The Prince has come and gone.
Like CC Sabathia three years ago, Prince Fielder is bound to depart Milwaukee—for better or for worse.
Fielder is one of baseball's most prolific sluggers and has earned the right to a big time contract that will secure his family's future for many generations.
Unfortunately, that leaves the 2011 NL Central Champion Brewers with a major hole at first base—one they have not had since Fielder's debut in 2005.
Milwaukee already faces several question marks heading into 2012. What will the new bullpen look like without Francisco Rodriguez? Who will play first base and third base? Is Shaun Marcum healthy?
The one that causes the most concern, however, is the inevitable departure of Prince Fielder.
It's now time to play general manager and brainstorm about the most realistic options for replacing the Prince in Milwaukee.
There's a good chance that James Loney will be non-tendered in L.A.
Loney came up as the tagged "first baseman of the future" for the Dodgers. Loney does play brilliant defense, but has not lived up to the batting champion expectations LA had for him. Loney never hit for Prince-like power, but neither did Rod Carew.
If Loney does get let go in Dodger town, he'd be a very interesting pickup for the Brewers. Loney could be had at a fraction of Prince's price, plays great defense—which is a focus for the Brewers following an abysmal defensive showing in this postseason—and still has the potential to hit .300.
There's a reason he's still in the system and I think this is the very reason why.
Gamel has been raking in the minor leagues for over six years now. The Brewers sent off prospects like Lorenzo Cain, Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Jake Odorizzi and Brett Lawrie among others to acquire big name players like Sabathia, Marcum and Zack Greinke.
But they kept Mat Gamel all this time.
He has been the Fielder insurance plan for some time now and this very well could be his shot. Gamel wil turn 27 midway through the 2012 campaign, so his audition may not be long—especially considering his other short stints at the big show were rather underwhelming (.222/.309/.374 in 84 major league games).
A somewhat controversial choice would be D-Lee.
Lee, better known for his seasons clubbing the Brewers while wearing a Cubs uniform, could make sense in Milwaukee. He is a shadow of his 2005 edition in which he smashed 46 bombs, but he'd be a sufficient option for a year or two. Following his trade out of Baltimore, Lee had a renaissance second half with Pittsburgh (.337/.398/.584). Problem was, his second half lasted only 28 games as he went down with an injury.
Lee can still flash the leather at first base—the major question is whether or not he can still hit.
Milwaukee fans won't be jumping for joy seeing this former Brewers' name.
If you Google search "career journeyman," you're bound to find Russell Branyan somewhere on the first page.
However, desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Brew Crew needs a power hitting first baseman. Branyan had one sleepless season in Seattle. The before and after of that season have been mighty sleep worthy as well.
Branyan probably has Prince Fielder caliber power—problem is, he also has Mark Reynolds caliber whiff power. He has 1118 strikeouts in 2934 career at-bats—that's about 40 percent of the time.
"Russell the Muscle" could become a last resort, absolute 'worst-case scenario' plan.
Michael Cuddyer is a great fit for Milwaukee.
The Brewers and willing-to-invest owner Mark Attanasio would likely be able to afford Cuddyer's services. Cuddyer offers many positives—he can hit for average, power, and provides a great amount of versatility.
Over the last few seasons, Cuddyer has played every infield position except shortstop and the corner outfield spots as well. His versatility even applies at the mound—that is a picture of 2011 All-Star Cuddyer pitching in a blowout game.
Cuddyer would be a great fit in Milwaukee and an affordable replacement for Prince Fielder.
Carlos Pena, as depicted in the new movie "Moneyball," has provided his hitting clinic for many teams. By the time his career is over, Pena may be second only to Arthur Rhodes in terms of the amount of different major league jerseys he has worn.
Pena in Milwaukee has some substance. He's a free agent, plays good defense at first base, and has plenty of power.
Pena is in no shape or form a Prince Fielder type player. But other than Albert Pujols, there aren't many of those on the market. Pena does offer some upside, although his strikeout rate and batting average leave a lot to be desired.
On the plus side, Pena played in the NL Central this past season, so he knows what to expect and could be had for a reasonable price.
The absurd ideas continue to build, but let's face it—sometimes you've got to get creative.
LaPorta, formerly the Brewers' 2007 first-round pick and top prospect, had a great minor league career. He was shipped off to Cleveland during the 2008 playoff run to acquire CC Sabathia and was supposed to bloom into a slugging first baseman for the Indians.
Four years gives us enough time to note that he hasn't reached that potential—yet.
LaPorta, only 26, still has plenty of upside. He has recently fallen in the depth charts in Cleveland and there's a chance he could be shipped out of town. LaPorta would come at the cheapest of prices and he may still prove to be worthy of that first round selection from years ago.
Casey Kotchman had a great season in Tampa Bay. He hit .306 and played gold glove caliber first base.
Kotchman is much like James Loney—he'll pick it and hit for a solid average—but lacks in the power department.
He also does not have a strong major league track record. Kotchman was a highly touted minor league prospect in Anahiem, shipped to Atlanta in the Mark Teixeira deal, landed in Boston for about a month, signed in Seattle in '10, then played in Tampa Bay last season.
Co-Jack had some solid seasons in the desert before being shipped to Oakland last season.
Still only 29, Jackson comes with some upside. While in Arizona, Jackson was primarily a first baseman with a great ability to hit to the opposite field. He could also play the corner outfield spots when needed.
Jackson is a contact hitter who rarely strikes out. He has the ability to hit .285 and up as he did for the Diamondbacks from 2006-2008.
Jackson is a free agent and may be worth a flyer and a shot at first base come 2012.
You almost feel that Doug Melvin is in a similar situation as Billy Beane was in 2002.
Spoiler Alert: If you haven't seen "Moneyball" yet—please close this tab, swiftly drive to the nearest movie theater in your area and view. Then, come back to this article and continue reading.
Beane had the task of replacing contemporary superstar Jason Giambi, who was the American League MVP and heading for his pay-day in New York.
To replace his stud first baseman, Beane got creative and brought in a former catcher in Scott Hatteberg, who had never played first base before (though he could hit and get on base).
Could Melvin be as lucky? Perhaps he acquires a solid hitter and shifts him to first base. Perhaps, as many have speculated, former minor league first baseman Corey Hart moves there and the Brewers sign an outfielder (say, a Grady Sizemore or somebody with some upside).
Lets remain optimistic—but at the same time, realistic—and watch what the Brewers do to fill the departure of a great franchise star.