January 19, 2012

Rangers haven't closed door on deal for Prince Fielder

One day after securing Yu Darvish, the Rangers work on Prince Fielder.

Yu Darvish, in some circles of the Texas Rangers' fan base, is yesterday's news, even though he will be introduced as the newest member of the club during a news conference at 7 tonight.

Prince Fielder was running only a neck behind Darvish as the top player of interest as the deadline to sign the right-hander approached, and now the free-agent first baseman has pulled away as the center of the fans' attention.

Darvish was signed only Wednesday. Consider the Fielder surge the quickest instance in franchise history of what have you done for me lately?

"Our fans are fired up," general manager Jon Daniels said Thursday. "They want to win. I love it."

The desire to see Fielder in an XXXL Rangers jersey in large part is due to the meeting Rangers officials had last week with Fielder and agent Scott Boras.

Not even Daniels' insistence that signing Fielder is "very unlikely" has cooled the public's desire to add him, and not too many seem to believe that Daniels is on the up and up.

The people have Darvish. Now, they want Fielder.

And the Rangers do, too.

Two major-league sources said on Thursday that the Rangers have not closed the door to signing the All-Star slugger. The problem, as Daniels said Wednesday, is the money.

Fielder and Boras want a lot of it over as long as a decade. The Rangers believe they can make the deal happen if Fielder's price comes down and if Boras is willing to be creative when negotiating a contract.

The Rangers have money, as shown by the $100 million-plus they shelled out to acquire Darvish. They will have more money in 2015, when a new TV deal that could be worth $3 billion over 20 years kicks in.

The Rangers are not drawing on that money now, said a source, and they have pushed some of the value of Darvish's six-year, $60 million contract to later years.

Darvish will make $5.5 million this season, followed by seasons of $9.5 million, $10 million, $10 million, $10 million and $11 million. The Rangers could ask Fielder to take less money early in his deal.

Fielder, who has 230 career homers in six-plus seasons and has never missed more than five games in a full season, would be an upgrade over Mitch Moreland.

But while Fielder would result in more production at first base, there would be less flexibility with the lineup.

Mike Napoli, for instance, could see fewer plate appearances than his 432 in a breakthrough season last year. While his playing time behind the plate is likely to increase from the 57 games he started at catcher in 2011, there wouldn't be as much flexibility to play him at first base against left-handed pitchers.

Napoli started 27 games at first and 18 at designated hitter, a position that would become more of a permanent spot for Michael Young if Fielder is added.

With fewer opportunities to use the DH spot to get position players off their feet for a game while keeping their bats active, Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz would either get full days off or not get any rest at all.

Hamilton and Cruz -- along with Napoli, Young and second baseman Ian Kinsler -- are candidates for contract extensions before hitting free agency either after this season or in 2013. A bonanza for Fielder could mean a couple of those players head elsewhere.

Those core players have done a pretty good job the past two years without him.

"We're definitely built for long-term success," Kinsler said. "To win the pennant is a big deal, but at the same time we haven't finished what is the ultimate goal. I think that is still weighing on the organization. I think we're going to do whatever it takes to do that, and we have the right people in place to do that."

Jeff Wilson 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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