Dodgers secretly bid big for Prince
Posted on: January 26, 2012 12:56 pm
Edited on: January 26, 2012 7:10 pm
Although they managed to stay under the radar all the while, the bankrupt big-market Los Angeles Dodgers pushed hard behind the scenes for weeks to try to sign Prince Fielder and thought for a while that they might have a legitimate shot at their own secret signing. The swashbuckling, secret-keeping Dodgers surely were a surprise entrant in the sweepstakes, making a major push to sign the star slugger with an initial offer that guaranteed him seven years and provided a sweet four-year opt-out. And for a couple weeks, the Dodgers looked like a real possibility for Prince.
The Dodgers surely gave a spirited effort to secure Fielder, even flying to meet with him at an undisclosed neutral location a few weeks ago, but somehow they managed to keep the entire undertaking under wraps, save for a few internet rumblings from fans speculating that they may have been a mystery team in the mix. It certainly is highly unusual for a team in backruptcy court to make a huge, nine-figure offer, but Dodgers people view Fielder as an extraordinary player who would have thrived in their large market.
But as it turned out, the Dodgers were merely the first mystery team. The second one, the Tigers, jumped in to win Fielder on a $214-million, nine-year deal several days after star hitter Victor Martinez suffered a knee injury that's expected to keep him out for the 2012 season. The one entity that was aware of the Dodgers' clandestine pursuit was the Tigers, who believed at some point that their strongest competition was coming from Los Angeles. The Nationals, Rangers and as many as four others also were showing strong interest in the 27-year-old slugger, though L.A. was definitely a prime player and one of the one or two main contenders to decisive Detroit in the end.
The Dodgers' first attempt at Fielder, with a high annual salary on the four years Fielder was guaranteed to be a Dodger and the always favorable player opt out, is believed to have put them among the final three teams in on Fielder, who agreed to the Tigers deal on Tuesday that was first reported by CBSSports.com and announced today. The Nationals have said they were in on Fielder until the end, and the Dodgers were calling in the final couple days, too, though they started to lose hope the final weekend when the Tigers' big bid materialized, people familiar with the negotiations told Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com. Boras said, "I was only dealing with teams offering eight years or more'' by the end. One other interested GM said Boras told them their seven-year offer didn't even qualify for submission.
The Dodgers' first offer was said to have called for an average salary of about $26 million for the first four years and something in the low $20-million-range in the next three years. That bid was designed not to discourage Fielder from opting out and possibly moving to the American League where he could DH afterbeing the Dodgers'; forst baseman for four years. That total Dodgers deal was believed to have been worth a guarantee in the low $160 millions. It isn't known whether it included options or vesting options.
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, who is about to auction the team that's in bankruptcy, is not disallowed by the bankruptcy court from making such major baseball calls even though the team is slated to change hands April 30. The Los Angeles Times reported there are 20 wealthy bidders for the storied franchise that is expected to sell for at least $1.5 billion, and perhaps more. McCourt was fully on board with the offer extended to Fielder.
At least one prospective Dodgers bidder said he had heard about the team's involvement with Fielder but declined to comment on how such a mega contract might affect the purchase price. The expected record price for the Dodgers is being driven in large part by an ultra-competitive TV market, and having a third superstar to go with Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw may have been seen as a positive. The homegrown superstar Kemp was signed to a $160-million, eight-year Dodgers deal earlier this offseason in a move that was applauded by everyone.
The Dodgers have reduced their payroll to $90 million for the coming season, very small for the big-market team -- though for Fielder, who they saw as a special case, they were willing to push the payroll to close to $120 million.
The Dodgers tendered their longtime first baseman James Loney a contract and expect him to be their first baseman. They are not unhappy with him at all but merely saw Fielder as a rare opportunity to land one of the game's best hitters. There has been speculation the new owner, whoever that may be, will be in position to take a shot out at Reds superstar first baseman Joey Votto when he becomes a free agent in two years. However, Dodgers baseball people saw Fielder as an immediate chance at someone they believe is well-suited for a big market environment.