09/19/11 4:00 PM ET
Players endorse paying Prince-ly sum
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
But they're not laughing in the Dodgers' clubhouse. They're serious in the belief that Fielder is the single-best addition the club could make this winter.
"If somebody like that is out there who can help you, you've got to go get him," said National League MVP Award candidate Matt Kemp, who has maintained a texting connection with Fielder since they became good buds at the All-Star Game.
"A guy like that can take a lot of pressure off a lineup. He can make everybody better around him, like Manny [Ramirez] did. We lost a lot of games this year by one or two runs, and another big bat like that would definitely cut those out. [Andre Ethier] is definitely capable of a 100-RBI season. I can do it. Add another 100-RBI guy, wow, we'd be looking pretty good."
Ideally, the Dodgers would like to add "thunder," as manager Don Mattingly calls it, in left field. Fielder is a first baseman, and the Dodgers already have one of those in James Loney.
Now consider this: Loney said he would be willing to move to left field, if it meant adding someone like Fielder at first base.
"I'd play wherever," said Loney, who is back in the 2012 picture after a six-week hitting resurgence. "I like playing different positions. I just like playing the game. I'd do it, especially if we have a better team because of it. If you're talking about building a winning team, I want to be on a winning team. Yeah, if those guys [management] are really trying to win, I'm all for making the team better."
The Dodgers tried Loney in the outfield in brief midseason experiments in 2006 and '07 that didn't go so well, but Loney said he's sure he could make the adjustment with a full Spring Training of preparation.
Loney is in line for a salary around $6 million next year. The Dodgers considered him a non-tender candidate before he caught fire, but they probably could live with that salary, if they believe he has returned to his previous 90-RBI form. More obvious alternatives for left field are rookie Jerry Sands and veteran Juan Rivera, the second-half RBI machine eligible for free agency and corresponding salary.
Speaking of money, how can a team that had to borrow to make payroll afford to pay Fielder, who is represented by Scott Boras?
Owner Frank McCourt gave a hint last week when he filed a request with the bankruptcy court to sell the Dodgers' television rights. The crux of McCourt's all-in legal strategy is that a new TV deal would provide ample liquidity to pull the business out of bankruptcy. He increased payroll $10 million a year ago in anticipation of such a deal with FOX that was rejected by Commissioner Bud Selig, a decision McCourt claims forced the bankruptcy.
If McCourt gets a green light from the court (with an Oct. 12 hearing scheduled), the anticipated revenue windfall could come in time for this winter's free-agent market. And the Dodgers also have a potential $50 million coming off this year's payroll in departing free agents.
With a half-empty stadium for much of this season, Dodgers management knows something dramatic is needed to win back customers for next season. Going young everywhere else and paying a king's ransom to Fielder could be the ticket.
And don't think there won't be some intense recruiting going on, and not just by Kemp, who could use the protection in the lineup.
One of Fielder's best friends is Dodgers outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr., who will be in Fielder's wedding ceremony this winter. When the Dodgers were in Milwaukee last month, Gwynn stayed at Fielder's house and not the team hotel. When Fielder visits San Diego, he stays with Gwynn.
When Gwynn was drafted in the second round by the Brewers in 2003 and reported to rookie ball in Beloit, Wis., the first teammate he met was Fielder, son of former Major League slugger Cecil Fielder and a first-round pick in 2002. The two sons of Major League stars have plenty in common.
"He'd hit with my pops his first couple of years," Gwynn said, referring to his Hall of Fame namesake and hitting guru. "If you ask Prince, my pops and my mom are like his second father and mother."
Gwynn said Fielder would be an ideal fit for the Dodgers, personally and professionally.
"He's a leader, not necessarily by talking, but the way he goes about his business," said Gwynn. "He does it the right way. Like myself, he grew up in the clubhouse and knows the nuances of how to act. He expects his teammates to play hard. He's much like Matt, he plays hard every day. He's definitely the type of guy you want in the clubhouse, and obviously in the lineup.
"It seems like it would be a good situation. He's one of my best friends, we enjoy being around each other. If we have the opportunity and the situation suits him and his family, I don't think he would turn it down. It doesn't hurt that this is L.A. The weather is better than he's ever played in. It's all predicated on what the organization decides."
And if the organization decides to make a run at his close friend, would Gwynn help recruit (not to imply that he already has)?
"Depends on the situation," he said. "Obviously, James is still under team control. If they decide to go in a different direction and I'm still here, I'll do as much as I can. Just knowing Prince, he'd like to be in this lineup, surrounded by hitters. I'm not saying he can't be THE guy, but he's more comfortable blending in, as big as he is, than being the sole focus of the other team. We would have a very similar order to the one he's in now. And that's a good thing."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.