Dan Szymborski, from Baseball Think Factory as a contributor to ESPN.com, believes the Rangers need Prince Fielder more than any other team. Why? Because of how much he increases the club's chances of winning the AL West (51 percent to 75 percent, by Szymborski's calculations). His thoughts:
Consider this: Before the Wilson and Pujols signings, the ZiPS projection system had the Rangers with a 62 percent chance of winning the AL West again, with the Angels at 25 percent. After the signings, the Angels become the early favorites, at 50 percent, with the Rangers behind at 44 percent. In essence, adding two players doubled the chances of the Angels winning the division in 2012. For the consolation prize, the wild card, the Angels' odds jump from 6 percent to 21 percent.
All this is bad news for Texas, a team built to win now that has practically strolled into the playoffs the last two Septembers. While the team is loaded with prospects, quite a few of the Rangers' key offensive players are on the wrong side of 30, and Josh Hamilton is unsigned for the long haul.
With Wilson gone, the Rangers now have to consider other options. While Carlos Beltran remains a solid option for them, Fielder fills their biggest weakness. Relative to the rest of the league, first base was the only position where they received below-average output in 2011, a .271/.331/.422 combined line from Mitch Moreland with some Michael Young and Mike Napoli mixed in. With Napoli flashing a better glove behind the plate than Angels manager Mike Scioscia ever believed, and Young being surprisingly inadequate at first base, Fielder would provide a significant upgrade at first base. Fielder's not winning any Gold Gloves any time soon, but he should be able to handle first for a few more years before his performance begs for a move to DH.
Projecting for 2012, ZiPS has Fielder projected at 5.6 WAR (wins above replacement) in the homer-friendly Rangers Ballparkk. Mitch Moreland comes out at 1.0 WAR. Just how big is adding the difference between Fielder and Moreland in the win column? Enough to shift the Rangers' divisional odds, at least in ZiPS' eyes, back to a 55-41 edge over the Angels and their overall chances of making the playoffs from 51 percent to 75 percent. Simply signing Fielder increases their odds of reaching the playoffs by 24 percent!
As we've talked about on this blog, Rangers officials said at the Winter Meetings that they don't currently see how Fielder fits into their financial plans. Of course, things can change. But the Rangers also want to keep as much of this core group together as they can in the future. They are looking at not just 2012, but beyond. They want to increase their playoff chances for the long haul and just sticking with the core costs money. While the new TV deal will help, it doesn't kick in until 2015.
So if Fielder wants an 8- or 10-year contract, that doesn't seem to matchup with what the club has planned. Walking around the lobby of the Hilton Anatole last week, it was clear that scouts and officials with other teams certainly expect the Rangers to jump into the Fielder sweepstakes. But the club is trying to look big picture. If Fielder can fit into that picture, I'm sure they'll look into it. If he doesn't, they won't overspend just to counter what the Angels did.
ESPN.com's Jim Bowden listed four possible locations for free-agent Prince Fielder to eventually land. The list: Rangers, Cubs, Mariners, and Orioles. You can read that here (insider).