Prince Fielder is the hot topic for Seattle Mariner fans this winter. He will continue to be up to the point where he signs with some other team and we all end up resigned to another subpar offense in 2012. Lucky(?) for us Scott Boras is unlikely to let that happen until late in the offseason. For now, he remains an itch that's either fun or maddening to scratch depending on your individual perspective. Fielder rumors are great for search traffic though. Prince Fielder? Prince Fielder. Prince Fielder? Prince Fielder! Aw, yeah, come to us, precious Google ducats.
Looking back on two consecutive seasons where the Seattle Mariners possessed the worst offense in baseball (2008 and 2009 were not exactly barnstorming in the runs scored department either) and seeing a possibly third looming ahead is disenthusing. It is probably tiring for all directly involved as well, but it might be worse for us fans. We're the ones who turn to baseball at least partly for entertainment after all. Yet another 3-2 loss does not leave me fulfilled. Personally, I've never been good with a routine, so I sure would appreciate something different from the Mariners in 2012 than what I have become accustomed to over the past four seasons.
A fixation on a big bat to address those doldrums is fully understandable. It's not a panacea of course, but it would be a signal to the greater, and at times more fickle, fan base that the team is committed to addressing the problem on offense. Seeing Fielder's name in the three or four spot of the batting order additionally makes each turn at the top of the lineup more interesting. Winning is the ultimate attention generator, but winning doesn't take place during the offseason so making splashes in the offseason is all Jack Zduriencik and Co can do for now to energize the fan base.
The easy focus for someone with such sentiment is on Prince Fielder. For a variety of reasons such as his comparatively young age, great production and his ties to Zduriencik from Milwaukee, people have bandied Fielder's name about more than any other possible winter target to some people's hopes and other's dismay. The dreams are obvious while the nightmares are of a more levelheaded and cautious response to the likely cost of such an acquisition and the current state of the Mariners team.
I'm more closely associated with the latter camp as I believe that the combination of Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, and Albert Pujols also being on the market will both delay and inflate the size of Fielder's eventual contract past the point of prohibitive for this team. Yet, I have sympathy for the damn-the-consequences side. I'm not sure anyone who has slogged through watching so much ineptness in one place can avoid wanting to see the team go hog wild on offense, especially since it's been ages since they last did so. We're kibitzing an organization that has been playing a patient style for a while now, making mostly good moves at good times, but occasionally burned by fickle fortune. It's a natural reaction and impulse to want the management to loosen up a bit and swing for the fences.
Sure, it could be a reckless play. Fielder's body type, possible transition to the AL, defensive nonvalue and genetics do not foretell sustained excellence. I am downright worried about how he'll perform three, four, or more years in the future. But being on tilt is to be frustrated by inaction. It is not rational. It is not a logical response, but an emotional one. It's McCoy, not Spock.*
*I had never watched Star Trek until very recently and enjoy it far more than I anticipated. I like shows with goofy elements and a sort of earnest over-reaching with at least a partial self-awareness (hello, Twin Peaks). I feel like the writers are sitting alongside, beer in hand, wearing a gentle smirk to non-verbally acknowledge that yes, the commentary is transparent, but here's some off-the-wall stuff to take the edge off that pill. I think Lookout Landing tries to do similar work with baseball. Anyways, the character bible entries on Spock and McCoy had to have been quite shallow. Their dialogue exchanges and mutual reactions are often maddeningly predictable. That is, until I realize so is true with many nonfictional people. It is rare that a person we know surprises us. Fascinating, in a way.
Nevertheless, I think some people who share my ultimate opinion on Prince Fielder are being too dismissive of the pro-pursuing side. I understand and agree with expressing hesitance over such a weighty commitment, but I do not see it as an open-and-shut case. Rational arguments for Fielder exist that make sense as well.
Some of those points rest with the currently unknown. There's a joke that has the punch line "we've already established you're a whore, now we're just haggling over the price." I reference it because I think the full joke is one of the cheekier illustrations of flexible attitudes. As a Mariner fan, I would be thrilled if the team signed Prince Fielder for $1 million a season. However, if he cost them $30 million per year, I become much less eager. Additionally, I prefer the Mariners sign a player like Fielder when they are closer to contention. I am less enthusiastic about risking it one year early, but it's not an absolute judgment. As with a majority of decisions, it is a matter of degrees, shades of gray.
On cost-considerations, we have ample evidence that ball clubs still pay superstars on the linear scale of dollars for expected performance. If Fielder can hold up his outstanding hitting skills, there's little to worry about regarding his contract. That's a scary risk to take, but it's by no means a certainty that Fielder falls apart. If he avoids such a collapse, having so much value in just one spot is quite a benefit to roster construction.
An argument against I've read often is the lackluster composition of the 2012 Mariners team. My devil's advocate has no counter to that. I don't realistically see a way, outside of an extremely fortuitous return to form from Ichiro Suzuki and Franklin Gutierrez, that the 2012 Mariners compete with the 2012 Rangers. And all other things being equal, losing a bunch of games in a lost season at least grants the front office better future talent from the draft. All things are not equal though and the declining attendance and general interest in the team is starting to reach worrisome levels. A partially rejuvenated offense next year wouldn't be the worst outcome.
It doesn't end with 2012. I constructed the admittedly optimistic hypothetical about the 2013 Seattle Mariner team for a couple reasons. I was genuinely curious for one. I also feel that such an investigation is what is required to determine if an investment like the one needed for Prince Fielder is wise. Too often I have seen arguments that begin and end with next season, but that's short-sighted. Obviously, the preference would be to wait until the collected talent more resembled something like that linked fantasy above before sinking dollars into the free market, but that's not always possible.
Patience may simply reward the team with available money and lackluster options on which to splurge. A level exists past which pursuing a player like Prince Fielder in this offseason is justified to set up for a season further down the line. Are the Mariners at that level? I am not positive that they aren't.
Building a team requires a chess-like outlook of looking moves ahead. Perhaps they would rather wait for 2013 and then if it gels go after a talent like Matt Kemp or Mike Napoli. That would be a fair assessment. There's some safety in not committing money a year (or more) ahead of schedule. However, there's also a risk in waiting. They might miss out on the perfect targets and be left alone at the altar trading for Vernon Wells in desperation.
What I mean to impart mostly is that there's more uncertainty then certainty in the matter. The interest toward Prince Fielder is shareable. He's a great talent. If the Mariners pass, or if Fielder passes on the Mariners, I'll get over it. I'll probably even be relieved. But should the Mariners somehow end up with him, I know I will be excited. Future future me will fret about his contract; immediate future me would be stoked. Boy, it would be fun for a while.