To the question, "What the heck is taking Prince Fielder so long to sign a contract?" his agent, Scott Boras, essentially replies, "These things take time."
Fielder is a rare free agent, a 27-year-old slugger with 230 career homers — or 41 more than Alex Rodriguez had when he first hit the open market, though A-Rod in 2000-01 was two years younger.
Boras described the process of educating owners on Fielder — and introducing Fielder to those owners — as “time-consuming.”
To be sure, there is a lot to absorb.
“When Prince Fielder came to Milwaukee, check out the first year, what they were drawing,” Boras said. “Then, when you see that number (2.21 million), see what they’re drawing now in Milwaukee (3.07 million). And they’ve also got a new (local) TV contract . . . Look at where the franchise was then, and where it is now.
“You absolutely see two factors with superstar sluggers — they bring retention value and attraction value. Retention value — look at (Rickie) Weeks, (Corey) Hart, (Yovani) Gallardo. They all stayed in Milwaukee. When you have that guy in the middle of the lineup, it’s, ‘Oh yeah, I want to play with him.’ Jeff Kent won an MVP hitting behind Barry Bonds. Ryan Braun won an MVP hitting in front of Fielder. That’s the modality.
“. . . (A player like Fielder) gets you the (local) TV contract, he gets you a higher franchise value, your attendance goes up . . . These players pay for themselves. They make you a lot of money. Owners understand that. They reach out to you. Prince is not in any way a normal free agent. Owners will move players off their teams that already occupy positions to get him. Even though they have a player at the position, this is the move to bring in a franchise player.”
Boras indicated that Fielder has met personally with several owners, though he declined to identify those owners or say how many such meetings have taken place. The Mariners, Cubs, Nationals, Orioles, Rangers and Blue Jays are among the teams that have been linked to Fielder.
Boras said the length of the process is one reason why Fielder remains unsigned nearly three weeks after Albert Pujols reached agreement on a 10-year, $254 million free-agent contract with the Angels.
“It takes a bit longer because these are ownership decisions,” Boras said. “I’ve got to sit down with owners. There are a lot of them interested in Prince. That’s time-consuming. Respectfully, you have to sit down and meet with these people. You’ve got to go through the process.
“Prince covers all the spectrums. You don’t just have to be a competitive team now (to sign him). You can be a club that will be competitive in a couple of years. If you sign this player, it will always be a good investment, no matter what position you’re in.
“My job is to canvass this, make sure Prince knows exactly what his options are. He has exchanges with these people, gets to know them . . . In a normal free-agent negotiation, you can handle a lot of things by phone. You’re able to get it down to a couple of teams and have it come to fruition. But in these situations, it’s an ownership negotiation.”
The meetings and discussions that Boras describes — the personal connections that are established between free agents and owners — often prove more pivotal than many perceive.
Free-agent outfielder Jayson Werth’s talks with Nationals owner Ted Lerner last offseason helped persuade him to accept the team’s seven-year, $126 million offer. Pujols’ discusions with Angels owner Arte Moreno, while not face to face, also played a role in his decision.
In Fielder’s meetings, Boras said that the first baseman not only is getting to know the owners, but that the owners also are getting to know him.
“Prince means a lot to the game,” Boras said. “He’s a great leader. A lot of people don’t know that about him. He ran the Milwaukee locker room.
“There is absolute surprise on the owners’ faces when he talks about leadership, his relationship with his teammates, his personal life. It’s just not at all what they expected to hear from a statured slugger.
“The man in the batter’s box and the man in the locker room are two very different people. The man in the locker room is an ambassador, a very sincere and understanding man. In the batter’s box, he is out there, literally uncaged.
“Having that light switch is a very special thing for an athlete. To be able to control your emotions, do all the things required of a franchise player . . . of all the superstars I’ve been around, psychologically he’s the best that I have seen.”