Thursday, December 29, 2011

Prince Fielder is ripe for the Dodgers' taking

Here we are on Dec. 29 and one of the biggest (no pun intended) free agents of this off-season is still available.

Prince Fielder has yet to sign, even following Albert Pujols' record contract (I know it isn't the largest contract of all-time, but I'm sure it's record-setting in some way). Recent reports said he might be willing to settle for a 3-year deal, but those were quickly shot down by his agent, Scott Boras.

But why is Fielder really still available? I'm not 100 percent sure, but I'm going to give it my best shot.

Well, teams are obviously concerned with giving a man of his carriage a long-term, big-money deal. But the numbers do not lie. Fielder is one of the game's best power-hitters and is not incapable of hitting left-handed pitching.

Since his first full season in 2008, Fielder, 27, has 228 home runs and a .541 slugging percentage. He also has a .391 on-base percentage in that time. The man is a productive hitter.

His splits against lefties for his career are solid -- .257/.340/.458 -- but he's been much better against them in recent years, including a .943 OPS in 2009 and .822 OPS last season.

Fielder doesn't just mash at Miller Park, either. His career home/road splits are as follows:

Home: .286/.399/.566, 123 HR in 504 games
Road: .279/.381/.515, 107 HR in 494 games

And for all the concerns about his weight, he's yet to play fewer than 157 games in a full season (save his 2005 debut season). That's in the NL, without the designated hitter at first base -- Not many players in the Majors can make that claim, let alone a beefy first baseman.

It appears Fielder is a perfect fit in Los Angeles for a number of reasons:
  1. The Dodgers need a power hitter
  2. He is good friends with Matt Kemp and Tony Gwynn
  3. His home/road splits are not drastic
If the Dodgers have any chance of signing him, it'd be because of No. 2. Having familiar faces in a place where the ownership situation is far from settled could be comforting to Fielder. If he sees Kemp just signed a long-term extension, he might feel better about committing five, six or seven years to the organization.

The Dodgers would obviously have to backload any Fielder contract. As pointed out by Twitter follower senor_penguino, it might not be as difficult as some would expect:
"Backload a 5 yr deal. 13 yr 1 24 yr 2-5. Lets him be a FA @ 32."
2012: $13 million
2013 through 2016: $24 million per season

Editor's note (Dec. 29, 1 p.m.): For a deal to even have a chance, the Dodgers would likely have to add an extra guaranteed year at $24 million, making it a 6-year, $133 million deal. I'd also include a couple option years.

It makes a lot of sense (too much sense to happen, unfortunately). But where do the Dodgers find an extra $13 million in the 2012 payroll? The Dodgers would obviously have to find a taker for James Loney and his estimated $6-to-$7-million contract. Finding a team to take all that money could be a a problem, but the Dodgers could at least shed half of that contract in a trade.

Juan Uribe's $8 million contract for 2012 is an albatross the Dodgers won't be able to rid themselves of, unless Brian Sabean comes calling with nostalgic memories of 2010. Juan Rivera's $4 million deal is looking absolutely horrible right now, especially since none of it is deferred.

Matt Guerrier will make $3.75 million as a mediocre middle reliever -- a role that could have been filled with a non-roster invitee on the veteran's minimum or a young guy making the Major League minimum.

Chad Billingsley's $9 million salary could be moved, but that would just create a hole in the starting rotation.

Ted Lilly's $10.5 million cannot be moved without his permission (full no-trade clause -- thanks Ned!) and the Dodgers don't appear interested in trading Andre Ethier and his estimated $11-to-$13-million deal (arbitration). A 3-4-5 of Kemp-Fielder-Ethier would be the best Dodger trio in a few years.

Despite the ownership issues and the Dodgers having no money to spend on big-name free agents this off-season, it seems past moves have hindered the Dodgers even more. Billingsley's deal was good (still is), but the money from the other deals (save Ethier's) mentioned above could have helped the Dodgers land Fielder with few questions. And the Dodgers likely wouldn't have been any better or worse as a team without Rivera, Uribe, Guerrier and Lilly.

But here we are. It's Dec. 29, one of the best free agents is still available who fills the Dodgers' needs almost perfectly and they are merely an afterthought in the Fielder sweepstakes.

Unless something drastic happens before March, it looks like it could be a long 2012 season.

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