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Pujols signing pressures Mariners to make big move

The Mariners' division rivals, the Angels, made a big move this week. They signed free agent slugger Albert Pujols from the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals to a 10-year contract worth more than $250 million.

There's another big-hitting free agent who's still available: Prince Fielder. The Mariners are among the teams interested in him. But can they pull it off?

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says the Mariners need to sign Fielder to stay competitive in the American League West. But it's easier said than done.

Fielder a good fit, but at what price?

Prince Fielder is a hot commodity. Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik knows him well. He was with the Milwaukee Brewers when Fielder was drafted.

Art says that relationship gives the Mariners a slight edge but it doesn't lessen the pressure Zduriencik is under.

"I think there's now a boxcar full of lead on the back of Jack Zduriencik to make a deal for the best free agent left in the market. Prince Fielder is the premier home run hitter in the game. He would be a great fit for the Mariner lineup and at Safeco Field. But he's going to come at a very, very high price."

Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, is said to be asking for a contract worth around $200 million for seven or eight years. Art says that price may have gone up this week, with word of Pujols' contract. The website Bleacher Report has more on what the Pujols deal might mean for Fielder.

Same agent, same high stakes

Scott Boras is the same agent who represented Alex Rodriquez 10 years ago when he was negotiating whether to stay with the Mariners.

Art says there were allegations that Boras gave the Mariners misinformation about how lucrative a contract A-Rod was willing to consider.

"It was pretty clear that Boras had pulled a fast one and the Mariners have never forgotten it. Now, they're in the same position of being desperate and Scott Boras being the gatekeeper to Prince Fielder."

AL West suddenly red hot

Art says the Mariners need Fielder to stay competitive within the American League West. The division includes the Texas Rangers, who've gone to the World Series the past two years, and the Angels, who this week not only signed Pujols but also star Rangers' pitcher C.J. Wilson.

"The Mariners are in the position if they don't add a big bat this offseason of being the sick man of the AL West."

Can the Mariners seize the moment?

There have been recent reports that the Mariners' financial status is not rock solid. The Seattle Times reported in October that Mariners minority owner Chris Larson's divorce has revealed serious financial struggles.

Art says Larson would be in no position to buy out No. 1 investor Hiroshi Yamauchi of Japan, should that occur.

"If the Mariner ownership is really not as robust as we thought they were financially, then can they really go after Fielder?"

But Art says he's not writing off the Mariners' chances completely.

"They could still do something here, but they almost have to now in order to preserve credibility with their fans and baseball in general."

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest.

In a weekly Q&A, Seattle sports expert and longtime columnist Art Thiel gives his take on the latest regional and national sports news. “Sports with Art Thiel” is published here and airs on KPLU 88.5 every Friday during Morning Edition and on Weekend Edition Saturday.

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.