Despite all the excitement and anticipation of the upcoming season for Milwaukee Brewer fans, there is still a sense of impending doom.
With the additions of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to the rotation, the Brewers have positioned themselves as a legitimate threat for the NL Central crown.
However, the 2011 season will also serve as Prince Fielder's last with the team.
The countdown clock on Fielder's departure has been ticking for a couple years now and many felt Brewers GM Doug Melvin would finally pull the trigger on a trade this past winter to at least get something in return for the hefty first baseman.
Instead, Melvin traded away five of the top young players in the organization to make one final push for the playoffs with Fielder on the team.
Fielder has shown over the years that the criticism about his large waistline is unwarranted. Since becoming the starting first baseman for the Brewers in 2005, he has missed just 13 games.
Durability has yet to be an issue for the 260-plus pounder and there is no reason to think that it will be an issue this season.
The biggest question for Fielder in 2011 will be which version will the Brewers get? Will they get the version from 2007 and 2009, in which he finished each season in the top five for MVP voting or will they get the 2008 and 2010 version, which saw him produce good but not great numbers?
How many home runs will Prince Fielder hit in 2011?
Fielder led the league in home runs in 2007 with 50, becoming the youngest player in the history of the game to reach that milestone. In 2009, he led the league in RBI with 141. He hit .288 and .299 in those years respectively. He also represented the National League in the All-Star game each year.
Meanwhile, he averaged just 33 home runs and 93 RBI while hitting a meager .268. Fielder was unhappy with his contract situation in 2008 and teams simply began pitching around him in 2010.
Although he drew a career-high in walks, he was never able to fully adjust to keep his power numbers consistent with his past performances.
History tells us that players entering the free agent market will usually put up great numbers the season before. Fielder and his agent, Scott Boras, are betting he will do just that. Even with Albert Pujols on the same open market in the upcoming offseason, Fielder should generate significant interest from several teams, most likely the Angels and Cubs.
He'll make $15.5 million in 2011 and most feel he should command somewhere between $18-$20 million a year as a free agent.
Judging by his odd-year surges and even-year struggles, one would expect a big year in 2011 from Fielder. I don't expect anything less than an MVP-type of year from him.
Even with his drop in power numbers last year, 35-plus home runs and well over 100 RBI should not be unreachable goals. He likely won't ever be a .300 hitter, but he shouldn't hit anywhere near the .261 he put up last year.
If he can put up those numbers in addition to the much improved pitching rotation, the Brewers should be in the hunt for the NL Central title.
As far as the Brewers' fan base goes, they shouldn't spend one moment of the 2011 season worrying about Fielder's departure.
No matter what happens after the season, the next six months can seal Fielder as one of the great Brewers players of all-time.
To read more by Jesse Motiff, click here.