Nationals’ interest in Fielder is real, but could affect other players, too

Turns out there was some meat to those rumors after all. The Nationals are, indeed, in the running to sign free agent slugger Prince Fielder, and met with Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras, recently in Washington, D.C., according to a baseball source. The news was first reported by

Confirmation that the Nationals are talking to Fielder should come as no surprise, considering general manager Mike Rizzo has said he felt the team was one big bat and one solid arm away from contending for a division title in the National League East. Rizzo took care of the arm when he traded four prospects to the A’s for left-hander Gio Gonzalez, and Fielder would certainly fill the bill as a power bat.

Granted, you don’t want to be ordering those Nationals Fielder jerseys just yet. There are obstacles to be worked out, chief among them how long a contract would run and how much it would pay. Fielder and Boras are going to have to come down from the 10 years and $250 million they’ve been asking for. That’s Albert Pujols money, and I’m not even sure if Pujols is worth that, though the Angels seemed to think so.

Signing Fielder would potentially have a ripple effect on several players - Adam LaRoche, Michael Morse, Ryan Zimmerman and Tyler Clippard among them.

LaRoche’s problem is obvious: He and Fielder play the same position and the Nationals would have to eat $9 million owed to LaRoche - in his 2012 salary and a buyout for not exercising their portion of a mutual $10 million option for 2013 - in order to clear space for Fielder. It’ll be hard to trade LaRoche, who is coming off shoulder surgery and needs to prove he’s healthy.

Morse and Zimmerman are positionally tied to the possibility of signing Fielder, too. If Fielder’s at first base for, say, the better part of a decade, the Nats can’t move Morse there from left field to accommodate Bryce Harper’s arrival in D.C., assuming Jayson Werth moves back to right and the team signs or trades for a center fielder. There had been some talk that Zimmerman might eventually be moved to first base to clear a path for last year’s first-round draft pick, Anthony Rendon, but you can scuttle that chatter if Fielder comes to Washington. Likewise, moving Rendon to another position - he’s mentioned as a possible second baseman down the road - would force Danny Espinosa to switch positions or play elsewhere.

The effort on Clippard is more of a money situation. With Fielder and Werth (by 2014) signed to long-term deals in the $20 million-a-year range, and guys like Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Gonzalez and Drew Storen all receiving eight-figure annual salaries, someone will be squeezed out of a long-term, big-money deal if the Nationals want to maintain some fiscal sanity. That someone could be Clippard, who has proven an effective setup man but pitches in a role that’s generally not regarded as a high-dollar necessity. In other words, it’s easier to find a set-up guy than it is a front-line starting pitcher, premiere closer or legitimate power threat.

It’s like that old television commercial that tried to illustrate haggling a deal for a new car by squeezing both ends of a balloon, one end representing trade in and one representing the annual percentage rate. The squeeze has to come from somewhere, and signing Fielder would certainly solve the Nationals’ problematic search for a left-handed power hitter - it’s just that it also creates some potentially uncomfortable situations somewhere down the road, too.

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