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Fielder will be a big free-agent ticket

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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

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Prince Fielder, coming soon to “Dancing With the Stars?”

To hear his agent, Scott Boras, tell it, the idea actually makes sense.

“Prince is a remarkable athlete,” Boras says. “He has size, speed and strength. In football, his comp is Warren Sapp.

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“It is rare that a strong, square body type has such flexibility, dexterity and athleticism. Among power-hitting first basemen his foot speed and agility is supreme and without knowing first-hand, he is most likely the better candidate (than Sapp) for ‘Dancing With the Stars.’”

OK, stop laughing. As usual with Boras, there is a measure of truth to his hyperbole. One rival GM says of Fielder, “He runs hard all the time. And he’s more athletic than you think.” The same GM predicts that Fielder will be “one of the most interesting free agents of all time.”

Fielder, who turns 27 on May 9, is about 4-1/2 years younger than the CardinalsAlbert Pujols, who also is eligible for free agency, and the PhilliesRyan Howard, whose five-year, $125 million contract extension begins next season.

Fielder’s .923 career OPS is nearly as high as Howard’s .941. His defense, while not good, is slightly better than Howard’s according to most advanced measures. And a scout says of Fielder’s running, “he can move at times,” describing him as a step quicker than Pujols, while adding that Pujols is a better base-runner with better instincts.

The big question with Fielder, of course, is his body -- or, at least, the appearance of his body. He is listed at 5-foot-11, 275 pounds. His age makes him a candidate for a deal of at least six years and possibly eight. His body suggests that such a deal would be a risk, which is why Boras already is talking up Prince’s athleticism.

Fielder’s body type actually works to his benefit, Boras says.

“The great advantage Prince enjoys and is now beginning to take advantage of is his small strike zone,” Boras says. “Most power hitters today are 6-foot-2 plus while Prince is 5-11. This leads to a lot of hitters’ counts and greater slugging percentage.”

Pujols is listed at 6-foot-3, Howard at 6-foot-4. Fielder, Boras notes, is closer to Willie Mays, who is 5-foot-10, and Hank Aaron, who is 6 feet.

Let the debate begin.

If Fielder fails to hit the jackpot as a free agent, there’s always “Dancing With the Stars.”

SOMETHING NEW: THE BAUTISTA SHIFT

Rarely do teams shift for right-handed hitters, but the Rays did just that Sunday trying to stop the Blue JaysJose Bautista, who extended his consecutive on-base streak to 11 plate appearances with a walk in the first inning.

Bautista lined out hard to third in his next at-bat, then came to the plate in the sixth with a runner on second, one out and the Rays leading 2-0.

Rays manager Joe Maddon chose not to walk Bautista, and not simply because he represented the tying run; right-hander James Shields had allowed five career homers to the Jays’ next hitter, Adam Lind.

Instead, Maddon went with three infielders on the left side, as if Bautista was a right-handed David Ortiz.

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Shields wisely refrained from throwing Bautista a fastball -- and Bautista, who had crushed fastballs out over the plate and away in the first two games of the series, struck out swinging on a 3-2 change that was way inside.

Bautista drew a six-pitch walk from Shields in the ninth, seeing only one fastball in the at-bat, then got picked off first.

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, MR. PUTZ?

Some White Sox fans long for former closer Bobby Jenks. Manager Ozzie Guillen has joked about calling retired closer Bobby Thigpen. But perhaps the reliever the White Sox miss most is the one they lost to the Diamondbacks as a free agent, right-hander J.J. Putz.

Jenks’ time with the White Sox was up; the team declined to offer him a contract rather than give him a raise from his $7.5 million in arbitration. Putz, on the other hand, was a free agent. He produced a 2.83 ERA and 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in a setup role last season while avoiding arm trouble for the first time since 2007.

It’s hindsight, but perhaps the White Sox would have been better off with Putz, who was an elite closer with the Mariners in 2006 and ’07, than career setup man Jesse Crain, whom they signed to a three-year, $13 million free-agent contract.

Crain, mind you, is pitching well; his ERA in eight appearances is just 1.74. Putz, though, is off to an even better start as the Diamondbacks’ closer -- he’s 5-for-5 in save opportunities with a 1.13 ERA, 10 strikeouts and no walks.

The White Sox made Putz a two-year offer, but at the time, early in the winter meetings, they were more preoccupied with re-signing free-agent first baseman Paul Konerko. They did not come close to matching the Diamondbacks’ two-year, $10 million proposal to Putz, sources say. And the D-Backs wanted an answer immediately.

Putz jumped. The Sox re-signed Konerko after adding free-agent designated hitter Adam Dunn, then made Crain their final major addition.

Crain, 29, is five years younger than Putz, and probably a better long-term investment. The White Sox have numerous other issues -- a 4.33 rotation ERA that ranks only ninth in the AL, five regulars with on-base percentages of .298 or below.

Still, the Sox’s 1-10 streak began with their issues at closer -- issues they might have avoided if they still had Putz.

FRENCHY RENAISSANCE

Sabermetricians, get ready for your heads to explode.

In researching a recent column on Alex Gordon, I asked Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer about right fielder Jeff Francoeur.

“His best days are ahead of him. He was another rebuilding project. From a mechanical standpoint, it happened much quicker than it did with Alex. The biggest thing has been his approach.

“It was pretty neat. The day I met him, he said, ‘I want you to know, I’ve done my homework on you, made calls to people who have worked with you. Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do. I’m yours.’ That’s what music to my ears.”

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Francoeur, 27, is off to an excellent start, ranking 10th in the AL with a .936 OPS in 92 plate appearances. He still is doing far more damage against lefties than righties, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio is 2-to-1, as opposed to his previous career rate of 3.58-to-1.

“The amazing part for me is how disciplined he has become when everyone said he couldn’t be,” Seitzer says. “I always felt that you could make a free swinger more disciplined. Not a .350 on-base guy. But you could cut down on his strikeouts, increase his walks if he was ready to buy in.

“It’s early. It’s a small sample so far. But he’s a money at-bat every time he steps into the batter’s box.”

THE SCORING DROUGHT: A NEW THEORY

Teams are averaging 4.32 runs per game, according to STATS LLC, the lowest figure in the majors since 1992. The reasons likely include everything from cold weather to steroid testing, but one GM offers an interesting take.

“The number of players off to bad starts is mind-boggling,” the GM says. “It’s such a timing sport. We’re overprotective of players in the spring. They don’t get enough at-bats.

“It’s exacerbated in Florida by the travel. Teams don’t ask veteran players to travel, so they end up playing every other day rather than straight through.”

The theory might have some merit: Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd spoke of the benefits of reduced travel after his team moved from Tucson to Scottsdale, closer to the Arizona spring-training hub.

Seven of the top 10 lowest-scoring teams are based in Florida in the spring. The same number of clubs train in each state.

STOP THE MADNESS!

The Padres’ offense is so pathetic, it’s understandable that some fans are clamoring for the promotion of Triple A first baseman Anthony Rizzo, one of the key pieces in the Adrian Gonzalez trade.

Padres first basemen Brad Hawpe and Jorge Cantu have combined for a ghastly, major-league low .313 OPS in their first 93 plate appearances (remember, OPS is combined on-base and slugging percentage.) Rizzo, meanwhile, has hit six home runs in his first 69 at-bats. But hold on.

Rizzo has only 479 at-bats combined at Double A and Triple A. Don Mattingly, by contrast, had more than twice that many at those two levels -- 1,182. But the trend toward rushing prospects shows no signs of abating.

Brandon Belt, in a move that I advocated, broke with the Giants after only 223 at-bats at Double A and Triple A. He was demoted after hitting .192/.300/.269 in 60 plate appearances.

Jerry Sands, meanwhile, had only 299 at-bats at Double A and Triple A when he reached the majors with the Dodgers. He actually batted fifth on Sunday despite starting 3-for-22 -- and went 1-for-4 with an RBI double.

The Padres need not rush Rizzo; they can first try Double A first baseman Kyle Blanks, a player who already has major-league experience. If Blanks fails, the Pads can find some other veteran to replace the Hawpe/Cantu combination; first basemen are almost always available.

D-BACKS’ ROTATION: GIVE IT TIME

The Diamondbacks, after improving their bullpen, now must fix their rotation. But they also do not plan to rush prospects despite being next-to-last in the NL -- ahead of only the Cubs -- with a 5.85 rotation ERA.

Right-handers Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson might be the only D-Backs starters who are keepers. But for now, the team will hold off on a number of intriguing young pitchers at Double A -- right-handers Jarrod Parker, Tyler Skaggs and Charles Brewer and lefty Wade Miley.

Lefty Zach Duke, recovering from a fractured left hand, eventually could replace righty Barry Enright or righty Armando Galarraga. The D-Backs clearly need more hard throwers besides Hudson, but GM Kevin Towers says the Parker/Skaggs group is a year to a year-and-a-half away.

Towers, before his team was swept by the Mets over the weekend, falling to 8-12, talked about the difficulty of the D-Backs’ early schedule and how finishing the month around .500 would be “big for us.”

That might not happen now -- the Diamondbacks start a 10-game homestand against the Phillies, Cubs and Rockies on Monday -- but Towers says most of the team’s position players have exceeded his expectations.

When I asked Towers the one who surprised him most, he mentioned shortstop Stephen Drew.

“From the other side, I always kind of appreciated him,” says Towers, who previously was the Padres’ GM. “But the more I’m around him, watching him play, he probably doesn’t get as much credit as he should.

“He makes all the routine plays. He’s clutch. He’s a good hitter. He’s got power.

NO SHORT ANSWER FOR TWINS

The Twins probably won’t be a factor in the Jose Reyes sweepstakes -- they already rank ninth in the majors with a $112.8 million payroll, and Reyes is earning $11 million in his free-agent year.

Still, for all the talk about the loss of Tsuyoshi Nishioki at second, Alexi Casilla doesn’t exactly look like the answer at short. Casilla is athletic, but as one scout says, “You see his lack of instincts when he plays every day.”

The Red Sox’s Marco Scutaro and OriolesJ.J. Hardy are among the other shortstops who could become available. Scutaro, though, will not come cheaply -- his contract includes a $5 million salary this season and a $3 million player option for 2012.

AROUND THE HORN

* Former Braves and Nationals executive Stan Kasten is a leading candidate to become the Dodgers’ trustee, and one exec thinks he would be an excellent choice.

“He’s not afraid of anyone,” the exec says. “You’ve got to be a little bit fearless to do that. He clearly is fearless. He will step on toes.”

* A scout offers a great observation on Twins reliever Joe Nathan -- and the fallacy of radar-gun readings for pitchers trying to make quick returns from Tommy John and other surgeries.

“The radar gun says he’s close,” the scout says. “But the radar gun is a false positive read. His ball has no finish through the zone.

“His fastball is so flat. His breaking ball is so feeble through the zone. Though he’s back, it takes a while to really get back, to have that finish through the zone.”

* Speaking of “finish,” another scout says that is one of the differences in Red Sox right-hander Josh Beckett, who is 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his last three starts.

“It looks like he has regained his focus and tempo,” the scout says. “I see a quicker tempo. He’s finishing his pitches.

“I won’t say he was going through the motions before, but it was a little bit like he was hoping for success. Now he’s dictating success.”

* This is frightening: Four of the top six AL leaders in OPS are YankeesAlex Rodriguez (1), Russell Martin (3), Curtis Granderson (5) and Mark Teixeira (6).

On the other hand, three Yankees also are in the bottom 24: Brett Gardner, who is ahead of only the Mariners’ Chone Figgins in the AL; Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher.

* As I reported in my Full Count video, the Yankees might have better options at Triple A than right-hander Kevin Millwood, who reportedly threw 86 to 89 mph in his second minor-league start Saturday.

Millwood, though, figures to resurface in the majors somewhere; the Yankees must promote him by Sunday or he can exercise an out in his contract.

The veteran worked 190 2/3 innings last season with the Orioles, producing a 3.89 ERA in his first 11 starts and a 3.29 ERA in his last 10.

Of course, he had a 9.18 ERA in the 10 starts in between, but that was during a period when he tried to pitch with a strained right forearm and landed on the disabled list.

* Entering Monday’s play, the Cardinals’ Lance Berkman was tied with the RedsJoey Votto for the NL lead in OPS.

“He has lost weight, his foot speed is better, he has good balance at the plate,” one scout says. “He’s even throwing better and is respectable in right field!”

* Padres right-hander Dustin Moseley is 0-3 with a 1.40 ERA entering his start Monday night against the Braves at Petco Park. One scout, though, is not terribly impressed.

“I don’t know how he gets people out,” the scout says. “He doesn’t have any pitch that is outstanding; he has four mediocre to average pitches. But he knows how to pitch. He’s what (Jeff) Suppan was when Suppan was good -- a decent No. 5.”

* And finally, no team in the Cape Cod League this summer will be scouted by general managers as heavily as the Cotuit Kettleers.

The Kettleers will feature both Georgia Tech outfielder Kyle Wren, son of Braves GM Frank Wren, and Dartmouth catcher Chris O’Dowd, son of Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd.

And that’s not all.

The team also will include Vanderbilt outfielder Mike Yazstrzemski, the grandson of Hall of Famer Carl Yazstrzemski. And the manager will be Mike Roberts, the father of Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts.
 

Tagged: Orioles, Red Sox, White Sox, Royals, Twins, Yankees, Mariners, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Mets, Phillies, Cardinals, Padres, Diamondbacks, Rays, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Joe Nathan, Jose Reyes, J.J. Putz, Jose Bautista, Jesse Crain, Ryan Howard, Bobby Jenks, Jeff Francoeur, James Shields, Alex Gordon, Ian Kennedy, Kyle Blanks

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