Cubs’ trade for first base prospect means market for Fielder is thinning

By acquiring promising prospect Anthony Rizzo in a four-player deal with the San Diego Padres on Friday, the Chicago Cubs not only got their first baseman of the future, they also probably took themselves out of the Prince Fielder derby.

That’s good news for the Nationals, who are working to sign the free agent slugger.

Who else remains in on Fielder? Quite frankly, the list of suitors is dwindling, a development that could work in Washington’s favor as they negotiate with agent Scott Boras to secure Fielder’s services.

The Cubs were viewed as a possible destination for Fielder, whose power stroke would have played nicely at Wrigley Field, especially with the wind blowing out. And while new front office leader Theo Epstein said he was perfectly willing to go into 2012 with Bryan LaHair - a classic tweener who crushes Triple-A pitching but hasn’t done the same in the majors - no one really believed him. Instead, it’ll be 22-year-old Rizzo, who was part of the Padres’ haul from the Red Sox in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez last winter (either that or a combination of LaHair and Rizzo, two left-handed swingers). It makes no sense for the Cubs, who are trying to shed weighty contracts and rebuild, to engage Fielder in a long-term deal. It makes even less sense now that Rizzo is in the Windy City. You don’t block your newly acquired top prospect for a handful of years; you let him play and develop and hope he fulfills his potential.

The Mariners have been viewed all winter as a possible match for Fielder - they’ve got money to spend, Mike Carp at first base and an unhappy fan base that could use the excitement of a big free agent signing. But after helping build the Brewers into a contender, why would Fielder want to take a backward step to a Seattle franchise that lost 95 games last year? He wants to win, and win now, and that won’t happen in the Pacific northwest, that untrue rumor from a week or so ago that had Fielder signed, sealed and delivered to Seattle notwithstanding. Nor will it happen 35 miles up the road in Baltimore, where the Orioles moved third baseman Mark Reynolds to first base last season when he couldn’t field the hot corner. New O’s executive vice president Dan Duquette acknowledges that a fan base unhappy with 14 straight losing seasons is clamoring for big changes, but he’s focusing on rebuilding the front office, player development and scouting portions of the organization and has publicly said the Orioles won’t be bidding on the top free agents available.

The Blue Jays may or may not be interested in Fielder. They may have their eyes set on Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto via a trade, if he’s made available. GM Alex Anthopoulos also favors the slow play in these type of dealings. If there’s a mystery team out there - like Cliff Lee going to the Phillies last winter, or the Angels swooping in and snagging Albert Pujols - it could be Toronto, which would love to pair Fielder and Jose Bautista in the middle of its batting order in the tough American League East. Anthopoulos poured cold water all over Fielder rumors at the Winter Meetings. We’ll see if that’s an organizational hard line or merely posturing meant to divert attention elsewhere.

That takes us to Texas, where everything is always bigger, especially after the Rangers have lost two straight World Series and are trying to get over the hump. Mitch Moreland may not be the most exciting first base option out there, but he fits well in the Rangers’ scheme (and the front office is hoping that right fielder Nelson Cruz stays healthy, meaning they wouldn’t have another spot for Moreland to play). Plus, the Rangers are focused on starting pitching - remember, they’ve got until Jan. 18 to hammer out a deal with Japanese import Yu Darvish - and need to shore up a rotation that’s lost C.J. Wilson to the Angels in free agency, pulled Neftali Feliz in from the closer’s role and isn’t sure what to do with Alexei Ogando. Rangers GM Jon Daniels knows he’s got offense; pitching is his worry.

Meanwhile, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo remains coy, insisting nothing has changed and that Adam LaRoche is his team’s first baseman for 2012, unless something “extraordinary” happens. Fielder falling to the Nationals because of a shrinking pool of potential new homes fits into that category.

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