This writer was going to start this post by asking where Prince Fielder was going to end up. But the question is slightly more complex than that. The bigger question is what will happen with Fielder. The Brewers control him for one more season before he hits free agency in 2012. What will happen in the short term will depend a lot on how the Brewers start the season. If they start out hot and in contention, they will have no choice but to hold on to him similar to what happened in San Diego with Adrian Gonzalez--a name, by the way, that will figure a lot into Fielder's future.
If the Brewers contend this season, then Fielder's free agency candidacy will take a hit if he and Gonzalez hit the market at the same time. Gonzalez is more athletic and a better fielder and gives you the same power package. Fielder walks more but more teams will covet Gonzalez than Fielder because of perception and frankly, because of Fielder's size.
And we might as well talk about Fielder's size. It's a no win topic for a writer as it makes us look like we are biased against overweight people. But the fact is right there in front of us that Fielder looked even bigger this past year than in the year before. Like it or not, that will cause a lot of teams to have concerns on Fielder's long term viability.
Okay, we've determined that if the Brewers are in contention, they are much better with him on board. His 137 OPS+ this past season was below his standards and he has a history of having really great seasons every other year (in other words, he's due this year). His 113 walks are probably even more desirable and productive than his massive power. The Brewers would take a very serious hit to their hopes if they traded him unless they got some real stud in return (which will never happen). But what if the Brewers don't contend?
If the Brewers don't contend, then Fielder will be gone by the trading deadline. Several teams are weak at first base (the Rangers come to mind) and several are weak at DH. If a team needs a big bat to get over the hump and into the playoffs and beyond, Fielder will make a very attractive rental. He's hit for good power in interleague match ups (his batting average is low due to bad luck and a low BABIP) so changing leagues shouldn't be a problem for him.
And that's the big problem for Fielder. Everyone would want him for a season. But very few are going to want to commit to him for three, four or five seasons. His physical presence is simply too scary. The one thing working in his favor is that he will only be 27 after next season and a team would have to figure he would have three or four more years in him anyway.
His position hurts him too. Most teams now defer in large part to baseball analysts who help GMs determine a player's value. A first baseman is considered less valuable than a shortstop or other positions, so a first baseman has to generate all his value with what he can do at the plate. If Fielder has a season like 2009, then he at least is earning a $20 to $25 million season. But if he has a season like 2010 (which was still pretty darn good), his value goes all the way down to about $12-14 million. That's a big swing and 2009 makes inking Fielder a good deal while 2010 other makes it a terrible deal. Fielder isn't much of a first baseman, so...again...he adds no value with his position.
The other problem with his position is that there are so many top ranking sluggers already playing first base around the league. There is Pujols, Adam Dunn, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Howard, Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Morneau and on and on it goes. It doesn't seem possible that any team will give Fielder and Boras the kind of money they will be seeking.
But there are also teams that crave the kind of OBP that Fielder gives you. He truly is fantastic at walking. A large number of teams now covet On Base Percentage above all else. That is helpful to Fielder. Either way, Fielder is going to sweat it out in 2012 to see if someone will bite the apple and give him the kind of money and time that he will be seeking.
It seems certain that he will not be a Brewer after 2011. As to how long he will be a Brewer in 2011 will all depend on how the Brewers do coming out of the gate.