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01/03/12 12:00 AM EST
Boras clients will help shape next flurry
Fielder leads crop yet to be spoken for as calendar turns to '12
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
As the calendar flips from 2011 to 2012, baseball stirs from its holiday hibernation with a similarly notable transition. This is where the Hot Stove season morphs into the Hot Scott (Boras) season. The agent with the most influence and biggest clientele in the sport has spent the offseason's first couple of months coiled in the grass -- two-year deals for Willie Bloomquist and Bruce Chen here, one-year pacts for Andruw Jones, Gerald Laird and Andrew Brackman there -- and now is ready to spring. Boras may not have exactly cornered the free-agent market, but he definitely has a huge share of the block, going forward. Of the fewer than 100 remaining free agents -- counting those non-tendered contracts in mid-December -- 13 are Boras clients, including five who appear on everyone's best-of lists. The cream of the crop obviously is Prince Fielder, the first baseman who remains unsigned nearly a month after Albert Pujols presumably defined the market with his 10-year, $254 million agreement with the Angels. But the Boras Corporation is also masterminding the destinations of both the top starting pitcher -- Edwin Jackson -- and reliever -- Ryan Madson -- on the loose, along with first baseman Carlos Pena and outfielder-DH Johnny Damon. Add others, like Ivan Rodriguez, J.D. Drew, Jason Varitek, Mike Gonzalez, Magglio Ordonez, Rick Ankiel, Kevin Millwood and Ryan Spilborghs. Clearly, Boras' next few weeks will help shape 2012. Boras' cast dominates the stage, but isn't alone on it. Other free agents who will be featured in the frenzy between now and Spring Training include closer Francisco Cordero; outfielders Vladimir Guerrero and Raul Ibanez; first basemen Derrek Lee and Casey Kotchman; starters Hiroki Kuroda, Joe Saunders and Vicente Padilla, who missed most of 2011 but has been lighting it up in the Nicaraguan Winter League; and a pair of old soldiers aiming to remain on the front lines, Omar Vizquel and Tim Wakefield. While transactions will be the most compelling developments in the coming weeks, there are other key dates on the short-term calendar, highlighted by next Monday's announcement of results of 2011 balloting for the Hall of Fame. Arbitration-eligible players and their clubs will be filing their figures during a 10-day period beginning on Jan. 5, then exchange those numbers on Jan. 18, with the hearings themselves beginning on Feb. 1. And while the timeline for a decision on Ryan Braun's appeal isn't known, word will be forthcoming on whether the National League MVP's 50-game suspension for violation of the MLB Drug Policy will be upheld. Braun had tested positive for high levels of synthetic testosterone. No free agent's landing spot will be more consequential than that of Fielder, who is beginning to be viewed as a possible finishing piece for the Nationals' master plan of NL East contention. Against the backdrop of Washington general manager Mike Rizzo's declaration of Adam LaRoche as the team's first baseman, reports persist that a sparse market is spurring Boras to strike another high-profile deal with the Nats. The agent of course wedded Jayson Werth with the Nationals last winter, helped smooth over the perceived signability risks associated with the No. 1 Draft selections of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, and represents a half-dozen other players to recently pass through the Washington clubhouse. The Midwest buzz for Fielder to remain in the NL Central with the Cubs could be falling on deaf ears, and may have been contrived anyway. There have been suggestions that Fielder really hopes to land in Chicago, spurred in part by his overwhelming track record in Wrigley Field. While everyone probably enjoys aiming for those ivy-covered walls, truth is Fielder hasn't homered in the park in 17 games since 2009, and last season went 2-for-20 there. Jackson rivals Oswalt as the best available starter -- at least, until someone can talk Javier Vazquez off his retirement fence -- and his price tag reflects it. ESPN is reporting that the 28-year-old right-hander seeks a five-year contract in the $60 million neighborhood, which would be the winter's second-biggest deal for a pitcher behind C.J. Wilson's $77.5 million pact with the Angels. Oswalt, meanwhile, is resigned to accepting a one-year deal for the chance to prove his recovery from recurring back problems. The contrast is sensible: Jackson trumps Oswalt on two counts, being six years younger and having averaged 200-plus innings the last four seasons, a plateau reached twice by Oswalt. Some teams still in search of rotation stability -- such as the Red Sox and the Yankees -- prefer exploring the still-fluid trade market to staying in the free-agent game. That makes the Cubs' Matt Garza a hot commodity, with Toronto, Miami and Detroit also showing interest. The currency for someone like Garza may be different than for free agents, but it will still take a lot. Theo Epstein recently branded the right-hander as "exactly the type of pitcher we want to build around," doubtless his way of letting the market know that the price of prying him away would be steep.