The Mariners just got a mega dose of added pressure in their pursuit of Prince Fielder this morning with news from Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports (@TBrownYahoo) that the division rival Angels have inked free-agent Albert Pujols to a 10-year contract worth a reported $250 million. Just in case you were thinking the Angels might be too bat heavy now, they also have reportedly added pitcher C.J. Wilson to an already-decent starting rotation for five years, $75 million, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sportsline.
“It just makes it that much more difficult for everybody in our division,” Zduriencik said of the stunning coup pulled off by the Angels on Pujols early today.
Indeed, the latest line from Bodog.com has the Angels now as 12/1 favorites to win the World Series with Pujols aboard compared to 22/1 before. This was also put out before the Wilson deal.
Pujols has been given 3/1 odds to win the AL MVP, while the over-under for the Angels’ win total is now 87 1/2.
“it certainly creates a challenge in our division, no doubt,” Zduriencik said. “A bigger challenge than had already been there.”
Zduriencik was asked whether this increases the pressure on him to land Fielder. He said it did not. “I think all of these deals are good deals that have their own individual reality to them,” he said. “Anaheim fans should be happy about it.”
The comments came after the Mariners closed out the winter meetings by selecting Class AA Brewers relief pitcher Lucas Luetge. Zduriencik said Luetge, 24, will compete for a left-handed relief role this spring.
Sources have told me the Mariners have a threshold on how high they can go on Fielder and will continue to compete for him as long as it is not exceeded. They met here with Scott Boras, Fielder’s agent, and will have further discussions in coming days.
Despite the personal connection between Fielder and Zduriencik (and members of his inner circle), of prime importance at this stage will be matching the dollar parameters Fielder has in mind. I’m told the Mariners are prepared to be competitive in that regard.
“I just think you always have to do what you have to do,” he said, when asked whether the Pujols deal just “raised the bar” in the Fielder talks. “And everyone has to weigh their own situation by their own parameters.”
Whether Zduriencik’s current parameters include raising payroll remains to be seen. We’ve already told you the team has roughly $14 million or $15 million to play with right now if payroll stays the same as last year. But it’s possible Zduriencik is working with a flexible payroll that could be expanded if Fielder is brought on board right now.
Fielder is a player the M’s are looking to as a multi-year answer to help solve their offensive woes, not just an addition for 2012. So, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the payroll could be expanded ahead of schedule if — and only if — Fielder is the target being brought in.
After all, as we’ve argued here on the blog, Fielder will not be available a year from now when Ichiro’s contract comes off the books and should free up more money to accomodate a major signing. The reality of baseball business — whick some folks are getting a severe dose of here between the Angels and Marlins — is that you can’t always plan your aquisitions according to your own timetable. The market won’t always let you.
In other words, the M’s can’t wait until 2012 to expand payroll if they want Fielder. They have to do it right now. I’m willing to bet that there are some flexible parameters Zduriencik has to work with here. He won’t comment on it. But having that flexibility would allow him to acquire Fielder now — pay for Fielder’s latter years once Ichiro’s deal is off the books 12 months from now — and still acquire new players in coming weeks without trading away everybody making more than $4 million.
The Mariners have the money. Now, there’s even more pressure on them to spend more in order to jumpstart a rebuilding plan that needs to bear fruit before Felix Hernandez’s contract runs out after 2014.