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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

December 8, 2011 at 3:19 PM

Mariners have another potential worry if Rangers pursue Prince Fielder

fielderson.jpg

(Photo by Associated Press)

Albert Pujols’ decision to sign with the Angels is causing a lot of (warranted) consternation among Mariners fans. Yeah, it might hurt their payroll flexibility down the road, but that’s down the road. Maybe way down the road. For now, the Angels look like a powerhouse, having also augmented their already-strong rotation today by signing the best available starter (or, at least, the best available North American starter), C.J. Wilson.

They also happen to have outfielder Mike Trout ready to burst upon the scene — the same Mike Trout who has been regarded for the past couple of year as one of the top three prospects in the minor leagues, a future superstar. Keith Law of ESPN wrote today, “After those moves, and assuming some common-sense deployments of the palyers already in the organization, you could make a case they’re a 95-win club with a chance to wiin 100.”

That’s a sobering thought for the Mariners, who, let’s remember, won 67 games last year, and 61 the year prior. It’s a daunting gap between the two organizations at the moment.

Here’s something just as daunting: How about the Rangers — American League champions in 2010 and 2011, winners of 90 and 96 games, respectively, and possessor of one of the most productive farm systems in baseball; yeah, those Rangers — as a candidate to land, gulp, Prince Fielder?

For all the talk locally about how Pujols’ signing by the Angels increases the urgency for the Mariners to sign Fielder, the Rangers could be thinking the same thing.

Certainly, they have the funds, even though team president Nolan Ryan said earlier this week he doesn’t see how Fielder fits financially in their plans. Just like Angels officials kept saying they weren’t in on Pujols, until they were. It’s called posturing, and it’s called laying in the weeds. I take all such pronouncements with a grain of salt. A whole box, in fact. Don’t forget, the Rangers have a massive television deal coming their way when the current one expires after the 2014 season. That, and the fact that they’re now drawing close to 3 million fans a year in Arlington, would be enough to bankroll Fielder, if they so desired.

This story from the Fort Worth paper said the Rangers “checked in” with Scott Boras about Fielder. Buster Olney of ESPN had this in his blog today, “I’ve written here before that within the industry, many have viewed Texas as the sleeper for Fielder.” I’ve been hearing that same thing from baseball people: Don’t sleep on the Rangers when it comes to Prince.

That prospect, on top of the Angels’ signing of Pujols, has to be terrifying for the Mariners. Sure, the Rangers were weakened by the loss of Wilson (simultaneously strengthening the Angels), but they are regarded as a strong candidate to land Japanese free agent Yu Darvish, who might turn out to be better. Also, Neftali Feliz is moving to the rotation, and he has the stuff to be a frontliner. Adding Fielder to that lineup, in that ballpark, would be devastating, and really leave the M’s in a fix.

Maybe Ryan is absolutely sincere, and the Rangers will sit out the Fielder sweepstakes. The Rangers will still be plenty good enough in 2012 to put up another 90-plus win season. So the question that has been raised by some is whether the Mariners should even bother going after Fielder, since next season will be a hopeless cause anyway. I just don’t think they can think that way, not after missing the playoffs for 10 straight years, and racking up losing seasons in six out of the last eight (with 90 or more losses in five of them, 100 or more in two of the past four). If you write off a couple more years, suddenly you’re the Pittsburgh Pirates or Kansas City Royals, with a miniscule fan base and little hope of ever breaking out of the cycle of losing.

I felt before today that the Mariners should go hard after Prince Fielder, and I feel even more strongly about that now — and not just to keep him from the Rangers.

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