WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 17: Prince Fielder #28 of the Milwaukee Brewers (R) walks off the field as Ivan Rodriguez #7 of the Washington Nationals celebrates with pitcher Tyler Clippard #36 after defeating the Brewers 8-4 during the first game of a doubleheader at Nationals Park on April 17, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Jayson Werth was uniquely suited to a long-term deal in spite of his age (31 at the time) as his agent Scott Boras explained last winter in an MLB Network Radio interview, because he was a rare exception in baseball history as one of only a few players, "... who have rooted themselves in the game as late bloomers. Players who have body types and certainly a physical platform that allows their chronological age to be viewed differently than their physicality as an athlete."
Discussions with the outfielder, who'd eventually sign with Washington taking the baseball world by surprise, actually began weeks before he signed on the eve of the 2010 Winter Meetings, "... just before Thanksgiving when," according to an ESPN/AP report last winter, "Nationals owners Ted Lerner and Mark Lerner met with Werth at Boras' office in Newport Beach, Calif." A few weeks after the meeting, Werth was a Washington National with a 7-year/$126M dollar deal.
Why would Werth sign with the perennial cellar-dwellers from the division he'd played in for the previous four seasons in Philadelphia?
As Werth's agent explained in the press conference announcing the signing at the 2010 Winter Meetings, the outfielder was given assurances about the direction the franchise was headed and liked what he'd heard. Werth, Boras admitted, "... certainly wanted to know that this was a place that was not only going to take every step possible to sign young players in the draft as they've exhibited but also take steps to develop a core system in the minor leagues and also take further steps in advancing the free agent process so that he would be surrounded by quality major league players in addition to those already present in the Nationals' organization."
When Zack Greinke talked about his decision to decline what was reportedly a 5-year/$90M dollar extension offer from the Nationals if he'd accept a trade to the nation's capital's Nats in a March 2011 Washington Post article by Dave Sheinin entitled, "Desire to win now kept Greinke from joining Nationals", the WaPost's Mr. Sheinin explained how the Nationals' owner Ted Lerner and other "high-ranking team officials" held a "clandestine" meeting with Greinke in a hotel in Orlando, Florida during which they made their pitch in an attempt to convince the former Cy-Young Award-winner to pitch in Washington.
The clandestine meetings with players capable of not only changing the perception of the franchise in the marketplace, but turning the organization into a contender. The owners getting directly involved in meeting with players and agents and pitching the organization as a destination. It all came back this week when Washington Post writer, Dave Sheinin, in an article entitled, "Some thoughts on Prince Fielder", examined the perception held by many in baseball that the Nationals will end up signing the 27-year-old free agent slugger this winter, and wrote that, "If the Nationals get into the Fielder sweepstakes, it is unlikely to become public knowledge until the very end."
"Boras’s modus operandi, when it comes to his biggest clients," the WaPost writer explained, "is to negotiate directly with ownership, bypassing the general manager. He’s been doing it that way for years." In selling Prince Fielder during an MLB Network Radio interview last month as another uniquely talented game-changer on and off the field like Werth, who's available at a young age and provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to add a legit slugger that justifies the sort of investment he's seeking, Boras explained why he appeals to a team's owners as opposed to their general managers:
"I think that these are ownership decisions. There are certainly owners who come out and meet with us and talk to us about their franchise and go through things. We're rather methodical about this. The player wants to hear as much information as he can and certainly Prince wants to make a good decision for he and his family.
"So the idea of it is, it's not the matter of how many teams, it's obvious that there's a lot of teams that when they sign these players it could make a dramatic difference. In Milwaukee, they're drawing three million fans. There's a reason for that. And I think the dynamic of that is something the owners look to and they understand that they can get a player in their system for a long time that is a core. So, it's really something I think that owners have to evaluate as they go through it. Then they instruct their general managers, and a lot of times they like to put other pieces together before they make that decision."
The Washington Post's Mr. Sheinin didn't say that the Nationals had met with Boras to discuss Fielder, but instead suggested reasons why they might be pursuing the big first baseman or at least why the rumors have persisted for so long this winter in spite of public denials on the part of the Nationals themselves. After the trade for Gio Gonzalez, the WaPost writer argued, the Nats still need a bat. Mr. Sheinin says that Washington's a middle-of-the-order bat away. The Nats have said their looking for a leadoff hitter all winter, but they have the money (Mr. Lerner's the wealthiest owner in baseball), will potentially have more soon from their tv deal with MASN and could be a contender now with the addition of Fielder. Nowhere, however, does Mr. Sheinin write that the Nationals and Fielder have talked...
Of course, FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal wrote before the Winter Meetings in an article entitled, "Nats show interest in Fielder, Cespedes", that the Nationals', "Talks with Fielder hit a significant roadblock on Monday, one source said, prompting the Nats to revisit Cespedes as an alternative." What was that "roadblock"? Mr. Rosenthal didn't say. It's just one report amidst all the chatter about the Nationals targeting Fielder this winter that says they've actually had discussions. How serious were the conversations? Have they been picked up again as Boras and Fielder look for a deal in a market that appears to involve less teams than anticipated? D.C. GM Mike Rizzo, as he did again this past Friday, continues to insist that Adam LaRoche is expected to be at first base when the 2012 season begins.
But still reports of the Nats' interest in Fielder persist. Why? Because to a lot of people out there it makes a lot of sense. A rotation headed by Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann. A bullpen with Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen. A lineup with Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond, Michael Morse, Wilson Ramos, Fielder and eventually the Nats' 2010 no. overall pick? On paper, that team can compete with anyone. If the Nats believe they're one bat away, Fielder's the best available slugger. If they think they're close without that sort of investment, they keep looking for a center fielder. But Prince in the Nats' lineup looks real strong to some out there. And not just Bryce Harper and Gio Gonzalez...