It’s interesting, when you think about it. How often do you see a real BIG NAME free agent hit the pool like a blue whale doing a cannonball?
Well, for that, you’d have to look at all of the top hitters in baseball (for the purposes of this post, I’ll set the mark at the very-arbitrary .860 OPS). In 2011, there were 30 hitters with an .860 OPS or higher. Those 30 players are spread out across 19 MLB teams. It should go without saying (but I’m doing it anyway) that the Mariners are not one of those 19 teams. In fact, you have to go all the way down to Player #137 before you run into a Mariner on baseball’s top OPS list in 2011 (in fact, his name is Ichiro; his OPS was .645).
Anyway, I would say that these 30 hitters, give or take a few who may have had down years in their batting averages (thus preventing them from being in the Top 30 in OPS) are indeed the Best Hitters In Baseball right now. Any team in baseball would likely be thrilled to have any one of these guys. Going into this offseason, if my math is correct, there were three of these guys available on the free agent market. Jose Reyes just signed a huge deal with Florida, so that makes the total now two. For all intents and purposes, Albert Pujols is off the market, because there’s no way the Mariners afford him and there’s no way he considers the Mariners an option.
That just leaves Prince Fielder.
As far as OPS is concerned, there were only four hitters better than him last season: Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera, and Jose Bautista. That’s an INCREDIBLE list of company to be associated with! And he COULD be a Mariner!
I’ve already talked about the Pros and Cons of signing a guy like Fielder at a time like this; I’m not going to rehash the same tired argument. What I AM going to do is let myself daydream a little bit on this topic.
Every year, you may get just a small handful of the best players hitting the open market, whether they’re pitchers or hitters. Every year, there is a slightly larger handful of teams contending with each other to sign this small pool of superstars. Every year, there are a number of teams who get exactly what they want, a number of teams forced to settle for their second or third options, at least one team who vastly overpays for someone considered not worth the contract, and a bunch of teams left out in the cold, forced to pick from the scraps all the predators have left behind.
Most years, the Mariners are one of those teams picking from scraps; occasionally, the Mariners take one of those scraps and sign him to a bloated, insane contract (Silva, Figgins, Sexson, etc.). But, every once in a great while, the Mariners are major players. They stand up tall and declare loudly, “We are still a Majore League Baseball team, dammit!” Everyone in the baseball world will talk about us for a day or two; we’ll get some play going into Spring Training in their “Winners & Losers” segments; and then we’ll subsequently be forgotten for the other 350-some-odd days of the year.
Signing Prince Fielder, whether it’s a wise move or not, reinforces us as Occasional Major Players. The fact that we’re even in this position, however, owes much more to circumstance than to our throwing our money and weight around. The REAL Major Players – Boston, New York, New York, Chicago, Texas, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, and Toronto – all seem to be shying away from the Fielder Sweepstakes. So now, not only are the Mariners the most logical choice, they’re also the most expected choice! If everyone else is backing down from the Years & Money totals he wants, and if the Mariners are desperate enough to give the years and approach the money totals, why WOULDN’T they succeed in signing one of the best hitters in baseball?
It could get really exciting in the next couple of days … or it could get really depressing, depending on who you are. Of course, it could also get really Meh if nothing happens because Albert Pujols is gumming up the works. I dunno. All I know is, the longer this lingers, the less I will believe the Mariners are actually signing Fielder. If it doesn’t happen by the end of the weekend, then I’d put my money down on it never happening.
One thing Jackie Z has been known for, it’s making quick work of the deals he wants to get done. When he sets his sights on someone, he either makes it happen RIGHT NOW, or he lets it go without a look back. My hunch tells me he’d probably look back for Fielder, but I still doubt it gets done anytime after this week.