In an attempt to market his top free-agent client to major league baseball’s biggest decision-makers, renowned player representative Scott Boras took slugging first baseman Prince Fielder on a brief tour this month to meet with several club owners.
The duo did not meet with Orioles managing partner Peter Angelos. However, one industry source confirmed that Boras and Fielder were in the “Baltimore-Washington area,” meaning they likely spoke with representatives of the Lerner family, principal owners of the Washington Nationals.
With the Los Angeles Angels’ signing of Albert Pujols in early December, the 27-year-old Fielder, who finished third in the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player voting with the Milwaukee Brewers, is by far the most accomplished player left on the market.
The Orioles maintain mild interest in Fielder but not at what the slugger likely will garner — a long contract expected to exceed more than $20 million per season.
Boras wouldn’t confirm which teams and owners he met with this month and wouldn’t speak directly about how his clients fit into a specific market.
But on Friday, he talked generally about what Fielder could do for a team that is struggling on the field and at the gate — the Orioles have had 14 consecutive losing seasons and in 2011 drew fewer than two 2 million fans to Camden Yards for the fourth straight year.
“Put Prince Fielder on any team that draws 2 million fans and see what happens,” Boras said. “Prince Fielder has proven in Milwaukee that you can add another million fans to the ledger [when he plays there], which means he pays for himself.”
Boras called Fielder an “attraction and retention” player, meaning that his presence in a lineup makes teammates want to stay and lures other free agents to that club. And not since Alex Rodriguez, another client of his, has such a prodigious slugger hit the free-agent market at such a young age, Boras said.
“You make so many other players better when you have a young slugger that is there, setting an example that had not been there before,” Boras said.
The top available free-agent hitter (Fielder), starting pitcher (Edwin Jackson) and closer (Ryan Madson) are Boras’ clients. The Orioles haven’t typically dealt with Boras’ high-profile free agents, but several of their core players — catcher Matt Wieters and pitchers Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton — are represented by Boras.
The Orioles have interest in Jackson, 28, who was 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA in 13 games with the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals last year after being traded by the Chicago White Sox in July.
But he’ll command a hefty contract that will span at least four years — something the Orioles have been hesitant to offer free-agent pitchers in the past. Boras maintains that Jackson’s youth, upside and performance — he compares Jackson’s last three years to the Philadelphia Phillies’ Cole Hamels’ — make him an attractive buy for any team.
“You don’t find guys at 27 that have done what Edwin Jackson has done, and this guy is still improving,” Boras said of Jackson, who was 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA in 2011 and is 60-60 with a 4.46 ERA in parts of nine big league seasons.
Although the Orioles want to strengthen their bullpen and Madson saved 32 games for the Phillies last year, it’s unlikely the club would make a big splash for a closer, especially with Kevin Gregg still owed $5.8 million and Jim Johnson potentially available to close games.
Boras would not put a timetable on when any of his remaining stars will sign contracts.
“Talent has no timeline,” he said, “because teams are built with talent, not cement.”