ARLINGTON -- In a 48-hour period, at a time when the Rangers were supposed to be celebrating the signing of pitcher Yu Darvish, everybody from co-owner Bob Simpson to assistant general manager Thad Levine were asked about free agent first baseman Prince Fielder. General manager Jon Daniels was first to the plate in that ballgame, saying last Wednesday night that it was "very unlikely" that the Rangers will be involved in what happens with Fielder. Daniels based his prediction on the Rangers' current budget and Simpson confirmed to multiple outlets on Friday that the club is indeed operating at a deficit. Simpson also suggested the Rangers are and will continue to operate at a deficit until the new television contract begins in 2015. But Fielder is still a free agent and Daniels' statement hardly sated the inquisitive. The question was simply passed along to others and there is still a strong belief in some quarters that he will end up being with the Rangers. That belief remains viral because the Rangers allow it to remain alive even while they remain "actively engaged" in contract extension discussions with All-Star outfielder Josh Hamilton.
While Mitch Moreland dangles in limbo and works his way back from wrist surgery, Rangers officials continue to hint at the possibility of Fielder falling into their lap. They gush over Fielder's considerable abilities and they suggest that although they are not interested at the current price, things may change if that price should fall. "If they came around to something that we would do, we'd look at it," Simpson said Friday night. Everybody has an opinion, and every opinion passed on turns into rumor eagerly propagated by the internet into established fact that blurs the lines of reality. Simpson suggested the Rangers would rather re-sign Hamilton, who is looking for a five-year deal in excess of $100 million. At least Simpson would rather re-sign Hamilton. There are alternate views within the Rangers organization suggesting that Fielder, being younger and possibly more durable, is the better long-term fit in Texas. No matter. The discussions with Hamilton have not progressed to a point where a resolution is remotely imminent and Fielder's price remains substantial. Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, still insists that his client will get the contract that he deserves. Nobody is quite sure exactly what that is, but Boras is definitely looking at 8-10 years in length and club officials suggested that a guess of $20 million per year is "very conservative." For those who do not believe Fielder will get that contract, the Rangers are reminded of what happened in 2006 with Barry Zito. The Rangers offered Zito a six-year, $99 million contract, only to be told by Boras that another team was willing to go to seven years and $120 million. The Rangers didn't believe him. Owner Tom Hicks was told that Boras was bluffing. Zito ended up signing with the Giants for seven years and $126 million. He still has two years and $37.5 million left on that contract. Then of course there was December 2002, when Rangers general manager John Hart kept insisting the club was not interested in free agent pitcher Chan Ho Park. That was his final word at the Winter Meetings in Boston, shortly after a midnight press conference to announce the acquisition of outfielder Carl Everett. Hart, referring to Park, said definitively that the Rangers "were not players in that game." Instead, Boras had Park delivered to Arlington just in time for Christmas, and Hart was there at the podium to present him with a jersey. Hicks proclaimed him as the Rangers' "No. 1 starter." The deal came one year after the Rangers worked with Boras to sign Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $252 million deal. One month after Park signed, the Rangers also brought back Juan Gonzalez. All of this came back when Hicks was still held in high esteem with Rangers fans. The Rangers had won two division titles in his first two seasons, he was roundly applauded as an owner willing to spend lavishly to win and he had out-maneuvered the rest of the baseball world to land Rodriguez. He was an owner who could do no wrong and he was also backed by a new local television deal that was going to fund all these big contracts. Presumably that would have included Zito. Instead, as the English statesman said before the start of World War I, the lights went out all over the continent of Europe and were not re-lit for a long time. The Rangers thought they were at the beginning of a "magical time" but instead were plunged into the darkness of eight losing seasons in nine years that propelled them toward infamous bankruptcy. But that was then, this is now. The Rangers, having been painstakingly rebuilt through a disciplined scouting and player development approach, have been to two World Series and are in a win-now mode. They have owners who are committed to winning and they have another fat television contract in their future that is fueling their fiscal approach. There is also Boras, who is diligently "educating owners" on why Fielder would be the right free agent just for them. Presumably he is talking to the Nationals, Cubs, Mariners and others as well. So far, Fielder remains unsigned and other clubs continue to profess that he is too expensive for them. The Rangers insist the same thing and Daniels insists the club will not abandon its scouting and player development approach. "No way," Daniels said. "Absolutely not." But as long as Fielder is still out there, he is going to tantalize the Rangers, and there is still a month to go before Spring Training.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.