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Sunday, September 25, 2022
Brewers must make choice on future of Fielder this off-season

Parker Gabriel

Brewers must make choice on future of Fielder this off-season

As a general rule, I will try to avoid rambling on, column after column, talking about the Brewers and the Packers. However, something happened at Miller Park on Sunday afternoon (yes, they're still playing baseball in Milwaukee) that—though it was not necessarily surprising—caught my attention.

In the eighth inning, with Milwaukee up 7-1 and cruising to victory in the home finale of its wholly underwhelming season, Prince Fielder drew his 106th walk of the season. It was not too noteworthy in itself, as the slugging first baseman is tied for the Major League lead in that category.

However, once he got to first—and yes, it took him a little while—manager Ken Macha inserted shortstop Alcides Escobar to pinch run.

With a six-run lead and Macha's well-documented aversion to making outs on the bases, the motivation clearly did not have to do with increasing speed on the basepaths.

Instead, Fielder got a chance to tip his cap and wave goodbye to the fans that, in all likelihood, he will never play in front of again in a Brewers uniform.

He hugged first base coach Ed Sedar before heading to the dugout for more hugs from teammates and coaches and eventually a curtain call. If I had a shade of doubt about whether or not he would be traded this winter, it went right out the window at that moment.

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On a side note, I should point out that I experienced the same feeling when Brett Favre walked off the frozen tundra in 2007 after the Packers NFC Championship Game loss to the New York Giants. So I don't have an impeccable record here.

The big man has one year left under team control, but all signs point to the organization attempting to trade him this offseason in order to obtain young pitching and salary relief.  Ever since the July trade deadline, talk about Fielder's future has been foreboding. Sunday, it took a step toward downright obvious.

Talking to MLB.com's Adam McCalvy, superstar leftfielder Ryan Braun—who, coincidentaly, signed a team-friendly contract that keeps him in Milwaukee until at least 2015—said, ""The ovation they gave to Prince was special, because we all understand the ramifications [of his contract and] the possibilities there.""

Not quite a ringing endorsement.

Fielder keeps playing the ""it's not personal, it's business"" card. While that probably won't completely alleviate the pain among Brewer faithfuls when the inevitable happens, at least he hasn't given Milwaukee the Gary Sheffield treatment.

It's an age-old dilemma for the small market baseball team. Developing young players into superstars often means losing them when (or before) they become free agents. Failing to cultivate prospects means you're the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I've seen how contracts a fraction of Fielder's asking price can tie the hands of a small market team. Jeff Suppan can attest to that. I know it can't be healthy to allow one player to eat up a third of your payroll—no pun intended, Prince. Still, it's hard to imagine how the Brew Crew will be better off without the city's portliest vegetarian.

Now, there is hope because, while the Brewers offense would obviously take a hit without Fielder's perennial .400 on-base percentage and intimidation factor in the lineup, the pitching staff is so depleted that a couple of young pitchers could do the team wonders.

The problems will begin when those two young pitchers aren't Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum or Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Fans will clamor because the return wasn't good enough and speculate about all the ways it could have been better.

They shouldn't.

If Milwaukee can glean one young Major League-ready starter and one or two decent prospects, it will be just fine. Although I have my doubts as to whether or not it will actually happen, the offseason will certainly be interesting if it does.

On top of an immediately improved rotation, GM Doug Melvin and company would have $30 million or so to play around with. As a baseball fan trained by years of mediocrity to always be looking forward to the next season, that kind of promise would be quite the intrigue.

In the age of free agency, stuff like this happens. Players rarely spend their entire careers in one place. It won't be fun to watch Prince hit the prime of his career and continue mashing taters at a prodigious rate in another city, but at least I'm not a Cubs fan.

Should the Brewers break the bank for Prince? Are you Barack Obama? E-mail Parker at pjgabriel@dailycardinal.com.

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