Before the ink could dry on Ryan Howard's five-year, $125 million contract extension, speculation already was running rampant in Milwaukee on how the deal for the Phillies' first baseman would effect Prince Fielder.
Word had already leaked out that Fielder would likely start his contract talks based on the eight-year, $184 million deal signed by Joe Mauer. Fielder would offer no such "hometown discount" like Mauer did for the Twins.
As much as Brewer fans want the club to sign Fielder at any cost, giving the slugger an annual salary anywhere near $23-$25 million a year doesn't make sense for the long-term success of the team. It's becoming more clear every day that the Brewers will have to trade him, and they would be wise to do so sometime during the 2010 season.
The possibility for potential trade partners is almost unlimited. Over the next couple weeks, I'll take a look at teams that are not only realistic fits for Fielder on and off the field, but also teams that could return the quality of players in return that the Brewers would need to trade away a player the caliber of their young first baseman. The first team is the Boston Red Sox.
Out of all the teams in baseball, Boston is thought to be the most likely destination for Fielder when he reaches free agency after the 2011 season. They have the payroll flexibility, need for his services, and talent needed to make the trade happen.
Although Fielder projects as a future designated hitter, he's still young and agile enough to play a solid first base defensively. With Kevin Youkilis under contract until after the 2012 season, Fielder could be moved to DH immediately. That would almost cause immediate problems in the clubhouse.
Youkilis is a Gold Glove first baseman, but Fielder has turned into an all-around great player. His defense has improved dramatically since his rookie season, and he has turned into a more-than-adequate defender, while still possessing one of the most feared bats in the game.
To avoid a potential log-jam at first base, Youkilis could be included in the deal back to Milwaukee. He would be an upgrade defensively for the Brewers, and while his bat isn't as powerful as Fielder's, it is more consistent and would slot in nicely behind Ryan Braun.
Regardless of what bat might be sent to Milwaukee, the focal point of the trade would involve pitching. Red Sox fans may not like to hear it, but it's almost a certainty the Brewers would demand Clay Buchholz.
The 25-year-old Buchholz is off to the best start of his young career. In four starts this season, he is 2-2 with a 2.19 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings. Most importantly to the Brewers, he is under team control until after the 2014 season.
Even with free agent signings over the winter, the starting rotation for the Brewers is off to a slow start. Buchholz would fit well behind Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf to give the Brewers a very good top three pitchers.
The Red Sox also have several prospects and other young players that could entice the Brewers if they choose not to take on salary from the likes of Youkilis.
Lars Anderson is a highly-touted first base prospect at the Double A level for the Red Sox. He is hitting .355 with 5 home runs and 16 RBI in 17 games in 2010. The lefty may be a year away from being ready for the Majors, but he could turn into a nice replacement in the coming years.
Daniel Bard, Manny Delcarmen, and Michael Bowden are all young pitchers that could be sent to Milwaukee as well.
Bard is a 24-year-old righty that has been in the Boston bullpen since last season. He is a hard thrower with a 3.48 ERA in 60 career games. He strikes hitters out at a high rate, but he needs to learn better control to become a dominant arm in the bullpen.
Delcarmen has spent time with the Red Sox since 2003. He doesn't have the overpowering stuff that Bard does, but he doesn't allow as many base runners. In 2010, Delcarmen is 1-1 with a 1.74 ERA in eight games. His walk totals have increased, and that may keep him limited to being just a one-inning pitcher in the future.
Bowden is a former top-ranked prospect for the Red Sox that has struggled recently. He is 0-0 with a 7.20 ERA in four starts in 2010 for Triple A Pawtucket. He projects to a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher in the future, but he may be relegated to the bullpen in Boston due to their starting pitching depth. He's a perfect candidate to be traded, whether it's to Milwaukee for Fielder or to another team to help Boston make a playoff push.
With the massive contracts that "franchise players" are now receiving, the Milwaukee Brewers simply cannot afford Prince Fielder past the 2011 season. He has been as valuable as any member of the team over the past few seasons, but his long-term value to the Brewers now comes in trading him away.
He is off to a slow start this season, but that has become the norm for Fielder. There's no reason to think that by season's end he won't have over 40 home runs and at least 120 RBI.
The New York Yankees don't have any place for Fielder on their roster, so that makes the Red Sox the clear favorite for his services.
They could sit back and wait until after the 2011 season to make a push for him, but Fielder has the abilities to make Boston the favorites for the AL pennant this year. He could make Red Sox nation forget very quickly about their teams slow start, while helping the Brewers stay competitive for the next several years.
Brewer fans may never come to terms with the thought of trading Fielder, but the sooner they realize he won't be in Milwaukee much longer, the sooner they can deal with the team's future instead of living on the memories of the 2008 playoffs.
To read more by Jesse Motiff, click here .
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