-to-emerge “mystery team” (a Boras staple) — that he could still manufacture a bidding war.
A couple of weeks ago, Bowden — formerly GM of the Reds and Nationals, and a veteran of many a negotiation with Boras — predicted Fielder would land an eight-year, $192-million contract this winter. I’m still thinking that sounds about right, no matter what we’re hearing now from Dallas. No doubt Boras will wait until Albert Pujols signs, and try to engage the loser of that sweepstakes. That team, especially if it is the Cardinals, would have some serious face-saving to do with its fans and could view Fielder as an attractive option (despite indicating they would not do so).
I could be misreading this completely. Boras might have to drop a bit on the years and the price. But If the Mariners intend to land Prince Fielder, my feeling is they’ll have to do so by stepping up to the plate financially, not be having the market fall back to them.