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Fielder Arby Case Likely to Make History

Prince Fielderphoto © 2008 Steve Paluch | more info (via: Wylio)
With arbitration-eligible players and teams swapping their figures today, most of the focus will be on the business side of the game for the next few weeks. As noted yesterday, of the Brewers’ five arby-eligibles, Rickie Weeks seems like the best bet to sign a long-term deal. If you’re wondering how much money Weeks would likely demand in an extension, Bernie’s Crew breaks down the comparison to Dan Uggla, who recently signed the richest contract for a second baseman in history.

Of course, the least likely player to sign any kind of extension — or even a one-year deal to avoid arbitration — is Prince Fielder. The duo of Fielder and Scott Boras not only has their sights set on a big free agent contract next winter, but also a potentially historic arbitration decision this winter.

Fielder made $10.5 million last season, and according to Cot’s Contracts, also gained another $500,000 for hitting a 500 PA performance bonus. I think it’s safe to assume Fielder and Boras will submit a number quite a bit higher than the $11 million they picked up last season.

This becomes historically significant when you consider that, according to Biz of Baseball, the current record for a one-year salary settlement with a third-time eligible position player is $12.5 million (Mark Teixeira with the Braves following 2007)… and that’s just the settlement, not the number that he and Boras submitted. Fielder is a virtual lock to submit a figure larger than that, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising if he puts in for $15 million+. If I had to guess, the Brewers’ offer would probably come in close to the $12.5 million Teixeira got, meaning the outcome of this scuffle will be historic either way.

If Fielder and Boras are genuinely looking for a $20MM/year deal in free agency next year, the logical stepping stone would be to ask for $16 or $17 million. Considering the numbers Prince has put up to this point in his career, I’m not even sure Boras can submit a number that’s too high. If the two sides were to go to an arbitration hearing, the Fielder side would have most of the leverage, especially if Doug Melvin submitted a figure that would represent only a small raise over Fielder’s 2010 salary.

If that’s the case, Fielder could also land in the top five of another arbitration record — the biggest disparity between a player’s asking price and the team’s offering price. Roger Clemens holds that record at $8,500,000 as a free agent in 2004, but $5 million gap between Tim Lincecum and the Giants last year comes in second place. The other gaps on that top five list — Carlos Zambrano ($4.475MM, 2006), Felix Hernandez ($4.3MM, 2009), and Derek Jeter ($4.25MM, 2000) — are all potentially within reach for this case, depending on the number Melvin submits.

Simply put, this won’t be over anytime soon. If you thought Melvin was taking the easy way out by simply keeping Fielder for 2011, you’re wrong — in a lot of ways, keeping Fielder will lead to more headaches over the next month than any other course of action.