One of the most popular topics to debate over the past two seasons for Milwaukee Brewer fans has been if and when first baseman Prince Fielder would be traded.
Fielder is slated to become a free agent after the 2011 season, and no one expects him to sign a long-term contract with the Brewers.
Many, myself included, felt that Fielder would be traded this winter in order for the Brewers to get some sort of a decent return for the impending free agent.
Surprisingly, Brewers GM Doug Melvin decided against trading the slugger and instead focused on drastically improving the pitching rotation with the acquisitions of Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke. In fact, Greinke took the Brewers off his no-trade list after Melvin assured him that Fielder would remain with the team for the upcoming season.
Despite that assurance from Melvin, there are many fans who are convinced the Brewers should still trade Fielder. Their reasoning: Now that the pitching staff has been upgraded significantly, the Brewers can now trade off Fielder's bat for a young replacement or even more pitching.
Trading Fielder would seal the Brewers' fate for 2011. While keeping him doesn't guarantee October baseball in Milwaukee, trading him guarantees there won't be. Fielder's value is about more than just 35-plus home runs he's almost a lock to hit. He provides protection for Ryan Braun while giving Casey McGehee consistent at-bats with at least one runner on base.
Despite having a down year in 2010, in which he put up his lowest numbers since his rookie season in 2006, Fielder is just entering the prime years of his career. He won't turn 27 until May.
For those that are superstitious, 2011 may prove to be a special year for Fielder. In 2007, he batted .288 with 50 home runs and 119 RBI. In 2009, he hit a career-best .299 with 46 home runs and led the league with 141 RBI. In even years, he's averaged .269 with 31 home runs and 88 RBI.
The Brewers may not be able to match up favorably with teams like the Phillies and Braves over the long, six-month season, but anything can happen in a short five- or seven-game series. Given the fact that it is almost guaranteed he won't be back in 2012, the Brewers must do everything possible to go for a championship with Fielder in 2011.
There will be plenty of time for speculation after the season to debate where Fielder will spend the next several seasons of his career. For now, however, Brewer fans should appreciate the fact they have one of the best sluggers in the game and realize this might turn out to be the most special season for the organization since 1982.
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