Fielder vs. Pujols? Fresh Prince all the way

The new MLB collective bargaining agreement that goes into effect in 2012 has Theo Epstein backpedalling from his promise to create a perennial winner through a “robust farm system and strong player development” faster than Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim after his befuddling decision to throw his full support behind an accused child molester.

Multiple sources are now reporting that Epstein & Co. has the two biggest fish in the free-agent sea on their sonar—1B demigods Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols.

It’s hard to blame Theo for changing his tune when the rules of the game have changed overnight. According to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the new CBA contains radical changes to the amateur draft signing process:

The new CBA will penalize teams that spend over set limits on amateurs. Clubs that exceed the limits will be subject to taxes and the loss of top picks.

Some executives speculate that the restrictions on draft spending will lead clubs to boost their major-league payrolls. Teams also spend more historically in the first off-season of a new CBA, confident that the game’s short-term economic future is secure.”

So if that’s really the case, I’m hoping Theo is only attempting to drive up the price for Pujols and is actually going after Fielder and his coveted left-handed bat. While Pujols is clearly this century’s Lou Gehrig, at age 31 (allegedly) he’s reaching the end of his productive years and will demand an unprecedentedly massive long-term contract, rumored to be around 10 years, $300 million.You’ll never hear me complain about teams spending money on productive players in a sport lacking a salary cap, but the number of years Albert is reportedly asking for is obscene and precisely what the Cubs need to avoid. We only have to glance over to Wrigley’s left field to see a cautionary tale of how a long-term deal for an aging, unproductive and untradable former star can hamstring an organization.Despite the rules of the game changing, Theo can still follow his other stated mantra of “paying for future performance, not past performance” by signing Fielder, who won’t be asking for a decade-long deal and is at the prime age of 27—an age where an overwhelming majority of MLB stars begin reaching maximum production (it’s a fact—ask any fantasy dork like me). A massive deal for Fiedler would be a far more prudent move since it would be paying for four or five years of All-Star-level production while a suddenly more injury-prone Pujols has one or two at most.While some have suggested Fielder’s, let’s say “tumidity,” may limit his production, it certainly hasn’t thus far in his career. He’s only missed a miniscule 13 games since 2006 and is surprisingly athletic for someone of his girth. Fielder is also widely regarded as the strongest man in baseball. Hell, he was even hitting balls over the Tiger Stadium fence when he was 12.

Perhaps this was Theo’s plan all along. Dale Sveum was a somewhat curious choice for manager when Epstein had a line of more experienced candidates beating down his door. But maybe bringing in Fielder’s beloved hitting coach of the last three years will give the Cubs that extra edge when Prince makes his final decision.

So please Theo, please pass on Pujols and get the crew stitching together that massive pinstriped pajama uniform with a #28 on the back. You and all of Cubs Nation won’t regret it.

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