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Can the Rangers afford both Yu Darvish and Prince Fielder?

When the World Series pits two non-New York teams against each other, a fairly common occurrence nowadays, it grants we New York reporters an opportunity to better familiarize ourselves with clubs we don't know as well.

There's a good amount of time before first pitch, so you schmooze players, a manager, coaches, front-office officials, owners, mascots and so on.

(Not really mascots. Just making sure you're paying attention.)

When talking to decision-makers, it's natural to look ahead to the coming winter. During this past World Series, it was quite entertaining to speak with Rangers folks about Yu Darvish. In trying to downplay their interest, they sounded like Elaine, when she goes to buy the going-out-of-stock sponges, in this "Seinfeld" episode:

PHARMACIST: Can I help you?

ELAINE (with little hope): Yeah, do you have any Today sponges? I know they're off the market, but...

PHARMACIST: Actually, we have a case left.

ELAINE (excited): A case! A case of sponges? I mean, uh...a case. Huh. many come in a case?


ELAINE: Sixty?! Uh...well, I'll take three.


ELAINE: Make it ten.


ELAINE: Twenty sponges should be plenty.

PHARMACIST: Did you say twenty?

ELAINE: Yeah, twenty-five sponges is just fine.

PHARMACIST: Right. So, you're set with twenty-five.

ELAINE: Yeah. Just give me the whole case and I'll be on my way.

It was no surprise when the Rangers posted the winning bid of $51.7 million for exclusive negotiating rights with Darvish, and it'll be an immense surprise if the two sides don't complete a deal by this afternoon's 5 o'clock Eastern Time deadline.

When I asked a Texas person last October about Prince Fielder, the response was a more clear, "I don't think so."

But baseball winters are fluid, as we know. Fielder is still a free agent, and the Rangers certainly could benefit from having Fielder as their first baseman. It's not like they have any money invesetd in first base, not with cheap youngster Mitch Moreland slotted there.

The best-run teams formulate a winter gameplan with the understanding that they'll blow it up if the external environment changes. The Rangers are one of baseball's best-run teams.

We know that Fielder wanted to go to the Cubs, but every indication is that the Cubs are in rebuilding mode. We know that the Nationals have a strong working relationship with Fielder's agent Scott Boras, but much of the industry believes that Washington simply doesn't want to commit another huge contract at this time, especially with Adam LaRoche already getting $8 million to play first base.

Which leaves...Toronto? They were my late October pick to sign Fielder. The Blue Jays like to operatie in secrecy, but it seems quite unlikely.

Then there are the Rangers. They had a 2011 Opening Day payroll of $92 million, according to USA Today's calculations. C.J. Wilson's $7 million salary will be replaced by Darvish, and costs of other significant departures like Arthur Rhodes ($3.9 million), Darren Oliver ($3.25 million) and Brandon Web ($3 million) will be absorbed and then some by the signing of Joe Nathan, the July acquisitions of Mike Adams and Koji Uehara and raises to players like Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Nelson Cruz and Scott Feldman

The payroll already is up, in other words, before considering Fielder, who wants an Albert Pujols deal. Sure, the Rangers have made two consecutive World Series, so they should be raising the payroll. It's a matter of how much.

The Rangers are very creative folks, and so is Boras. It would be foolhardy to say flat-out that the Rangers and Fielder can't find a match. A heavily backloaded contract - make that very heavily backloaded - could work.

We'll get more clarity once the Darvish deal is done. And it will get done.

--Here are my stories on the Yankees' DH search and the Mets signing all of their arbitration-eligible players. The Yankees have three remaining players to sign _ Brett Gardner, Boone Logan and Russell Martin.

--Shall we do another contest today? We shall.

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