The Dodgers Were In On Prince Fielder, and The Last Time We’ll Be Writing About Him For a While

I was really looking forward to not having to discuss Prince Fielder anymore, but how can I ignore a bombshell like the one Jon Heyman just dropped on us?

Although they managed to stay under the radar all the while, the Los Angeles Dodgers pushed hard for weeks to try to sign Prince Fielder and thought for a while they might have a legitimate shot at their own secret signing. The Dodgers were a surprise entrant in the sweepstakes, making a major push to sign the star slugger with an offer that guaranteed him seven years but provided a sweet four-year opt-out. And for a couple weeks, they looked like a real possibility for Prince.

The Dodgers surely gave a spirited effort to secure Fielder, even flying to meet with him at an undisclosed neutral location a few weeks ago, but somehow managed to keep the entire undertaking under wraps, save for a few internet rumblings from fans speculating that they may have been a mystery team in the mix.

Heyman goes on to state that the Dodger offer was nowhere near the massive nine-year, $214m commitment Fielder just procured from Detroit, figures I wanted no part of. Rather, the supposed Dodger offer would have been “in the low $160m” range, with the first three years coming in at $26m apiece ($78m total), after which Fielder would have been able to opt out, then four years in the low twenties range, totaling about $85-90m and bringing the deal into the $160m range. About a month ago, I heard from a source who claimed that Ned Colletti had offered Fielder a 3/$80m deal, and while I couldn’t confirm it enough to run with it, that it pretty close to the first half of this supposed offer.

If that’s in any way true, well, I like that idea a lot. Sure, paying Fielder $26m a year is somewhat outrageous, but that’s only over his age 28-30 seasons, after which he’s either someone else’s problem or taking a pay cut. That’s also, of course, almost certainly why a deal like this had almost no chance of happening, considering how much more he eventually ended up getting from Detroit; the Dodgers were likely extending themselves just to get that far, hoping that the market would never materialize and Fielder would have no choice but to land with them. (There’s a conversation happening on Twitter right now about whether Victor Martinez‘ injury cost the Dodgers Fielder, since they may not have been in on Prince until they were short a bat; it makes sense, though I’m not sure if I fully buy that simply due to how much they did end up giving to Fielder.)

But that’s all behind us now, because Fielder is a Tiger now, and we won’t be seeing him in Dodger blue until he’s inevitably signed to a back-loaded contract in 2022. If anything, we can be impressed with the Dodger front office for not allowing anything more than unsourced speculation to leak during this process. Of course, the best part of Heyman’s story has nothing to do with Fielder, and the emphasis on this is mine:

The Dodgers tendered their longtime first baseman James Loney a contract and expect him to be their first baseman. They are not unhappy with him at all but merely saw Fielder as a rare opportunity to land one of the game’s best hitters.

Wonderful.

Prince Fielder Just Broke the Internet

As has been reported by every outlet short of smoke signal and carrier pigeon over the last thirty minutes, Prince Fielder has finally come off the board, agreeing to a nine-year, $214m contract with the Detroit Tigers. This ought to allow Dodger fans to put the idea of signing Fielder – which was never going to happen, sadly – behind us for good, and resign ourselves to another long, cold year of James Loney and the Fun Bunch. That sounds kind of depressing when you write it like that, but… well, I don’t quite know how to end that sentence.

More importantly, though… holy crap. How does Scott Boras keep doing this? Nine years! Two hundred and fourteen million! Particularly when it’s coming from a team that already has a stud first baseman in Miguel Cabrera and has to deal with $35m more to another 1B/DH type in Victor Martinez, at least after he returns from his knee injury next year. After weeks upon weeks of hearing how the Fielder market was depressed because traditional spenders like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Mets, and Phillies weren’t involved, Boras goes and pulls this out of his hat. Though many personify Boras as everything that’s wrong with baseball today, I can’t even be angry with him. Frankly, I’m just impressed. The man is simply a wizard.

Back to the Dodgers, well, if this is what it was going to take to secure Fielder, then I’m just as happy to pass. It’s one thing to swallow hard and choke up ~$160m when you’re already paying Matt Kemp and have to deal with Clayton Kershaw (especially when his closest comparable, Tim Lincecum, is extracting $40.5m over two years from the Giants because he hasn’t been locked up yet). It’s quite another to commit nearly $24m per year for nearly a decade to a bad-bodied player when you don’t have the luxury of the designated hitter to shift him to in a few years.

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled moping over the Dodger offense, at least until we get further news on the ownership bidding process.

Someone Please Sign Prince Fielder Already

…just so we can finally be rid of the “hey, are the Dodgers secretly trying to go after him?” rumors, ones we’ve been hearing for months and propagated again this weekend by Joel Sherman of the New York Post and T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times. Every time this comes up, Dodger fans understandably less-than-enthused by the fact that Mark Ellis and Adam Kennedy were two of the main offensive imports this winter try to contort themselves into a position where Fielder is actually the Opening Day first baseman for the Dodgers in 2012.

Over at Dodger Thoughts today, Jon Weisman links back to a piece he wrote several months ago that the Dodgers could and should sign Fielder, and there’s absolutely no argument with that from me. On the field, Fielder is a massive improvement over James Loney and would be an ideal partner for Matt Kemp. In the front office, you look at a 2012-13 free agent market that has a ton of great pitchingMatt Cain, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, and Dan Haren among them – but little in the way of power bats beyond the always questionable Josh Hamilton and realize that obtaining a bat while you can is a great strategy, especially when first base (Loney) and right field (Andre Ethier) are both staffed by imminent free agents. Off the field, signing Fielder would be a huge public relations boon to a team that so clearly needs one. So no, you’ll get absolutely no pushback from me that signing Prince Fielder would be a great thing for the Dodgers, other than perhaps a slight reluctance to add a third $20m+ annual salary, assuming Clayton Kershaw will soon be at or near that level along with Kemp.

Here’s the thing, though; there’s a pretty big difference between “does it make sense” and “is there really a sliver of a prayer that this could actually happen”, and that’s where I’d argue that it really isn’t feasible. You can forget about the fact that new ownership is coming in, because as I mentioned yesterday, that’s at least three months away. Camp starts in thirty days or less for most teams, and big-ticket free agents like Fielder don’t remain unsigned after camps open – they just don’t. That means if by some miracle Fielder makes it to Los Angeles for this season, it’s going to be because Frank McCourt gives the go-ahead, not because a new owner is making it happen.

So what’s McCourt’s motivation to do that? Simers and others have argued that adding a star like Fielder would increase the sale value, but I’m not convinced it’s that simple; as we’ve seen, the club is almost certainly going to go for $1.5 billion or more, shattering the previous MLB record. This isn’t a situation where interest is lagging and McCourt has to do something to excite bidders; besides, bids are due on the club tomorrow, so unless we have an immensely entertaining evening ahead of us, potential owners are bidding on a Dodger club that does not include Prince Fielder. (Since the bids are just opening bids, they could possibly increase later if Fielder was around, but that’s no guarantee; Bill Shaikin has suggested adding a $150m+ liability could actually depress bidding.) You could argue that McCourt wants to salvage what’s left of his reputation by giving fans a big gift before he goes, but as ego-driven as he might be, I don’t think even that is going to allow him to show his face in town after all he’s done – not to mention the question of whether he’d want to be on the hook for the first two payments of Fielder’s contract in April.

Like the rest of you, I’d love to see Fielder in blue. It makes a ton of sense. It’s also increasingly tiresome to have the emotions of Dodger fans played with each time this comes up. So please, Seattle, or Washington, or Texas, or whomever else is interested, sign the man already. For all of us.

Thursday Notes: Old Money, New Money, and the Unlikely Prince

We have another potential new name in the Dodger bidding war and an update on another, and holy good lord, could these two guys not possibly be more different. First, Bill Shaikin in the Times brings us the news that developer Alan Casden is throwing his hat in the ring. Sound familiar? It should – he tried unsuccessfully to purchase the team from FOX in 2003.

Shaikin:

Casden’s name has been submitted to MLB for consideration, according to a person familiar with the process. Casden, whose net worth is estimated at $1.2 billion by Forbes, has not returned calls from The Times.

In 2003, Casden proposed buying the Dodgers, moving them to a new downtown ballpark and tearing down Dodger Stadium to build housing on the site.

“They knock down stadiums all the time,” Casden told The Times then. “Dodger Stadium is not an antique. It’s not Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s a nice place to play baseball, but there are far better.”

Casden offered about $450 million to buy the Dodgers from Fox — more than McCourt paid — but the bid stalled amid MLB concerns over an investigation into illegal campaign contributions to city politicians.

Oh, that’s just lovely. You can put him down with Time Warner and Stephen Cohen at the head of the “DO NOT WANT” list.

At the absolute opposite end of the spectrum, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne brings us an outstanding look at mystery man Josh Macciello. The entire article is fantastic and well worth a click, but here’s the main attraction:

“No, I always have to prove it,” he said, when I asked if people believe him when he says he’s a billionaire. “They ask for confirmation and we give them the claims showing that we own [the mines] and the actual assay and geologists reports that support that claim that’s been going on since 1999.” Then he corrects me on something.

“It’s not like Josh Macciello has billions in his bank account,” he said. “I am chairman and CEO of a company that’s partnered up with another company, and through those two companies we acquired several gold mines that are worth billions of dollars.

“Had it been five years ago we wouldn’t have been as fortunate, but due to the economy and where gold prices are now and where they’re projected to be in the next five years, we’re very blessed to be in the position we’re in, to be able to say we have billions of dollars of assets.”

Macciello says he intends to use those gold mines as collateral to finance his bid for the Dodgers.

I find Macciello fascinating, and I’ve at least begun to believe his intentions are real. (Even though, as a web snob, his new website joshfordodgers.com infuriates me because it’s all one background image.) Shelburne delves into a guy with an interesting past who really appears to be doing this for the love of the team, not as an investment, and that’s not something many of the rest of these guys can say. If by some miracle he got the team, you’d have to think that his policies would be incredibly fan-friendly and beyond entertaining in every way. I have to be honest, there’s a not insignificant part of me that’s really pulling for him.

Except.. well, look at that quote above. You could really replace “Macciello” and “gold mines” with “McCourt” and “parking lots”, couldn’t you? We had a discussion in the comments earlier this week that no one was going to simply write a check for $1.5 billion, and that’s absolutely true; no matter what, there’s going to be some amount of debt and loans involved in this. To a certain extent, that’s fine; to do it nearly entirely on that, well, we’ve seen that movie before. It didn’t end well.

Speaking of completely unlikely scenarios hinging on ownership… Prince Fielder. As long as he’s unsigned, people are going to speculate that he’ll end up with the Dodgers somehow, and that’s understandable. The thing people need to understand, however – and I point this out because I’ve been asked about it more than once – is that if Fielder somehow lands in Los Angeles, it’s not going to be because of a new owner. It’s going to be because of Frank McCourt. Spring training starts in about five weeks, and McCourt isn’t obligated to choose a winning bidder for about six weeks beyond that, and then it’ll take at least a month for the transfer of power. While it may be the new owner who would be paying the overwhelming majority of Fielder’s contract, there’s just no way that they’ll be in power soon enough to make it happen. (I was asked on Twitter by Jerrold [@JFK03] about the parallel of incoming Giants owner signing Barry Bonds in 1992, which is a good comparison, except Bonds signed on December 8 that winter. This process is just too far behind in the offseason.)

I bring this up because two prominent writers have brought up two complete opposing viewpoints on whether McCourt should bother signing Fielder before he’s gone. (When asked about it today, McCourt refused to comment.)

Buster Olney, ESPN:

If McCourt signed Fielder now, the expenditure wouldn’t be beyond the means of the franchise. And while a $25 million annual salary for a first baseman might seem like a lot of money to the average person, remember who is bidding for the team. A $25 million annual expenditure to someone with access to $100 billion is equivalent to five ATM charges for someone making $50,000.

You could call the signing of Fielder a financial pimple, in the big picture, if not for the fact that it could actually make the Dodgers more attractive, more valuable.

The Dodgers might be able to get Fielder for seven years and $175 million, or maybe eight for $192 million. Add Fielder to their lineup, and they could contend for the NL West championship in 2012. They would sell more tickets, draw higher ratings and give the next owners a little more leverage in negotiating that next television contract. Fielder would be to the Dodgers what Shaquille O’Neal was to the Lakers.

McCourt probably flinches reflexively at the idea of spending money these days given the amount of debt he has and considering how many lawsuits he’s been involved in. But signing Fielder now would be a smart investment, some gasoline to throw onto what should already be an extremely hot bidding war for the Dodgers.

It’s a great opportunity. McCourt should jump on it. Right now.

Shaikin, LA Times:

If the Dodgers signed Fielder for, say, $150 million, that would add $150 million to the liabilities a new owner would assume. That could persuade a prospective buyer to lower his bid accordingly.

As you can imagine, I tend to agree with Shaikin on this. While Olney’s points are valid, we’ve been talking a lot this week about just how much money the Dodgers are expected to go for – by all indications, it’ll be record-shattering. I find it hard to believe that a franchise which might already come close to doubling the previous MLB sale record would get an even further boost by adding Fielder; as Shaikin suggests, it might actually lower the price. Besides, if you’re willing to toss more than a billion dollars into purchasing a baseball team, you almost by definition have a large ego. I’m thinking that a new owner would prefer to be the one seen as rescuing the team and bringing in big stars, not inheriting someone that McCourt brought in.

Sure Is Nice of ESPN Chicago to Let Scott Boras Write Their Articles

Over the last 12 hours or so, I’ve been getting a bunch of questions from people via Twitter and email about the surprising last sentence in this Bruce Levine ESPN report claiming the Cubs have interest in Prince Fielder:

The Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Dodgers are reportedly the main suitors for Fielder at this point, with the Cubs still in the running.

Uh… huh. That sort of comes out of nowhere, right, especially when it comes from a Chicago radio host – granted, the same one who was the first on Aramis Ramirez signing in Milwaukee – and buried in a throwaway line in a story that’s mainly about the Cubs? Sure, that may have been an outside possibility before the Dodgers dropped nearly $17m in 2012 salary on the collection of busted veterans we’ve discussed so many times, not to mention the ~$13m that Juan Uribe & Matt Guerrier will collect, plus the ~$6m James Loney will get in arbitration. Now? Please, and even if it was possible, I feel like that’s something we just might have heard about.

If anything, it seems clear that the market for Fielder isn’t developing like he and Scott Boras had hoped. Big spenders like the Red Sox, Yankees, and Phillies are all set at first base, while the financial difficulties of the Dodgers and Mets are well-known. Clearly, the Angels are no longer in need of a first baseman, while the Cardinals seem content with using Lance Berkman and/or Matt Adams to replace Albert Pujols, and there’s conflicting reports on whether the Cubs are even interested.

All of which leaves Fielder without a ton of great options. Seattle’s desperate for offense, but moving to a bad team in a huge park without any other offensive support outside of Dustin Ackley doesn’t seem appealing; Washington can’t get anyone to take their money and Texas & Miami reportedly don’t plan to bid. So yeah, it behooves Boras to start coming up with his famous “mystery team” just to try to goose the market, and no, despite what appears in the unsourced rumors, let’s not pretend that the Dodgers really have a prayer in this.

For the record, I do think that Fielder probably does see Los Angeles as a good fit, because it just makes so much sense. Go to Hollywood, play with your good friends Matt Kemp & Tony Gwynn – not to mention former teammates Jerry Hairston & Chris Capuano – and help rescue a floundering franchise that might be just one big bat away from making some noise? I get it – I do. I just think we all know that there’s no way the money is still there after the underwhelming shopping spree the Dodgers have already went on – so let’s not get our hopes up, okay?

(That said… it’s 22 degrees out where I am, so let’s spitball a completely ludicrous thought experiment. Loney would have just about no value on the trade market, but tendering him isn’t exactly the end of the story. There is a little-known and rarely-used option for a team to walk away from an arbitration decision before Opening Day, with the club owing the player just 30 or 45 days of pro-rated salary depending on when in the spring it happens. It gets sticky, because it has to be based on performance & not economics, and the last time I can remember it happening, the union filed a grievance against the Padres when they whacked Todd Walker in 2007. That makes for the one time ever where spring training stats actually mean something, and is probably even less likely than the idea that Frank McCourt could try to hang onto the team, though if a portly first baseman should happen to land in the Dodgers’ laps on a massively-backloaded deal, that is one option to get rid of Loney despite the tender. Again though, that’s thinking out loud – Fielder’s not coming.)