It's November 10th, and the Prince Fielder-to-Texas train is finally being commandeered out of the station by some of the big dogs of the online baseball media. I'm not quite sure what to make of this development, considering that the closest thing to a rumor on this front has been a very vague note about Texas "peeking" in Fielder's general direction, but I suppose things are slow enough right now to justify a good, old-fashioned game of "kick the hot stove and see what falls out of it."
Yesterday, FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal proposed a moderately radical off-season plan that would have the Rangers signing Fielder, Mark Buehrle, and a free-agent closer, thereby enabling Neftali Feliz's move to the starting rotation (never mind that Texas already has a closer-in-waiting on the roster in Mike Adams), with ESPN.com's Buster Olney counterarguing this morning that while the Rangers can "probably" afford Fielder (or Pujols), the failure of the Alex Rodriguez signing will factor into the their decision-making process, as Olney argues that Rodriguez tied up too much in the way of payroll for the early-aughts Rangers to be successful, and that the same fallout could result from signing Fielder.
Which, of course, is misleading at best, and a falsehood at worst. There were things that went awry with the A-Rod signing, beginning with the Rangers reportedly guaranteeing him an amount well above and beyond the second-highest offer, and continuing with the financial drag on Hicks Sports Group and the clubhouse strife that developed over time, and ending with that horrific Rodriguez-for-Soriano deal. But Rodriguez was also an inordinately valuable player who managed to produce at or above the level of his monstrous contract, and the overall failure of those early-aughts Rangers was attributable to the closely related of bad pitching, inefficient spending, and poor decision-making at the top. It wasn't A-Rod, as much as Tom Hicks would like to have you believe it was.
And, of course, none of those three issues are in play with today's well-directed club, which is part of the reason why the A-Rod situation really isn't analagous to a scenario where the Rangers sign Fielder (or Pujols, for that matter), and why the A-Rod signing shouldn't be weighing too heavily on the Rangers' minds as they draw up their off-season plans.
Here's the thing, though -- Fielder isn't as good as A-Rod was when he gained his own free agency, nor as young, nor as athletic, nor as valuable defensively. He boasts a tremendous combination of left-handed power and on-base ability, but he's a serviceable first baseman at best and a designated hitter in the making at worst. He's entering his age-28 season, meaning that his next employer will be able to reap the rewards of the bulk of his offensive prime, but the aging curve isn't especially forgiving to heavy-set slugging types, which nudges the attached risk upwards at least a little bit. And he's pretty close to being a lock for $150 million, with $175-180 million being within reach.
I do like Fielder a lot, and though I'm really not going out on much of a limb in saying this, I do think there is a contract in the nine-figure range where he would make abundant sense for the Rangers. Here's my major lingering concern, though -- would Fielder furnish enough of an upgrade over the Rangers' current cast of first-base characters (Mitch Moreland most of the time, with Michael Young and Mike Napoli also figuring into the mix) to justify an investment of that magnitude in the present? What about 4-5 years down the line, when Fielder is firmly in his early-30s and quite possibly leaking offensive value? I'm just not yet convinced that Fielder represents the best possible mix of upside/risk/cost effectiveness for this team.
Now, obviously, you're almost never going to find a perfect mix. Pitchers are loaded up with even more risk than hitters, so even though C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish do boast front-of-the-rotation upside, there's a greater chance that things go awry with either of those two than Fielder. And given where the Rangers are currently positioned on the win curve, and the kind of money that they currently have to work with, dropping serious coin on a major free agent who can generate lots of additional value makes some degree of sense even if it isn't the most cost-effective idea on the table.
When it comes to Fielder, though ... well, I just don't know. I realize I'm supposed to be taking a hard stance one way or the other here, but there are enough undecided variables in play that I just don't feel comfortable saying either "sign Fielder" or "don't sign Fielder." Not yet, at least. And considering that most of the market seems destined to be held up by Yu Darvish's decision on whether or not to make the Trans-Pacific jump stateside, we're probably still a few weeks away from attaining the kind of clarity needed to really feel good about any such "sign him" or "don't sign him" declaration.