Brewers star first baseman Prince Fielder is generally considered one of the three mega free agents of the 2011-12 offseason, along with Albert Pujols and Jose Reyes. But so far Fielder's impending free agency hasn't garnered quite the publicity as the other two. That's probably because Reyes is in New York (at the moment, anyway), and Pujols is, well, Pujols.
But Fielder's market should still attract a great deal of attention considering he is having an MVP-caliber season (he and Brewers teammate Ryan Braun are probably the co-favorites, though Matt Kemp has his supporters) and is only 27. A year or so ago the Brewers offered Fielder a $20-million-a-year deal, believed to be for six years with at least one opt out that didn't even make Fielder flinch, and he recently said in an interview with TBS that this was "probably'' his last year in Milwaukee. His departure has long been suspected, though aggressive Brewers owner Mark Attanasio should never be counted out and is expected to make one final run at Fielder.
Fielder is currently second in the National League with 34 home runs, third with 112 RBIs (one behind Ryan Howard and Kemp), second in on-base percentage at .410 and fourth in OPS at .960. The one knock on the 275-pound Fielder is that he's heavy. Yet, he is the only player in the majors to play in all his team's games (153 so far), he's played in all but one game over the last three seasons (flu, September 2010), all but eight the last five and all but 13 over six seasons. Spies tell us he isn't real a vegetarian. But whatever he's doing is keeping him on the field and consistently productive.
He looks too rich for Milwaukee, though no one should suspect that Attanasio has given up, or that the Brewers' chances are exactly zero. Here are our current favorites to sign Fielder.
1. Orioles. They've used power-hitting but strikeout-prone Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis at first base since trading Derrek Lee, but it isn't certain how sold they are on either one. They tried for Baltimore native Mark Teixeira three winters ago, and there are whispers Orioles owner Peter Angelos may open his checkbook.
2. Cubs. It's hard to say what they might try considering they don't have a GM yet (and aren't likely to hire one this month). But with Carlos Peña a free agent, they would appear to have an opening. They could also take a poke at the NL Central-rival Brewers by stealing their biggest star and set themselves up for three-fourths of a superb under-30 infield, with also 21-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro and 25-year-old second baseman Darwin Barney.
3. Rangers. They already have one of the best three or four lineups in baseball but could really complete it with the addition of Fielder, who'd have to love the Rangers' ballpark. They are not afraid of free agency, as they showed last year by signing Adrian Beltre.
4. Nationals. They are also obviously unafraid of free agency (see Jayson Werth) and have worked extensively with agent Scott Boras in the past (Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Danny Espinosa, Alex Cora, Rick Ankiel and Werth). The Lerners, who are thought to be baseball's richest single owners, are acting like they are going to make a push in one of baseball's tougher divisions. Mike Morse can play the outfield, though there remains the question of where Rendon, their top draft pick last June, will play (it would seem that Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman would man first and third base, eventually, though Rendon might be able to play second).
5. Dodgers. It's hard to say whether their bankruptcy will kill their winter. But if Frank McCourt sells some of his many mansions or MLB is fortunate enough to be rid of him, Fielder would be a perfect fit. Actually, the Dodgers might have been competitive this year with just one more big offensive force.
6. Brewers. Some have written them off, but say this for Attanasio: He certainly tries hard. It is believed his first offer, awhile back, was something like $120 million over six years, with the opt out. Fielder is seen as the clear leader on a beloved Brewers team. Attanasio has done a magnificent job maximizing revenues, but of course it would probably still take a stretch to keep Fielder, as he himself suggested.
7. Mariners. They definitely need the offense, and GM Jack Zduriencik and scouting director Tom McNamara absolutely love Fielder after they picked him for the Brewers back when Zduriencik was their scouting director and McNamara the scout. They also have the revenue.
8. Cardinals. Their real effort, of course, is directed at trying to keep their own icon Pujols. They are seen as the favorite to do so, though nothing's certain. If they don't get Pujols, well, they have the spot and the money set aside.
9. Marlins. They're talking about spending big, and Fielder is a Florida product (Melbourne, four hours up the east coast from Miami), so we'll include them here. But they have Gaby Sanchez at first base and other, bigger needs. They aren't exactly used to opening their wallets, either. We'll believe they'll spend when we actually see it.
• Word is, the Cubs will not hire a new GM this month, leading to speculation within baseball that they are targeting an established name GM first. Those most speculated about include the Rays' Andrew Friedman, the Athletics' Billy Beane, the Yankees' Brian Cashman, the Dodgers' Ned Colletti and the Red Sox' Theo Epstein. Two other possible names of interest could be the Reds' Walt Jocketty and Indians president Mark Shapiro. Ultimately though, the Cubs may have to settle for one of a number of strong up-and-comers as many of the GM stars have contracts for next year, an ownership stake in their current teams or some other sound reason for staying. Friedman is the name most speculated, and while he operates without a contract, most baseball insiders don't see him leaving Rays owner Stu Sternberg, with whom he has a very close relationship.
• The Phillies very much want to bring star shortstop Jimmy Rollins back. Word is, they are likely willing to do a three-year deal, although Rollins, who's a key in the clubhouse, is expected to seek a four- or five-year deal. The Phillies have shown a willingness to overpay a tad for the players they love, and it's worked out for them. So the annual salary for Rollins might be a bit higher than one might expect.
• The Red Sox are thought to have interest in Phillies reliever Ryan Madson.
• Baseball insiders suggest White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf may "dig in his heels'' and force Ozzie Guillen to stay after Guillen's continuing public blathering about how it might be best for him to be fired and other such musings. But really, it might be best for all concerned to simply trade Guillen to the Marlins, as was briefly discussed a year ago. Those talks ended when the White Sox requested Logan Morrison. But as fortune would have it, Morrison is not exactly beloved these days by the Marlins. Morrison, who was already seen by Marlins management as a bit too opinionated, now has filed a grievance against the team for demoting him at a time he says he didn't deserve it based on his play.
• The Marlins are a tough organization in general. They bumped upstairs two highly successful longtime scouts, Stan Meek and Jim Fleming, after their tough season.
• Insiders insist Attanasio will stay with the Brewers and won't become a candidate to buy the Dodgers once McCourt finally clears out.
• The Royals will try to acquire two viable starting pitchers in the offseason. They are ultra-talented in terms of positional prospects. Not so much from a pitching standpoint.
• The Red Sox' Adrian Gonzalez won't say how hurt his right shoulder is, which only puts him in line with the organizational policy.
• The Twins will try to keep free agent Michael Cuddyer.
• Ryan Dempster told MLB.com he hasn't thought much about his $14 million player option. Of course not. What's to think about? Of course, he has to pick that up. The only chance he doesn't would be if the Cubs work out a two-year arrangement for less per year, a la Chris Carpenter's $21 million, two-year deal with the Cardinals.
• Carlos Beltran opined that the Giants could use Jose Reyes, which is funny because there's certainly no probability Beltran himself will be back. Meanwhile, outgoing Giants CEO Bill Neukom suggested Beltran will be seeking five or six years in free agency. That seems highly doubtful, even as a request. Three to four seems much more like it. Neukom, who had a lot to say on his way out, also said they didn't sign CC Sabathia because they were worried Sabathia might not be worth the money in the last years of a long deal. That's as opposed to Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand, who weren't worth the money from the very beginning. Neukom technically was not in charge for those signings. But Sabathia didn't deserve that opinion being said aloud by Neukom, either.
• Buck Showalter is said to have tremendous pull with Peter Angelos now. John Hart would seem to be a candidate for the hardest job in baseball, that of GM on Angelos' Orioles.
• From here, Justin Verlander has just about locked up the AL MVP award.
• Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer ever, no matter how many saves he has.