Filling the Prince's Throne
Fielder is not irreplaceable
By John Linn
The Milwaukee Brewers are faced with an interesting problem going into this season. They are almost assured that slugging first baseman, Prince Fielder will be leaving via free agency at the end of the season. Many people see this loss as crippling or destructive to the Brewers. However, is signing Fielder truly a necessity? In reality, it may not be as important as it appears. Would it be nice to keep Fielder? Of course, but is it imperative to making (and then keeping) the team as a winning franchise? No.
Fielder is still under contract for this up-coming season, which bodes well for a playoff run this season with most of the high-powered offense returning for the season, including all-star corner outfielders Ryan Braun and Corey Hart, second baseman Rickie Weeks, and powerful third baseman Casey McGehee. The team also shored up its shoddy pitching staff with former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke and up and comer Shaun Marcum. Those pieces coupled with Fielder needing to have a good season to have good numbers heading into his first year of free agency so he can match the contract numbers of some of the other big name slugging first baseman.
There are multiple options for the Brewers to put at first base should Fielder depart via free agency. It is possible that he will be traded; maybe even for another first baseman, but most teams seem likely to wait until they don’t have to lose anything and pick him up as a free agent. Therefore it is most likely that the Brewers will be looking in house for a first baseman.
Prospect Mat Gamel has been tested at both corner outfield spots and at first base. While he has stated his desire to remain at his third base position, it seems unlikely that he will go anywhere there. Casey McGehee is ahead of him and he has shown problems playing the position. Gamel may have a problem with the position of first but if that’s where he will succeed the team should most likely take the final say and place him there. Gamel has shown his potent bat, maybe slightly fewer homeruns than Fielder, but good pop nonetheless. If he can provide even a decent glove over at first, Gamel would be a perfectly adequate replacement for Fielder.
Corey Hart is a slightly less likely option at first but there is merit to the idea. Hart has played first base in his career; he has the tall body type, and is signed for the next three years. Hart is entrenched in right field, but if Fielder leaves and Gamel expresses an interest in playing the outfield, the possibility of Hart at first is clearly on the table. Hart would fit very well replacing Fielder; the question is whether or not there would be a need, or even if Hart would accept the move to first.
Prince is clearly a major cog for the Brewers both on offense and in the locker room. He provides offense with homeruns, RBI’s; he walks multiple times and is a great teammate. However, no one player is irreplaceable, especially when that player is not necessarily the best player on said team. Is Fielder important yes but is he worth the price tag.
The idea of money also comes into play. The Brewers have spent a large amount of money in recent years, signing players like Hart, Braun, and pitcher Yovani Gallardo to long-term contracts. Also, in acquiring Shaun Marcum the Brewers gave up their top second base prospect Brett Lawrie. This would then lead the Brewers to need to re-sign second baseman Rickie Weeks. Weeks is coming off a career year and has shown the potential that got led to him being a first round draft pick. Weeks would appear to be higher on the list of necessary players to sign because of the lack of depth at second. Weeks also would be harder to replace with his mix of speed and power. It would be smarter then for the Brewers to put their money into bringing Weeks in long term rather than trying to rope Fielder back in.
Also, the big name acquisitions of Marcum and Greinke need to be considered for long-term contracts. As of right now both of them will be here for at least the next two seasons. Both players would be great long-term additions and clearly the team would want to look to put a lot of money into contracts for either one of them.
Prince Fielder is clearly a favorite in Milwaukee. He is important to the team, and at least for this season he will be a major player on a rebuilt team with high expectations and plenty of talent. However, after this season is wasting money on a player that could be replaced a necessity? Most likely not. Fielder is important; he won’t be easily replaced or quickly forgotten but there are plenty of other options and other people to spend the money on.