The one big square remaining that stands out concerns the star slugger Prince Fielder. We are only five weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting for Spring Training and we still do not know which camp the first baseman will be attending.
All things being equal, every team would want to add a player of Fielderâ€™s quality. However, his status as one of the offensive stars of the game means that signing him will involve a substantial commitment in years and dollars.Â
Each teamâ€™s financial resources, areas of need and closeness to contention will be pivotal in determining who is genuinely in a position to negotiate with agent Scott Boras in the hope of adding the free agent to their roster.
Below, I take a look at the prospects of all thirty teams, assigning every one as either a â€˜nopeâ€™, â€˜possibly possibleâ€™ (not out of the question, but unlikely), â€˜possibleâ€™ (could be, but not a favourite) or â€˜definite contenderâ€™.
Arizona Diamondbacks â€“ Nope. Donning a D-Backs uniform would make for a fun story after he upset the locals by overlooking Justin Upton for the 2011 Home Run Derby at Chase Field. Arizona do not look like investing in a big contract though and seem set to continue with Paul Goldschmidt at first base.
Atlanta Braves â€“ Nope. The Braves are no longer big spenders and have a good young first baseman in place in Freddie Freeman.
Baltimore Orioles â€“ Possibly possible. Thereâ€™s no doubt they need star level talent and the Oâ€™s have been linked with making a major commitment in recent years, most notably with Maryland native Mark Teixeira. However, they need a lot more than Fielder to get anywhere close to contention. Spending big on Fielder wouldnâ€™t make sense without spending big on several other players as well, and thatâ€™s just not going to happen.
Boston Red Sox â€“ Nope. They are more than happy with Adrian Gonzalez.
Chicago Cubs â€“ Possibly possible. They have the money to make it happen, but it wouldnâ€™t quite fit the short-term direction of the team and you would expect Bryan LaHair and the recently-acquired Anthony Rizzo to be the main contenders for first base at Wrigley over the next few years.
Chicago White Sox â€“ Nope. Weâ€™re still not completely sure what direction they are going in, but we do know Paul Konerko is locked in at first base and the weight of Adam Dunnâ€™s contract at DH is one that cannot be shifted anytime soon.
Cincinnati Reds â€“ Nope. Joey Votto is their man at first.
Cleveland Indians â€“ Nope. Would be an intriguing addition; however they donâ€™t appear to have the finances to make it happen.
Colorado Rockies â€“ Nope. Thereâ€™s no sign that the Rockies are looking to add a big contract. Veteran Todd Helton is still under contract for two more years, while recent signing Michael Cuddyer will probably spend some time at first base over the next couple of years as well.
Detroit Tigers â€“ Nope. Miguel Cabrera is happily entrenched as their first baseman and the Tigers wonâ€™t be adding another big contract exclusively for a Designated Hitter.
Houston Astros â€“ Nope. The Astros are rebuilding, trying to get rid of any even marginally costly contracts, not adding any.
Kansas City Royals â€“ Nope. Eric Hosmer looks set to be their first baseman for years to come and adding a lucrative contract to their developing team isnâ€™t on the agenda.
L.A. Angels â€“ Nope. I think we can all agree that spending $240m+ on Albert Pujols categorically rules them out.
L.A. Dodgers â€“ Possible. Thereâ€™s an argument that adding Fielder would only help McCourt get top dollar when he eventually sells the team. Judging by the level of interest in the Dodgers though, itâ€™s likely (and letâ€™s face it, somewhat annoying) that McCourt will have little trouble bringing in a vast sum without him. Seeing Fielder sign a one-year deal somewhere to set up a multi-year contract with the new Dodgers owners in a yearâ€™s time sounds like an interesting idea, but I canâ€™t see Boras failing to get his client a multi-year contract at this stage in Fielderâ€™s career (itâ€™s not as though heâ€™s coming off a down-year and needs to rebuild his value) and thereâ€™s no guarantee that new owners would be in charge this time next year either.
Miami Marlins â€“ Possible. They clearly have money to spend; however their approach so far has been to go out and get who they want. If they were strongly interested, I suspect Fielder would have signed somewhere not long after the Marlins missed out on Pujols.
Milwaukee Brewers â€“ Possibly possible. My heart is probably ruling my head by not typing â€˜nopeâ€™ here. They would undoubtedly love to have him back and if his price has lowered over the offseason as some suggest (Iâ€™m not overly convinced on that) then owner Mark Attanasio could push the boat out to pull off a major coup. Unfortunately for Brewers fans, it will only take one team to take Fielder out of their reach and that seems the likely outcome.
Minnesota Twins â€“ Nope. Theyâ€™re still hoping Justin Morneau can return to former glories and even though their financial resources have been greatly boosted by Target Field, itâ€™s doubtful they could take on another major contract alongside Joe Mauerâ€™s.
New York Mets â€“ Nope. A team in a major media market, with a lucrative TV network and a three-year old ballpark should be the in running for players such as Fielder, but unfortunately the Mets are in a mess.
New York Yankees â€“ Nope. They are not looking to add another huge contract and Mark Teixeiraâ€™s locked in as the first baseman, with the DH spot a useful option to give Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez a rest from the field every now and then.
Oakland Aâ€™s â€“ Nope. The average annual value of Fielderâ€™s eventual contract could well amount to around 50 per cent of the Aâ€™s Opening Day 2012 payroll.
Philadelphia Phillies â€“ Nope. Ryan Howardâ€™s in the way here.
Pittsburgh Pirates â€“ Nope. The Pirates are not adding a lucrative contract to their payroll any time soon.
San Diego Padres â€“ Nope. Like the Pirates, theyâ€™re not in a position to add a big contract and will give the recently-acquired Yonder Alonso every change to make first base his own at PETCO Park.
San Francisco Giants â€“ Possibly possible. Very close to being another â€˜nopeâ€™. They are one of the bigger spenders in MLB and would love to add a big bat, so itâ€™s not completely out of the question. However, if they are going to commit major money to anyone, it will be in the form of contract extensions for Matt Cain and/or Tim Lincecum.
Seattle Mariners â€“ Possibly possible. The Mariners donâ€™t really profile as a team that would add a major free agent at this point, as they need other players on top of this to put them into contention.Â However, they need a big boost to their offence, they do have some money and the rumours wonâ€™t go away about them potentially being in the running.Â Quite how serious their interest is remains to be seen.
St. Louis Cardinals â€“ Nope.Â After losing Pujols, the Cardinals were never likely to spend a considerable amount on another first baseman.Â Lance Berkman looks set to move from the outfield to take over Pujolsâ€™ fielding spot in St. Louis.
Tampa Bay Rays â€“ Nope. They have a vacancy at first base, but itâ€™s going to be filled by someone on a one or two year deal (potentially reuniting with Carlos Pena?) rather than a substantial commitment.
Texas Rangers â€“ Definite contender. We know they have the money and we know that team officials met with Fielder and Boras last Friday. We will find out by 10 p.m. UK time on Wednesday (18th) if the Rangers have reached an agreement with Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish and things could move swiftly in the Fielder sweepstakes once that deadline has passed.Â The only question is: will the Rangers still be in on Fielder if they do indeed spend their $51.7m posting fee and agree a five or six year deal with Darvish?Â Incredible as it may seem at first, donâ€™t be surprised if the answer is â€˜yesâ€™.
Toronto Blue Jays â€“ Possibly possible. Theyâ€™ve been a dark horse all along and canâ€™t be counted out completely.Â The rumours are that the Blue Jays have reservations about dishing out a contract for six years or more and that will probably count them out.
Washington Nationals â€“ Definite contender. They have the money and are not afraid to spend it if the right player comes along. The Nationals are really on the up and while they have a good first baseman in Adam LaRoche, Fielder would be a considerable upgrade that could quickly help to push Washington into the postseason.
That amounts to six â€˜possibly possiblesâ€™, two â€˜possiblesâ€™ and two â€˜definite contendersâ€™. Thatâ€™s more than enough potential bidders for agent Scott Boras to drive yet another hard bargain and add another nine-figure contract to his list.Â
My prediction? I donâ€™t think someone will come out of the shadows; it will be the two definite contenders that end up in the final round of negotiations.Â The Nationals have recent form in agreeing to Borasâ€™s demands and if he can get them to give Jayson Werth a seven-year $126m contract, he can convince them to just top the Rangersâ€™ best offer.