Are the Rangers Still in Play for Prince Fielder?

Free agent first baseman Prince Fielder is the last huge name left on the open market. As you might expect, there are several clubs that have some level of interest in signing the former Milwaukee Brewer.

According to Jon Heyman of CBSSports, the Texas Rangers are among the teams in pursuit of Fielder, even after winning the rights to negotiate with Yu Darvish. Heyman’s piece is contradicted by a piece from Ken Rosenthal, whose sources tell him that the Rangers will not be making a play for the first baseman.

When I began writing baseball online a few years back, I started to pay attention to what rumors came from which sources. I began to notice a pattern with Heyman. Whenever a Scott Boras client was involved (and Fielder is a Boras client), Heyman was the writer telling us about “mystery teams” and noting that the market was considerably deeper for that player than any other writer would have us believe. I began to wonder, openly, whether or not Heyman was a mouthpiece for Boras.

I have no evidence to suggest that Heyman is, in any way, doing anything but his job. Maybe he just has more or better sources than anyone else. But the coincidences have lead me to often times lean toward believing other “insiders” before Heyman.

With that in mind, I look at these two articles, these two differing takes on the Rangers and Fielder, and I wonder how we can even have a good idea which side to believe.

It was Rosenthal, after all, that cautioned Rangers fans about the club’s financial limitations ahead of the Darvish bidding. In doing so, Rosenthal effectively echoed what Nolan Ryan had been saying publicly. Rosenthal’s sources were either wrong (he says they weren’t), or the Texas ownership made an exception for Darvish.

The Rangers will begin next season (assuming Darvish signs) with a payroll of at least $120 million. This factors in assumed raises for several arbitration-eligible players. Is it reasonable to think that Texas can afford to pay a guy like Fielder an additional $20 million per year? Probably not.

Texas has been engaged in extension talks with Ian Kinsler, Derek Holland, and Josh Hamilton and while Kinler and Holland are ideal candidates to lock-up long-term, can the same really be said of Hamilton? Again, given his history of injuries, probably not.

It is that very question, the one surrounding Hamilton, that gives Fielder supporters the most ammunition. The Rangers have Hamilton signed through 2012, but after that he’s eligible for free agency. If the club feels that Fielder is a better long-term solution, they could stretch the budget even further and bring Prince to town this winter. Doing so, however, would almost assure that Hamilton hits the free agent market next Fall.

The other option, and one that seems far less likely today than it did a year ago, is to once again dangle Michael Young as trade bait. Moving Young would prove no easy task given that he’s still owed $32 million over the next two years and while he’s an accomplished hitter, he doesn’t provide a great glove at any position. Texas would have to be creative, packaging him along with an attractive young player or two, in order to get any real value for Young.

My guess here is that Rosenthal is right and the Rangers will not be looking at Fielder, not unless he’s willing to take a significantly lower salary in the first year or two of his contract.

The Rangers have already committed roughly $30 million dollars to the 2012 payroll (again, assuming Darvish signs) above their payroll from a year ago. That number doesn’t even include the $51.7 million posting fee that will be paid if Darvish does sign. It doesn’t include the buyout of Chuck Greenberg, and it doesn’t include the ongoing stadium renovations at Rangers Ballpark. I know the new TV deal is huge, but thinking that a club has the wherewithal to shell out an extra $120 million in a given year is borderline insanity.

If all things were equal, if Darvish were a regular free agent that didn’t require a posting fee, if Greenberg had already been bought out, I think Texas could 9and would) make a serious run at Fielder. But even if they do view him as a better long-term bet than Hamilton, the timing just isn’t right to make a push for him this year.

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Topics: Josh Hamilton, Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers, Yu Darvish

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