Fielder should be Cubs’ player to lose

Based on what we know — and admittedly, we know only so much — the Cubs are the front-runners to sign Prince Fielder.

No one should schedule a news conference at Wrigley Field. These negotiations might only be in their early stages. But if this is Cubs vs. Mariners — and that’s certainly the way it looks at the moment — the Cubs make far more sense.

Neither the Rangers nor Marlins will bid on Fielder, according to major league sources. The Orioles, as my colleague Jon Paul Morosi wrote earlier this week, are the eastern version of the Mariners, a non-contender that would be viable only if Fielder lacked better options.

The Cubs aren’t exactly contenders themselves, but few in the industry doubt that new club president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer will transform them into a force in short order.

Yet, if anyone thinks that the Cubs are a lock for Fielder, they weren’t paying attention when the Angels, seemingly out of nowhere, signed Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $254 million contract.

And they certainly haven’t been paying attention to the cloak-and-dagger negotiating style of Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras, over the years.

“Scott can usually pull a rabbit out of his hat,” one executive said.

The Mariners, a franchise desperately in need of a jolt, could be that rabbit.

But does Fielder, 27, want to play for a team coming off back-to-back last-place finishes, a team with a laughably inept offense, a team that is the farthest of the 30 major league clubs from his home in Orlando, Fla.?

If the price is right, maybe.

And never mind that one of the Mariners’ all-time greats, Ken Griffey Jr., eventually pressured the M’s into trading him to the Reds so he could be closer to his home in Orlando.

Boras generally excels at exploiting the market to maximum advantage — or, to put it bluntly, finding the one dumb owner.

Fielder to the Mariners would be the sport’s most blatant money grab since Alex Rodriguez went to the Rangers for $252 million. That contract was Boras’ Mona Lisa. But after three years, A-Rod wanted out.

Fielder could make the same mistake, lauding the Mariners’ young pitching the way A-Rod once lauded the Rangers’ farm system, if he did not receive better offers.

Then again, Fielder might be content to wait.

“He’s not in a rush,” a friend of Fielder’s said Thursday night. “If he gets a great deal soon, awesome. If not, there is no one like him on the market. Some team is going to come get him.”

Maybe some team that is more competitive than the Mariners — and more eager than the Cubs to meet his terms.

The Cubs, sources say, do not want to give Fielder a 10-year contract, even though Pujols commanded a deal of that length despite being nearly 4-1/2 years older. Some teams, concerned by Fielder’s body, would prefer him on a shorter, high-dollar deal.

Thus, the Cubs’ preference likely is six or seven years, and you can bet that Boras would love to beat Pujols’ average annual salary of $25.4 million. Boras also wants an opt-out clause, according to a major league source.

Say the Cubs offered Fielder seven years at $25.5 million per season — $178.5 million, guaranteed. The Mariners or some other team could trump that bid with a nine- or 10-year offer at a slightly lower base salary.

Some executives still expect Fielder to hear from the Nationals, the preferred ATM of the Scott Boras Corporation in recent years. If not the Nationals, then perhaps some other club will fall for Boras’ sales pitch: that after Fielder, precious few young sluggers will be available in the next several free-agent classes.

The point is legitimate. Epstein and Hoyer are well aware of the landscape. And while the Cubs are retooling, Fielder is young enough to build around.

At some point, the Cubs are going to need a hitter like Fielder. Why wait two years for Reds first baseman Joey Votto to hit the market or five for Marlins right fielder Mike Stanton, particularly when both could end up elsewhere?

That’s the logic behind the Cubs’ interest in Fielder, but after all of Epstein’s poor experiences with the Red Sox in free agency, it would be a shock if he went 10 years.

An opening exists with Fielder, much as an opening existed with Pujols when the Cardinals would not meet his price and the Marlins would not grant him a no-trade clause.

Might an Angel surface for Fielder? Quite possibly.

Until then, he’s the Cubs’ player to lose.