What's the real market for Prince?

What's the real market for Prince?
January 19, 2012, 8:55 pm
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Prince Fielder officially became a free agent 2 12 months ago, yet the burly slugger has yet to sign with anyone. And, truth be told, we really have no clearer idea today where he's going to wind up than we did way back in early November.

Sure, there has been tons of speculation thrown around the web, especially in the last couple of weeks. But the conflicting reports are headache-inducing.

The Nationals have no interest in Fielder! No, wait, the Nationals are the front-runners to sign him! Except the Rangers are aggressively pursuing him! But then they spent 117 million on Yu Darvish, so they have no money left! Except they're still interested in Fielder if they can work out a "creative" deal! And there's still the Cubs, Mariners, Marlins, Orioles in the mix ... or not!

Got all that? Yeah, probably not.

Here's the truth to the Fielder saga: There's really no way to know which teams are seriously in the hunt still, or what kind of contract the first baseman is ultimately going to sign. Why? Because everybody involved in this saga is playing some serious poker right now.

Nobody wants to reveal his true intentions, because doing so would jack up the price. Scott Boras, Fielder's agent, is masterful at using the media (especially national writers) to negotiate on his clients' behalf. If he can spread the word that one club (or better yet, multiple clubs) are all in on Fielder, perhaps he can persuade another franchise to up the ante and ultimately outbid itself on the player.

All of baseball's general managers know this. They've been dealing with Boras for decades, and his strategy rarely changes. So they're finally calling his bluff by publicly (and privately) trying to downplay their chances of signing Fielder. Seriously, have you heard a single GM publicly declare his interest in acquiring the guy?

So that leaves all of us twisting in the wind, trying to decipher what's really going on and trying read multiple poker faces. How's that going so far? Well, if you've been following the conflicting reports that seem to surface every day out of multiple big-league towns, you know nobody has truly nailed this thing down yet.

And chances are no one will until Fielder actually agrees to a deal with someone. Boras has a strong track record of pulling off surprise signings late in the process. The whole idea of the "mystery team" originated from his dealings. Don't be surprised one bit if the team that eventually signs Fielder is one who had barely been mentioned (if at all) this winter as a potential destination.

What does that mean for the Nationals? Well, their public (and private) stance hasn't changed at all during this whole process. They've maintained all along they weren't interested in Fielder ... unless his price came way, way down.

Have they been telling the truth and have held nothing better than a pair of deuces in their hand, or have they been hiding a full house this whole time?

Chances are, we won't know until Fielder finally agrees to a deal with somebody. Because in this high-stakes poker game, nobody wants to be the first ones to turn over their cards.