Now that the Milwaukee Brewers are heading back to Miller Park to host the Arizona Diamondback in Game 5 of the NLDS, there is a very real chance the Brewers' season could end Friday evening.
That would likely mark the end of Prince Fielder's playing career for the team, as he's set to become a free agent this winter.
Great debate and much attention will be paid to where Fielder plays in 2012. While that will be the subject of many articles this winter, the only thing Brewer fans care about is how the team will fill his void at first base.
Many critics like to point out Fielder's weight as a concern for his future, but he's only missed 13 games since becoming a full-time starter in 2006. As much as the team will miss his clubhouse presence, it's Fielder's ability to play (and amass MVP-type numbers) every day that will be hardest for the Brewers to replace.
The Brewers can go with an internal option, make a trade or sign a free agent, but it's quite likely they'll have no chance of replacing the 37 home runs and 106 RBI that he's averaged in his career.
Here are a few of the many options that the Brewers might turn to for 2012 and beyond.
Just kidding. There is zero chance of Albert Pujols patrolling first base for the Brewers next year. They can't afford Fielder, which makes it impossible for them to sign Pujols since he'll most likely command a much larger contract.
McGehee was a great surprise for the Brewers in 2009 and 2010.
However, 2011 has been a terrible year for him. He hit just .223 and became a major defensive liability at third base. His struggles became so great that Brewers manager Ron Roenicke elected to start Jerry Hairston at third over McGehee for the NLDS.
McGehee has shown pop in his bat, hitting 39 home runs in a little over a year-and-a-half prior to 2011. Given that Taylor Green played relatively well in his short stint with the team this year, the Brewers could place him at third and move McGehee to first.
Such a move would help the Brewers have a better chance financially at securing Zack Greinke and/or Shaun Marcum for the long term.
However, there's a better shot that McGehee doesn't even make the team next year than seeing him become the team's new first baseman.
The one-time top prospect for the Brewers has struggled mightily to make any sort of an impact at the Major League level. In 85 career games, he's hit .222 with just five home runs.
Once thought to be the future at third base, it now is hard to imagine Gamel ever making any major contribution with the Brewers. Luckily, he's still only 26 years old and time (for now) is still on his side.
His left-handed bat would be a nice balance to all the power-hitting righties in the lineup, but it doesn't appear that the front office has enough faith in Gamel to give him the job at first.
Once upon a time, many people thought Corey Hart was the future for the Brewers at first base. Then along came a kid name Fielder and well, you know the rest.
Hart has the size to play first base and it wouldn't be completely foreign territory for him. Unlike Fielder, Hart has played more than 145 games just once in his career (2008).
While he's done a good job batting lead-off for the Brewers, Hart has the type of power in his bat that could replace at least some of the production that will be lost from Fielder. He's also under contract with the Brewers for two more seasons, giving the team time to develop a future cornerstone at first base.
With the outfield depth on the Brewers and in their minor league system, moving Hart to first base wouldn't be the worst possible idea.
Brewer fans know Derrek Lee quite well. He spent six-and-a-half seasons manning first base for the Chicago Cubs and doing a ton of damage against Brewers' pitching.
Despite his age—he turned 36 in September—Lee is still an adequate defensive first baseman and hit 19 home runs this year in 113 games for Baltimore and Pittsburgh. He'll be on the free agent market this winter along with Pujols and Fielder.
Obviously Lee wouldn't be a long-term solution for the Brewers, but he could give them one or two more good seasons at the plate and in the field. He will also be a much cheaper option to help the Brewers financially the same way the previous three would be.
After Pujols and Fielder, Michael Cuddyer may command the most interest among first basemen this winter. He's coming off his first All-Star campaign and should still have several more productive seasons ahead of him.
For his career, he's hit .282 and belted 20 home runs three times. He can also bring plenty of postseason experience with him as he's been to the playoffs six times with the Twins.
While he's always been a versatile player for the Twins, the Brewers would be more than happy to give him a permanent position at first.
The future of Justin Morneau may prove to be the ultimate decision regarding Cuddyer's future. The Twins may pony up the money to keep him playing in Minnesota.
James Loney would be my personal choice to fill Fielder's shoes. Unfortunately, he's under Dodger control until after the 2012 season.
He could become available, however, if the Dodgers would shock the baseball world and somehow land Fielder. The Brewers don't have much left in their farm system but the Dodgers also need a lot of help, so a deal might be struck.
Loney is a career .288 hitter but lacks the power of Fielder. Despite the fact that he won't hit as many home runs as Fielder, he has driven in at least 88 runs in three of the last four seasons. He could replace Fielder as a left-handed bat in the order, fitting nicely between Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks.
No matter which route the Brewers take in replacing Fielder, it's highly doubtful that player will duplicate Fielder's production or off-the-field leadership. The Brewers will still have several pieces of a very good ball club, so it will be vital that GM Doug Melvin find the right piece to complement that core.
The Brewers will have some money to throw at a free agent, but they shouldn't spend money just for the sake of doing so. Going with a cheap option like Gamel and improving the club at shortstop and third base could come close to balancing out Fielder's departure.
Looking at the bigger picture, going with that option may be the best bet for the Brewers. After all, it was the trades that brought Greinke and Marcum to Milwaukee that vaulted them into the playoffs this year.
Keeping a very good rotation together should take priority over finding a replacement for Fielder.
To read more by Jesse Motiff, click here.