If Nats want Fielder, now may be perfect

Washington Nationals lead Prince Fielder chase as Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, New York Mets face questions

The Prince Fielder sweepstakes finally are nearing conclusion, according to major league sources. The Nationals remain a leading contender for the free-agent first baseman, if not the outright favorite.

Which is as it should be.

The Nats can get by without Fielder, playing Adam LaRoche at first for one more season, then acquiring a center fielder and moving left fielder Michael Morse to first in 2013.

Some members of the Nats’ ownership actually would prefer such a plan, sources say; the team committed $126 million to free-agent outfielder Jayson Werth last offseason and soon might award another major contract to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

It’s understandable that the sentiment for Fielder within the Nationals’ organization is not unanimous. The team might want to leave first base open for Zimmerman. And an NL club that signs Fielder long term would be operating without the safety net of a DH.

Still, the argument for signing both Fielder and Zimmerman also is compelling, and not simply because Ted Lerner is one of the game’s wealthiest owners and the Nats’ local TV revenue is about to rise.

For the Nats, this might be the perfect time to strike.

The Phillies are aging. The Mets are broke. The health of Braves right-handers Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens is in question. And the wacky Marlins, well, let’s not anoint them NL East champions just yet.

Heck, the Nats already are spending big. Werth will earn more than $20 million per season from 2014 to ’17. Left-hander Gio Gonzalez recently signed a five-year, $42 million deal. Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann is next in line for a long-term contract, and foundation pieces such as right-hander Stephen Strasburg, outfielder Bryce Harper and second baseman Danny Espinosa won’t be cheap for very long.

Why draw the line with Fielder?

Why not just be like the Phillies instead?

Fielder, 27, is the left-handed presence the Nationals need between the right-handed Morse, 29, and Zimmerman, 27. The addition of Fielder also would help ease the transition of Harper, 19, who likely will give the Nats another left-handed slugger before long.

In a perfect world, the Nats would prefer to boost their payroll in accordance with revenue; their average of 24,877 last season ranked only 20th in the majors. But Washington, as a market, doesn’t work like that. Washington is a front-running town, drawn to stars like Fielder.

Yes, there is risk with Fielder, significant risk with his body type. Few in the game believe he is a good defender at first, much less one who will age well. Ideally, he would fit better with an AL club such as the Rangers.

On the other hand, think of the Nats' lineup with Fielder, particularly if they could limit his term to, say, six years.

Pretty tempting, to say the least.

 

THE TIMMY CHRONICLES

 

Right-hander Tim Lincecum agreed to a two-year, $40.5 million contract with the Giants on Tuesday, bringing closure to an arbitration case that was a source of fascination around the game.

Some on the club side said that Lincecum’s record $21.5 million request was too high, considering that Mariners righty Felix Hernandez and Tigers righty Justin Verlander received $20 million salaries only on the back ends of long-term deals that extended into free agency.

The Giants’ $17 million offer, however, also was a record — and an acknowledgment of the uniqueness and complexity of Lincecum’s position.

Lincecum was in the third of his four arbitration-eligible years (he qualified for the extra year as a Super Two player). Yet, because he only had four-plus years of service, the rules of arbitration prevent him from comparing himself to free-agent pitchers; only five-plus players can draw such contrasts.

Meanwhile, there was no other comparable pitcher at Lincecum’s service level, no one who had won Cy Young awards in his first two full seasons and led the NL in strikeout rate in three of his first four.

In Lincecum’s two-year deal, his first-year salary will be closer to the Giants’ $17 million offer than his $21.5 million request. But his totals in his final three years of arbitration would be staggering.

Consider: Phillies lefty Cole Hamels will earn $31.15 million over those same three years, Giants righty Matt Cain $27.25 million. Lincecum will be at $53.5 million for that period, and approaching $65 million in career earnings before even hitting free agency.

He is set to hit the open market after the 2013 season, when he will be 29. And who knows what Lincecum’s thought process might be, considering his aversion to going long-term with the Giants? He has said he is comfortable on shorter deals.

 

E. JACKSON: THINKING SHORT?

 

Free-agent closer Ryan Madson settled for a one-year contract with the Reds. Might another Scott Boras client, right-hander Edwin Jackson, do the same?

It’s possible, major league sources say. And if Jackson indeed is willing to sign for one year, his options would multiply.

The Red Sox likely would consider Jackson on a one-year deal, just as they are considering free-agent righty Roy Oswalt. Remember, they signed another Boras client, third baseman Adrian Beltre, to a one-year, $10 million contract in 2010. Both sides benefited; Beltre produced the second-highest OPS of his career, then landed a five-year, $80 million deal with the Rangers.

Of course, Fenway Park and the AL East are not optimal pitching environments, so perhaps Jackson would prefer to enhance his value with a lesser club that plays in a more spacious ballpark — the Mariners, after trading right-hander Michael Pineda to the Yankees, come to mind.

All that is just speculation; Jackson, 28, ultimately might command a suitable multiyear deal. His market stalled in part because of the number of starting pitchers who were traded (Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Mat Latos) and the bidding for Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish.

 

WHERE A.J. FITS BEST

 

Don’t count on it happening, but the Orioles are perhaps the Yankees’ most logical trade partner for right-hander A.J. Burnett.

Burnett spends his offseasons in Monkton, Md., and the Orioles have pursued him in the past (albeit under different general managers).

True, the O’s are optimistic about the progress that right-hander Jake Arrieta and lefties Brian Matusz and Zach Britton showed at a recent mini-camp. True, they’ve signed two free-agent lefties from the Japanese league, Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Yin Chen, to go with their ace, righty Jeremy Guthrie.

Still, the Orioles’ rotation is far from solid. If the Yankees paid enough of Burnett’s contract, he might be worth the gamble. The Yankees owe Burnett $33 million over the next two years.

 

AROUND THE HORN

 

• The Red Sox continue to signal that they want to acquire an everyday shortstop, and the Reds, Giants and Rays are among the teams looking for veteran help at the position.

Ryan Theriot, Jeff Keppinger and Edgar Renteria are among the remaining free-agent alternatives after the retirements of Orlando Cabrera, Craig Counsell and Adam Everett.

Omar Vizquel agreed to a one-year deal with the Blue Jays on Monday. Theriot prefers to remain in the National League unless he can get a starting job in the AL, which appears unlikely.

• Trade candidates at shortstop, meanwhile, appear to be few and far between.

The Astros inquired about the Nationals’ Ian Desmond before acquiring Jed Lowrie from the Red Sox, according to a major league source.

Not everyone with the Nats is convinced that Desmond is a long-term solution; the team could trade him, move Danny Espinosa to short and play Steve Lombardozzi at second.

That doesn’t seem to be the club’s preference, however; those who like Desmond believe he has turned the corner defensively and could be on the verge of an offensive breakthrough as well.

Some teams would play White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham at short if they could acquire him. The White Sox are forever unpredictable, but Beckham’s trade value currently is quite low.

• Padres right fielder Carlos Quentin is already making an impact with his new club, working out regularly at Petco Park with a number of teammates who live in San Diego, including catcher Nick Hundley, shortstop Jason Bartlett and outfielders Cameron Maybin and Will Venable.

The Padres are pretty much finished with their offseason overhaul, but they still could add a non-roster pitcher, a swingman who would add depth and compete for a job in spring training.

• The Angels’ Bobby Abreu would make perfect sense for the Tigers, who need a left-handed hitting DH to help replace the injured Victor Martinez.

A number of Venezuelan players, including Martinez and Miguel Cabrera, have thrived with the Tigers in recent seasons.

But the Angels, unsure about the health of Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo, are not ready to jump into a trade, sources say.

Morales has missed the past 1 1/2 seasons because of leg injuries. Trumbo is recovering from a stress fracture in his right foot.

• One thing about the Red Sox and Oswalt: There is no guarantee that he wants to play in Boston. Oswalt is said to be picky about where he wants to pitch.

The Red Sox are not pursuing Astros left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, who would be guaranteed $36 million over the next three seasons if traded.

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