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Prince Fielder Rumors: Washington Nationals Are Reported Favorite, But Obstacles Muddle Picture

The Washington Nationals may lead the race to sign free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder, Tom Haudricourt reported Tuesday, but there are some serious questions for the Nationals to consider before inking the lefty slugger to a lucrative contract. During a q-and-a session on the Washington Post's website Tuesday, columnist Tom Boswell pointed out a long-term deal for Fielder could force the Nats to trade Ryan Zimmerman. Boswell explains:

One big point gets missed. The Nats may be deciding BETWEEN Fielder and Ryan Zimmerman. One OR the other. Because if you have Fielder, Z'man and [Jayson] Werth on the roster, then they'll be making >$60M for just those three players by the '14 season. So be careful what you wish for.

Boswell notes that the Nationals' average payroll under the Lerners' ownership has been $58 million, and it reached $68 million in the 2011 season. Paying three hitters more than $60 million could financially cripple the franchise. For example, Boswell says, a fat contract for Fielder means Washington might have to trade Zimmerman, its All-Star. It might have to let newly acquired hurler Gio Gonzalez leave in free agency in 2015. It might not have the funds to re-sign star pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann.

Would landing Fielder, a career .282 hitter with 230 homers and 656 runs batted in, be worth potentially mortgaging the Nationals' long-term future? That's the question team management faces, and Boswell ultimately believes Washington will pass on Fielder "unless [the contract is] so cheap they just can't help themselves."

For more on the Nationals, please visit Federal Baseball, SB Nation's Nationals blog.