Washington Nationals: The Time Has Come to Sign Prince Fielder or Cut Bait

Farid RushdiAnalyst IJanuary 19, 2012

Prince Fielder
Prince FielderChristian Petersen/Getty Images

Now that Yu Darvish is a Texas Ranger, the Prince Fielder saga will soon come to a merciful conclusion. He still might sign with the Rangers, or San Francisco might be his final destination.

Or, he could become a Washington National.

At this point, I really don't care if the Nationals sign Fielder or not. My concern is that after several months of being the front runner (or perceived front runner), not pulling into Viera with the mammoth slugger in tow will seem like an abject failure.

But it won't be. Too many positive things have happened this offseason to worry about getting—or not getting—a single player, even when that player is Prince Fielder.

Yes, the Nationals would be a better team with Fielder, but his impact would be felt on the marketing, merchandising and revenue side—not so much on the field.

If he signs with Washington, Fielder will probably cost the team $22 million a year, more or less. Their first baseman in residence, Adam LaRoche, will make about a third of that. And if he's healthy, his career stats—while not as flashy as Fielder's—are certainly strong enough to help point the team towards their first postseason appearance since leaving Montreal.

Here are the two players' stats based on their last five years and playing 162 games (LaRoche's numbers are based on 2006-2010 because of his injury-shortened 2011 campaign):

Fielder: .284/.400/.537, 38 home runs, 112 RBI

LaRoche: .273/.343/.493, 29 home runs, 99 RBI

Over the course of a full season, Fielder will reach base 39 more times than LaRoche, hit nine more home runs and drive in 13 more runs.

Defensively, Adam LaRoche is as close to a Gold Glover as you can come without winning the award, while Prince Fielder can best be described as "not quite as bad as Adam Dunn."

Is that additional offensive production (roughly one run every 12 games) worth the extra $15 million or so per year that Fielder will cost, especially when many of those extra runs will probably be offset by Fielder's so-so glove?

Absolutely not. 

LaRoche—assuming he is healthy this season—will hit 25 or so home runs and drive in close to 100 runs. Next season, Michael Morse will return to first base, and the top-rated prospect in all of baseball, Bryce Harper, will take over in left.

And with the $15 million that the Nationals would save by not signing Prince Fielder, they could acquire a top-of-the-line center fielder to fill the only remaining hole in their lineup.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing. The Nationals can contend in 2012 with Adam LaRoche at first. Prince Fielder would be little more than a decoration for the Nationals.

 Very expensive decoration.