The sound of silence (updated)

It’s difficult to interpret Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo’s prolonged silence on the subject of Prince Fielder. Either the club continues to negotiate with the free agent slugger in hopes that he’ll man first base in 2012, or talks have again reached an impasse. There’s really not much middle ground.

One thing we do know: This is standard operating procedure from Rizzo, who clearly prefers the backroom, behind-the-scenes approach to his job, as opposed to those front office executives who like to manipulate the media in hopes of bettering whatever deal they’re working on.

On one hand, it’s maddening. Fans, media, Nationals players - all want to know the answer to what’s become the team’s biggest offseason pursuit. Though I’m not a particular fan of the non-incremental incremental update, I certainly understand why readers click on this site multiple times each day to see if anything new has developed.

On the other hand, it’s completely understandable. There’s no reason for a public negotiation, no cause to air laundry - dirty or otherwise. In an era where everything’s fodder for intense speculation, even the tiniest shred of information unintentionally disseminated can come back to haunt a general manager. Maybe not in an ongoing negotiation, but certainly down the road. Agents - especially those at the top of their craft like Scott Boras, Fielder’s representative - have long memories when it comes to ways to benefit their clients, and other agents are carefully monitoring what’s happening with the Nationals-Fielder tango, storing every detail for future use.

For now, no news is probably good news, a validation that the two sides continue to seek middle ground that will result in what both parties want: a long-term deal that could set Fielder up for a lifetime and a power-hitting first baseman in Washington’s lineup come opening day in Chicago against the Cubs.

In the meantime, we’ll just have to resign ourselves to continually monitoring the dribs and drabs of information that leak from other teams, suitors for Fielder who are either staying in the hunt or disqualifying themselves from the competition (and, of course, taking everything that’s said with a grain of salt, least one of those spurned clubs reinvent itself as a mystery team that miraculously appears at the last minute and swoops in with an offer).

More and more, it appears the Rangers are on the outside looking in, through GM Josh Daniels has a well-earned reputation for financial creativity that might come in handy should Fielder’s price tag drop. Rangers president Nolan Ryan told a Dallas radio station Friday that the Fielder camp had yet to make “a firm proposal” to the club, preferring instead to talk “in generalities and numbers and other people’s contracts.”

If spending $111 million between a posting fee and a six-year contract to land Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish doesn’t complicate the swelling payroll in Texas, extension talks with slugging outfielder Josh Hamilton certainly will. Bob Simpson, co-chairman of the Rangers’ board of directors, publicly professed that he’d prefer Hamilton long-term over Fielder. “Everybody dreams about having both,” Simpson told ESPN Dallas. “Sometimes you can’t have both at some level. If they came around to something we’d do, we’d look at him. But we don’t think it’s likely.”

And yesterday in Baltimore, during the Orioles’ annual FanFest celebration, executive vice president Dan Duquette tap danced more adeptly around Fielder questions during a fan forum and a subsequent meeting with reporters. “Are we going to get him? I don’t know,” Duquette told a group of the team’s season ticket holders. “But if we don’t, we’ll look for someone just like him.” Translation? Is Duquette available for the next season of “Dancing With the Stars.” and who would he like as his professional hardwood partner? Seriously, it’s doubtful that Fielder would want to go to a losing club after helping build a contender in Milwaukee, but the presence of a team like the Orioles could be used as leverage by Boras.

We know about as much about the Nationals’ dalliance with Fielder today as we did a couple of weeks ago. And that’s not by accident. It’s almost like the talks between the club and the slugger have yielded clues in a bizarre mystery, leaving observers no recourse but to try to piece them together and make sense out of them. Does the fact that Rizzo was unavailable when the team announced the extension for Gio Gonzalez carry significance? Does the multi-year extension for Michael Morse that turned out to be only two years mean something?

The silent approach may not be particularly enjoyable for fans or media, but it certainly beats the sound of a door slamming in your face.

Update: Interesting read in the Los Angeles Times this morning, where T.J. Simers advocates the Dodgers signing Fielder as a way to boost the value of the club heading into an auction by current owner Frank McCourt, whose messy divorce has forced him to divest himself of one of the game’s legendary franchises. If Boras wanted a mystery team - or even the appearance of one, since perception can often be construed as reality, he’s got one. And there’s some solid thinking in this scenario - imagine if each of the potential ownership groups were asked, off-the-record, whether Fielder’s presence would make the club a more attractive investment. Can’t really see any of them saying a power-hitting first baseman for six or more years would dilute their potential investment. Once again, Fielder drives fans to buy tickets, and tickets equal revenue for the club (not to mention more money through parking, souvenirs, food and drink, etc.).

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