Reports: Dodgers were finalists for Fielder

By offering big bucks up front and an opt-out clause after four years of a seven-year deal, the Dodgers were finalists in the bidding for Prince Fielder after all — and perhaps would have signed him if Detroit, reeling from the ACL injury to Victor Martinez, hadn't swooped in.

Buster Olney of ESPN.com makes note of this, and we can glean more from a report by Jon Heyman and Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com ...

... 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 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.

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 Dodgers' 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 ...

... The Dodgers' 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. The bid was designed not to discourage Fielder from opting out and possibly moving to the American League where he could DH after the first four years. The total Dodgers deal was believed to have been worth in the low $160 millions. ...

... 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.

Olney said the secret meeting took place in Dallas.

The opt-out, for those of you who (unlike me) have bad memories of a similar clause for J.D. Drew, is actually an ingenious way to cut loose a player you don't want forever. Sure, there's a risk that if Fielder tanked, he would never opt out and the Dodgers would be stuck with him. But the more likely scenario would be that Fielder is valuable in the early years of his contract, then opts out roughly around the time his decline becomes more likely, presumably to get the same kind of higher-end consideration that Albert Pujols got this winter.

In any case, there's some relief in knowing that the Dodgers weren't idly standing by, since there was no reason for them to, and it's also more than interesting that they didn't even feel the need to backload the offer. What might have been, huh?

Update: I'd love to reconstruct the timetable of the past month or two and see if the Dodgers' pursuit of Fielder kept them from retaining Hiroki Kuroda.