Stop me if you've heard this one before: The Nationals are again making a strong pitch to sign free agent first baseman Prince Fielder.
The on-again, off-again talks with Fielder and agent Scott Boras are apparently on again, according to a baseball source. Actually, there's some difference of opinion on whether the two sides ever stopped talking or whether the supposed impasse from earlier this week was just a means for Nationals owner Ted Lerner and general manager Mike Rizzo to have some under-the-radar communication with Boras and Fielder.
Fielder needs a home and the Nationals would welcome his bat (even if it means a potentially uncomfortable situation with their projected 2012 first baseman, Adam LaRoche). The sticking point remains the length of the deal, which is, of course, tied to the amount of money Fielder will earn over the course of the contract.
Boras and Fielder are still angling for a 10-year deal in excess of $240 million - which would mirror the payday the Angels gave free agent first baseman Albert Pujols last month at the Winter Meetings. The Nationals would prefer a shorter term, something in the range of six to seven years, at a similar annual salary. But the Nationals - more specifically the Lerner family, who will have the final say on the talks with the slugger - seems willing to entertain the notion of the no-trade clause Fielder's camp is seeking.
Locking up Fielder would give the Nationals a formidable middle of the lineup - including third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and left fielder Michael Morse - but some industry observers wonder whether Fielder's 5-foot-11, 275-lb. frame will hold up during the length of a long-term deal. And since the designated hitter isn't used in the National League, the only place he could play would be first base. There are worries that an older Fielder could be more immobile and a defensive liability.
However, the Rangers met with Fielder in Dallas this week and were reportedly surprised with how svelte the slugger was.
The Rangers and Marlins seem to be the biggest competition for Fielder's services at this point, but neither may be in on the slugger for the long haul. Texas is still trying to work out a deal with Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish and the Rangers may not want to fork out the money for two high-dollar contracts in one offseason, especially with a long-term deal for outfielder Josh Hamilton looming. The Marlins have been the freest of spenders this offseason, but they don't like to give out no-trade clauses, and that could be a deal-breaker.
The Mariners and Blue Jays, two teams that were on the periphery of the Fielder talks, appear to be out of the running for now.
Fun Fielder Factoid: If the Nationals were to ink a deal with Fielder, he'd probably feel right at home at Space Coast Stadium, the team's spring training base in Viera, Fla. Fielder gradulated from Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Fla., which is close by Viera. He only played his senior season at Eau Gallie after transferring from Melbourne's Florida Air Academy, but Florida Today, the region's paper of record, named Fielder the 2002 All-Space Coast Player of the Year. He hit 524 with 13 doubles, 10 home runs, 41 RBIs and 47 runs scored as a senior.