Nationals reportedly elbow way to front for Fielder

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Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Thursday, January 5, 2012
— A Major League Baseball official said over the weekend that word is spreading in the industry that the Washington Nationals are emerging as a favorite to sign free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder.

The market was slow to develop for the former Milwaukee Brewers slugger, even after first baseman Albert Pujols signed a 10-year, $254 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels during the winter meetings in early December. But with the calendar turned to 2012, Fielder and agent Scott Boras will want to get a deal done as soon as possible.

The Nationals repeatedly have deflected any notion that they might be in on Fielder. General manager Mike Rizzo said in a recent radio interview that “unless something extraordinary and out of the ordinary” happened, he is planning to go with Adam LaRoche at first base in 2012.

Suffice it to say that signing Fielder to a long-term, mega-bucks contract would be “something extraordinary.”

It makes sense that the Nationals would have interest in Fielder because they are seeking to make a move in the National League East Division, as evidenced by their recent trade of prospects for Oakland left-hander Gio Gonzalez.

Washington also has done considerable business in recent years with Boras, including signing first-round draft picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper as well as free-agent outfielder Jayson Werth, who signed a seven-year, $126 million deal last winter that surprised many folks in the industry.

Whether the Nationals are willing to go the number of years that Boras and Fielder are seeking—something akin to the Pujols deal—remains to be seen. Many interested parties, such as the Mariners, Rangers, Blue Jays, Orioles and Cubs, are believed to prefer a shorter deal, something in the five- or six-year range.

In an interview Monday with the Washington Post, Boras declined to say if the Nationals were pressing hard for Fielder.

“As I’ve told many, there are a lot of passengers on the ‘PF Flyer,’ “ Boras told the Post.

“We are having a very robust and constant communication with many teams,” Boras added in that interview. “We’ve had an opportunity over the last 10 days to certainly get more definition, I would say.”

If the Nationals sign Fielder, the Brewers would get their first-round draft pick in 2012 as well as a supplemental first-rounder. Those in the top half of the 30 clubs in terms of won-loss records from the previous season surrender first-round picks, and Washington just qualifies with the 15th-best record in 2011 (80-81).

Odds against Braun

According to an MLB official familiar with the appeal process, it will be extremely difficult for Brewers leftfielder Ryan Braun to overturn the pending 50-game suspension he faces for a reported positive drug test in October.

Sources close to Braun said the banned substance was not technically a performance-enhancing drug and he did not realize it would create an unacceptably high testosterone level, as the original ESPN report indicated. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Braun will become the first major-league player to overturn a drug suspension.

One way to overturn a positive test is to prove there was a laboratory error. But that’s never been done because of the protocol followed by the Olympic drug testing facility in Montreal that MLB uses.

Under that system, each player’s urine sample is divided into two samples. The first is tested and if it’s positive for any banned substance, a second, far more comprehensive testing regimen is used on the second sample to avoid a false positive.

Another way to overturn a positive drug test is to show that your team signed off on a doctor’s prescription or treatment that unknowingly contained the banned substance. But the MLB official familiar with the case said the Brewers did not OK whatever Braun took that resulted in the positive test.

The MLB Drug Prevention and Treatment program does not absolve a player for unknowingly taking a banned substance.

That’s why players are instructed to receive clearance before taking any medication or supplement that might be so tainted.

Braun’s appeal will be heard by a three-person panel on an undisclosed date this month. If the test result is upheld, he will be suspended without pay for the first 50 games of the 2012 season.

Last updated: 7:36 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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