Following the 2008 season Adam Dunn was considered by many to be far-and-away the second best slugger on the free-agent market. Eventual New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira took the crown as the winter's top jewel, but many viewed Dunn as the type of player worthy of a major $100+ contract. The only problem was that no team stepped up to the plate to give the home-run king the deal that he wanted, and very-well likely deserved.
November rolled into December, and December rolled into January, and still Dunn went unsigned. The problem wasn't that the 29-year-old's talents weren't appreciated, it was that after the Yankees had thrown down $180 million on Teixeira, there really just wasn't enough interest among other teams in signing a slugger to that type of deal. Eventually in February, with spring training quickly approaching, Dunn decided to cut his losses and sign a two-year, $20 million contract with the Washington Nationals.
Fast forward to today and again the consensus number two slugger on the free-agent market remains unsigned. Prince Fielder, like Dunn, is widely accepted as one of the game's best hitters, but in this year's free agency it simply seems there is just not much interest in his services. He's been adamant about signing a deal close to the one that Albert Pujols signed with the Los Angeles Angels, but Pujols had at least three teams bidding for his services, as far as we know, Fielder MIGHT have one.
So here we sit in the middle of January, and Fielder may very well be finding himself in the very same position that Adam Dunn was in just four years ago. There is no question about the talents he could potentially supply, but the demand just isn't there at all. While his agent Scott Boras insists that they plan to be patient in order to find the right deal for their player, every day that passes makes it more and more likely that Fielder will in fact not sign a mega contract.
According to my research, if Fielder were to sign a $100+ million contract today, it would be the latest any player on the free-agent market signed such a deal with a new team. The latest such deal ever signed to date came when the New York Mets inked Carlos Beltran to a seven-year, $119 million deal on Jan. 5, 2005. While nothing is etched in stone, the fact that the major offseason contracts are usually signed before the new year does not bode well for Prince.
Of course, those numbers make sense when you consider the fact that many in baseball wait to sign their free-agent deal until the top dog sets the market with a major deal. Common sense would dictate that when Pujols signed his $240 million mega-deal, it would raise the bar on the perceived value of Fielder, a slugger who is younger and close to as talented as the Angels new first baseman. It's not often, however, that there are two players who play such a similar role, that demand so much in the same offseason. This is why Fielder and Dunn may hold the same fate.
One can't help but notice the one other striking similarity between the two sluggers, their weight. MLB scouts would be lying to you if they said the reason Dunn struggled to get a long term deal in 2008 wasn't because of worries about his longevity due to his frame. Fielder weighs roughly the same amount as Dunn, but is about eight inches shorter. To compound this issue, the Washington Nationals appear to be the biggest bidder for Fielder, and it clearly seems that his best value lies with a team that can also use him at the designated hitter.
Why else would the Florida Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals, and the Chicago Cubs be completely absent in pursuing Fielder when they were just a handshake away from giving Pujols over $200 million?
To Prince's credit, he has a lot going for him that Dunn never did. First, he's just 26, where Dunn was 29 when he was on the free-agent market. That is a major difference for players looking for a long-term deal because the 26-29 years are arguably most player's most productive seasons. Fielder also is by far a better contact hitter over the course of his career, and strikes out far less than Dunn.
Some have flirted with the idea of Prince agreeing to a three-year deal that would allow him to hit the free-agent market again when he is 29. Don't be surprised to see this option quickly become a reality because as the days tick by, Fielder's price will continue to drop more and more. In fact, I wouldn't put it past Boras to attempt to land Fielder a one-year deal with the hopes of landing him a major deal next winter.