Yu Darvish is a Texas Ranger, agreeing to a six-year deal worth $60 million about 25 minutes ahead of the 5 p.m. Eastern time deadline for the sides to agree on a contract. The Rangers will pay a hefty price - a $51.7 million posting fee to the Nippon Ham Fighters, in addition to the terms of the contract - to secure the Japanese right-hander, while Darvish's signing will allow the rest of the free agent market to return to the business of hammering out deals for players who have been reduced to spectators.
In Washington, the focus now shifts back - was it really ever away from him? - Prince Fielder, the slugging first baseman represented by Scott Boras. The Rangers had expressed some interest in Fielder, but knew they were facing financial constraints if a deal with Darvish came to pass. Simply put, there was no way Texas could afford long-term commitments to both Darvish and Fielder with the possibility of a long-term extension for Josh Hamilton also on their docket. Hamilton wants an extension on the books before spring training, and has told the Rangers that if they can't do that, he'll wait until next offseason to renew discussions.
While this doesn't open up a clear path for the Nationals' pursuit of Fielder, it certainly removes one potentially large roadblock. Boras was hoping that Texas would go all-in on Fielder, creating at least two teams actively engaged in contract negotiations and upping his potential to leverage a better deal for his client. There's nothing untoward about that scenario; it's simply the way baseball business is done. And it still could come to pass, though it seems unlikely; but the Rangers have a way of thinking outside a rather large box. Gee, everything's bigger in Texas, isn't it?
And while the Nationals maintain interest in Fielder - who wouldn't welcome that kind of a power bat into a lineup that could use an infusion of homers and RBIs? - they aren't the only team that wants him. The Marlins are making rumblings that they;ve only paused on doling out large contracts. They'd like Fielder, too, but may not be willing to accede to his demands for full no-trade protection in any long-term deal. But the Marlins have money, and if Boras can leverage them against the Nationals to increase the length and/or terms of a contract, he will.
To review our list of remaining potential destinations for Fielder, Seattle and Toronto seem to be in the rear view mirror, though at least one of them - or both - could be laying in the weeds to see if Boras comes down from his demands for 10 years and $20 million or more a season. The Nationals don't like those parameters, either, and have let Boras know - the sides met in D.C. last month and again at the owners' meetings outside Phoenix last week - and they are hoping Fielder will take a six- or seven-year deal at a term to be determined. There could be a mystery team; there always seems to be, at least. And if one doesn't really exist, Boras may manufacture one to improve his bargaining power.
This much is for sure: The Nationals are going to let this drama play out a little further to see if they can sign Fielder. They're interested, have money to spend and can afford to make the investment, especially if it yields more fans, a better record and postseason appearances. If they can work out a deal, they'll go to spring training in Viera, Fla., with two first basemen and hope Adam LaRoche does enough in camp to prove that his surgically repaired left shoulder is healthy to facilitate a trade. If they can't, they'll happily report to Space Coast Stadium with LaRoche penciled in as their first baseman and start looking at other ways to spend money to improve the ballclub. That;s the funny thing about having money; you can always find ways to make good use of it.
Boras has been full of quips when he's asked about a destination for what he's calling "the PF Flyer," even cracking wise that he was sure he could find a home for Fielder by the first pitch of exhibition season. Somehow, I don't think it will take quite that long.