CINCINNATI - MAY 18: Prince Fielder #28 of the Milwaukee Brewers is pictured after striking out during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on May 18, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
With the Brewers off to a slow start, there are rumblings around baseball regarding the availability of Prince Fielder. Does it make sense for the Brewers to trade Fielder, who will be a free agent after the 2011 season?
In fact, the issue has become less about Fielder and more about the imbalanced mess the Brewers have become since 2008.
With a top-10 offense, they remain burdened for a second consecutive season with one of the game's worst pitching staffs.
Even if Fielder veered wildly from his pace to hit a career-low 27 homers in a full season and somehow challenged Barry Bonds' single-season record, the Brewers still would land at or near the bottom of their division. Pitching matters that much.
Of course, it no longer makes sense, business or otherwise, for the Brewers to imagine a future with Fielder in it. Most of their resources from here must be devoted to pitching. Otherwise, the Brewers have no future.
Even if a down year from Fielder puts him south of Ryan Howard money in the winter of '11 free-agent market, the Brewers are showing they can finish last with him. And that doesn't take into consideration a body type that might disqualify Fielder as a National League player during the course of his next big contract.
Point taken. But according to Peter Barzilai, the Brewers should hold onto Fielder, fearing that the Brewers will not get close to full value for the slugging first baseman:
He is having his worst season since he was a rookie, with nine home runs, a .267 average and .838 OPS. Last year he hit 46 homers with 141 RBI, so at the very least wait until he starts to show that form. Or do you usually sell your stocks at their lowest point?
There doesn't appear to be a market for Fielder. Every team at or near the top of its division is set at first base. The only exception is the Angels, and adding Fielder would create a logjam when Kendry Morales returns from his broken leg in September or next season.
So if you can't get full value for Fielder, keep him through this season and the next. Let him become a free agent, because there is a good chance the Brewers will have leverage in the winter of 2011. The first base market is about to get flooded with Paul Konerko, Derrek Lee and Carlos Pena set to become free agents after this season, and Fielder, Albert Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez eligible after 2011. Big spenders such as the Yankees (Mark Teixeira), Phillies (Ryan Howard), Red Sox (Kevin Youkilis), Angels (Morales) and Dodgers (James Loney) are locked in at first. The Brewers could get Fielder at a reasonable price or sign one of the other free agents.
There is no doubt in my mind that signing Fielder to a $100+ million dollar extension after the 2011 season would not be in the Brewers' best interests given their limited resources. The focus of the Brewers front office right now has to be on doing what is in the Brewers' best interests, both long term and short term. The only reason for the Brewers to trade Fielder is if they get an offer from a team that is good enough to offset the short term costs of dealing the popular Fielder and not fully engaging in long term contract talks with him. Remember that if the Brewers deal Fielder now, they will have to deal with tremendous backlash from their fan base, especially if the package they receive is not viewed as "up to par."
Right now, it does not appear to be in the Brewers' best interests to trade Fielder no matter how badly the team is playing. The combination of Fielder's contract and performance this season would suggest that the Brewers are very unlikely to get the high level offer that they are looking for to replace their first baseman. If the Brewers are blown away with an offer, that's one thing; but Fielder is one of the Brewers top assets and if there is even the slighest doubt that they are not going to get full value for the slugger, then the answer is clear: hold onto Prince.