Free agency starts with Albert Pujols this offseason. His prolific bat and the numbers he's produced over his career are going to land him a deal around or exceeding $200 million. There's lots of empirical evidence to suggest that Pujols will remain with the St. Louis Cardinals.
The same can't be said of Milwaukee Brewers slugger Prince Fielder. Fielder is also a free agent, also a power hitting first baseman and also looking to receive a contract in the $150 million to $200 million range. Unlike Pujols, though, there is ample evidence to suggest he'll be leaving the city in which he's played his entire seven-year career.
Where will he go? Could he still stay in Milwaukee? He could, but there are other potential destinations as well. Here are the seven most likely teams in no particular order.
There are two key things that a team that wishes to acquire Fielder will need. One is money to spend and the other is an opening at the first base position. The Rangers definitely have one—the money. The first base opening may be a touch debatable. More importantly, the need to acquire offense in Texas is not going to be priority No. 1.
Sometimes teams don't always spend on what they need, though. For the Texas Rangers, the need is pitching but there isn't that much pitching on the open market this season. Does it make more sense to overpay on a starting pitcher or does it make more sense to secure one of baseball's top offensive threats for the next several years?
That's a question that Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan will be faced with this offseason. Michael Young, a professional hitter, made a move from third base to first base in order to make space for Gold Glove caliber third baseman Adrian Beltre last offseason. Would he consider becoming a DH in advance of the 2012 season?
With top starting pitcher C.J. Wilson a free agent, the No. 1 priority will be resigning him. He could still leave, though, and if he does, there is no free agent pitcher on the market for the Rangers to sign who could fill WIlson's shoes. Perhaps, then, the Rangers would choose to spend on a big bat and allow prospects to try and fill in the rotation? The Rangers could also use the Fielder acquisition to allow them to deal other hitting prospects for pitcher.
Texas might not be the most likely destination of Fielder but it's a definite possibility.
The San Francisco Giants were a somewhat unexpected World Series party crasher in 2010. Most baseball experts felt that the pitching was top notch but the offense wouldn't be enough to win a ring. They were wrong in 2010 but in 2011 they were right.
Once budding superstar catcher Buster Posey was lost for the season following a brutal injury sustained in a home plate collision in late May, the team was never able to come together offensively and would end up not even making a return to baseball's postseason.
Signing Fielder could change all of that instantly.
Pablo Sandoval led the 2011 San Francisco Giants in home runs with 23. Prince Fielder hit 38. Sandoval also led the team in runs batted in with 70 while Fielder checked in with 120. First baseman Aubrey Huff hit only .246 last season with an OPS of .676. Fielder meanwhile hit .299 with an ops of .981.
To say that the San Francisco Giants would benefit from adding a bat such as Fielder's would be an understatement. To think that they won't be in the running for his services would be naive.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are officially up for sale. There's going to be a new owner and whoever that owner is will want to immediately make a headline grabbing deal to usher in a new era in the long storied history of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Signing Fielder would qualify as a big deal.
In spite of a nightmarish 2011 for the Dodgers which saw the franchise plagued by off-field scandals as well as financial bankruptcy the on-field product is actually not that bad. One could make a solid argument that the National League's best pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, and best hitter, Matt Kemp, are already wearing Dodger Blue.
The Dodgers finished 2011 with a record of just 82-79, not good, but not bad when one considers the litany of controversies that engulfed the once proud franchise. In a National League West that doesn't feature a true powerhouse team entering 2012, the Dodgers not only have room to improve, they have room to made improvements that could actually result in a postseason appearance.
Fielder would qualify as a major improvement. His bat would add more power to the middle of a Dodger lineup that already features Kemp, who nearly won the Triple Crown in 2011. Additionally, it would immediately ingratiate the new owner to the Dodger faithful who are desperate to see both the immediate and long term fortunes of the team improve.
"I'm signed for this year, but being real about it, it is probably the last year.”—Fielder said in September.
That doesn't sound very positive with regards to a return to Milwaukee, does it?
He's not gone yet, though. He could conceivably re-up with the Brewers even after all the posturing and all the offers are submitted by other ball clubs that wish to acquire Fielder. At the end of the day it does appear that Fielder enjoys playing in Milwaukee and Milwaukee enjoys having Fielder. This doesn't appear to be a case of a player wanting out. It does seem like Fielder wants a huge contract and Milwaukee won't be able to afford him but one never knows.
If, when all the potential long term deals are on the table and the offer from Milwaukee is not far off from the other competing offers, then Fielder could be back with the Brew Crew in 2012 and beyond?
Likely? Probably not. Possible? Yes.
Signing Fielder to come to Los Angeles would provide a huge boost for a new owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. It could be the final piece in a World Series puzzle for the Los Angeles Angels.
Already armed with one of baseball's best pitching staffs the Angels could use some firepower. This is a team with some dynamic young players in Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos. The Angels also have some experienced veterans in Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells. A slugger in his prime might provide the boost to get the Angels over the top.
Adding Fielder would also allow the Angels to trade either Kendry Morales, who has been injured since early in the 2010 season, or his 2011 replacement Mark Trumbo. One would likely remain with the Angels as their designated hitter. The other could be made part of a deal to add depth in other places in the Angels' roster.
The Angels are generally active in the free agent market. Last season, they didn't make a splash when they were beat out on the bidding for Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre. This season it wouldn't surprise anyone if they made a big free agent acquisition, and if that acquisition is named Fielder, that wouldn't be a surprise either.
To say it's already been an active offseason on the north side of Chicago would be an understatement.
A new president of baseball operations—former Boston Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein. A new general manager in Jed Hoyer and a new manager to come.
The Chicago Cubs haven't even begun the process of dealing with the actual active roster of baseball players.
Last season's first baseman, Carlos Pena, with his low batting average and high strikeout totals is not a great fit into incoming President Theo Epstein's model for a successful offense. He's also a free agent. The Cubs have a first base opening, a need to add offense to their lineup, money to spend, and an aggressive new hierarchy in the front office.
They will be part of the Albert Pujols sweepstakes, but if he ends up staying St. Louis as many expect him to, they will turn their attention to Fielder. If Fielder is playing for the Cubs next season, it won't be huge surprise.
If—and that’s a big if—if Pujols were to decide to part ways with the 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals in search of free agent riches in another city it would be a crushing blow to Cardinal fans.
It would also leave the Cardinals with a fair amount of money to spend, an opening at first base, and an opportunity for someone to play in one of the great baseball cities in America on a mission to become baseball's first repeat World Series Champs since the 1999-2000 New York Yankees.
There would be a toxic mix of anger and sadness in St. Louis if Pujols did depart. Some fans would blame Pujols, and some would blame ownership. The only real option for the team though would be to move on and make every effort possible to replace what would seem to be an impossible void to fill.
The best option would be to land Fielder. By removing him from Milwaukee, St. Louis instantly weakens the defending National League Central champions. By adding him, they instantly replace a fairly high portion of the production provided by Pujols.
Even though Pujols is a better all-around baseball player, he's also nearly five years older than Fielder.Fielder could be as close to an adequate replacement for Pujols as anyone in St. Louis could hope to find even though that no one wants to think about that right now.