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

January 10, 2012 at 11:02 AM

Jan. 18 could be important date in Prince Fielder sweepstakes

Here is latest Mariners’ winter league roundup.

No, Prince Fielder still hasn’t signed with anyone yet. The Mariners’ pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Feb. 11 — one month from tomorrow. Time is getting short, and Mariner fans are getting impatient to find out whether or not they’re going to land the big guy. Because if they don’t, Jack Zduriencik is going to have to do some rapid scrambling to add the bat that he has listed as one of his offseason priorities.

I predicted last week that things could come to a head for Fielder this week. I’m going to amend that prediction. It sure looks like Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras, is waiting out the Texas Rangers to see if they consummate a deal with Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, for whom they put in the highest posting fee ($51,703,411 — the 34 and 11 at the end of the bid symbolizing the uniform numbers of Rangers president Nolan Ryan and Darvish, respectively.) The Rangers have until Jan. 18 to get a deal done, or the posting fee is rescinded, and Darvish will pitch next season for the Nippon Ham Fighters, his old team.

Jon Heyman of CBSsports.com reports that the Rangers are offering “Dice-K” money, which would be in the range of $52 million. Darvish’s side, shockingly, wants more, it seems. Now, I fully expect the two sides to come to an agreement, because the Rangers need Darvish to replace the departed C.J. Wilson, and Darvish needs the Rangers if he wants to pitch in MLB next season.

But if those talks fall apart (similar to last year’s top posted pitcher, new Mariner Hisashi Iwakuma, who failed to reach agreement with the A’s and went back to Japan), then the Rangers would have an extra $100 million or so burning a hole in their pocket. At that point, with Ryan mindful of the fact that the Angels have added Albert Pujols (as well as Wilson), it’s very possible the Rangers would jump into the Fielder fray. Certainly, Boras would hope so, because another ardent bidder would play to his strength — playing teams off each other to leverage a huge contract. For him, it’s worth waiting out the Rangers.

So pay attention to the Darvish negotiations over the next week. Once those get resolved, the Fielder talks should accelerate. By all accounts, the Nationals are the team to watch most closely, while the Mariners are viewed as very desirous of Fielder, but the feeling not necessarily being mutual. And today comes this intriguing tweet from Jerry Crasnick of ESPN:

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Two agents say the #Mariners are claiming they only have $3-4 million left to spend on the roster this winter.
Jan 10 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

There was a followup tweet by Crasnick that said, “According to one of those agents, Prince Fielder-to-Seattle speculation is “extremely overblown.”

For that $3-4 million figure to be true, however, would represent a pretty drastic cut in 2012 payroll. It was just a few days ago that Crasnick’s ESPN colleague, Buster Olney, wrote: “The team most interested in Fielder — and most willing to pay big — might be the Mariners.” At this point, it’s hard to know exactly what to believe, because everyone is playing their cards close to the vest.

I’ve felt from the beginning that the Brewers are a darkhorse to retain Fielder, despite the prevailing sentiment that they are out of the running. Fielder seemed to love playing in Milwaukee, and if a deal doesn’t emerge elsewhere that bowls him over, perhaps the two sides could work something out. Certainly, from Milwaukee’s perspective, with Ryan Braun likely out for the first 50 games from his suspension for testing positive, the urgency has grown.

Who knows who else might emerge as a serious candidate for Fielder? The stereotypical Boras “surprise team” might well be out there waiting for the opportune moment to strike. Remember, the Angels didn’t join the Pujols talks until the very end, when they swooped in and blew away the field. The Marlins were hot and heavy after Pujols, so we know they have a lot of money to spend, and the burning desire to make a splash as they move into a new ballpark. Could they be a team waiting in the weeds on Fielder? Sounds plausible to me.

Not long ago, Heyman listed the Orioles, Cubs and Blue Jays as possible Fielder destinations (though the Cubs’ chances seem to have decreased, if not disappeared, with their recent acquisition of young first baseman Anthony Rizzo from San Diego.)

The end game has to begin sooner or later. Doesn’t it?

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