SBD/January 26, 2012/Franchises

Nationals Defend Not Signing Prince Fielder Despite Being Deemed The Front-Runner

Nationals GM says team negotiated with Fielder until it didn’t make sense to do so
The Nationals were thought to be one of the front-runners to land free agent 1B Prince Fielder, and GM Mike Rizzo "fully admitted the Nationals wanted Fielder, but said the Nationals had a firm notion of what they wanted to pay Fielder, and once negotiations crossed that point, they backed away," according to Adam Kilgore of the WASHINGTON POST. Fielder Tuesday agreed to a nine-year, $214M deal with the Tigers, and Rizzo said, "Were we interested in him? There’s no question about it. We were in the negotiations until it didn’t make sense for us to be in the negotiations any longer, so we had to back out." Rizzo did not specify the team's limit, but a source said that the Nationals "would not offer more than six years." Rizzo also "declined to reveal whether the Nationals made a formal offer," but the team had "extensive discussions with Fielder and his representative, Scott Boras." Rizzo: "I felt that we were players. We were being aggressive in the negotiations. I felt that we were players in the process, but it’s an unpredictable process and you don’t know what deals are out there and you don’t know what is fact and what is fiction." Kilgore noted the team "took a wholly different approach last offseason" by signing RF Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126M contract. The Nationals "happily and defiantly gave Werth a contract well above market value, which Rizzo and other officials referred to as the opening of 'Phase 2,' a strategy of placing big-ticket free agents around their young core." However, the club has "seemingly left behind that 'Phase 2' way of thinking" after failing to sign either Fielder or P Mark Buehrle. Rizzo said, "We feel that we no longer have to beg and overpay for players to come to us. We feel that this is becoming an attractive place for major league players to play. Jayson Werth’s signing has a lot to do with that" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 1/25).

ILITCH RECEIVING KUDOS: In Detroit, John Lowe notes Tigers Owner Mike Ilitch “continued to receive praise Wednesday" for signing Fielder. Former Mets GM Steve Phillips said, "Mr. Ilitch just made a Yankees move. The Tigers lost their DH, so they went and got the best available hitter on the market.” MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds said, "Mike Ilitch has done an amazing job of giving his city a chance to economically turn things around and put a team on the field that's relevant. Hats off to him” (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/26). On Long Island, Ken Davidoff wrote Ilitch has been “a reliable patron” of Boras over the years and the newly inked Fielder deal “will sell tickets” (NEWSDAY.com, 1/25). SI.com’s Joe Sheehan said, “It’s a good deal for the Tigers in 2012. Mike Ilitch seems to be saying, ‘I’ll take the risk down the road spending a lot of money if it means winning a championship now.’ ... Mike Ilitch has established himself as one of the best owners in sports. He’s a guy that is willing to spend what it takes and doesn’t care about making that short-term profit like a lot of guys do" ("NBC Sports Talk," NBC Sports Network, 1/25). ESPN's Jim Rome said the end of Fielder's deal “is going to be ugly." Rome: "But like Albert Pujols, the deal is not about years six through nine. It is about one through five and getting a ring that team Owner Mike Illitch so desperately wants” (“Jim Rome Is Burning,” ESPN2, 1/25).

ONLY WORRIED ABOUT THE HERE AND NOW: Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp noted staffers in the Tigers organization “were shocked when they heard this news ... because I don't think as of 48 hours ago, I don't think people in the upper reaches of the organization thought it was an even real chance that this would happen." Sharp: "Mike Illitch is going to be 83-years-old in 2012. He looks at it from a practical standpoint that short term, it's a great deal for this organization. Long-term, it's insanity.” ESPN.com's Keith Law said, “There’s a lot of concern here that the last four years or so of this deal are going to be very ugly. ... This is entirely about trying to win in the first three years or so of Fielder's contract” ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 1/25). The Chicago Tribune's David Haugh said, “I don’t think he’s worried about nine-year deals. He’s pretty motivated to win now” (“Chicago Tribune Live,” Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 1/25).
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