Following the Brewers defeat in the National League Championship Series, team owner Mark Attanasio vowed that the Brewers would be “participating in the sweepstakes” for All-Star first baseman Prince Fielder, who has entered the free agent market this season after six full seasons as the Milwaukee Brewers’ first baseman.
Prince Fielder has been everything that the Brewers hoped he would be when they drafted him with their first pick in the 2002 draft. Critics claimed that Fielder (mainly because of his weight) would never become an effective every-day first baseman, but Prince proved them wrong, earning two National League Silver Sluggers, three All-Star selections, five straight 30-homer seasons, and the distinction of becoming the youngest player to ever hit 50 home runs in a season.
Before Prince suited up as a Brewer, the team hadn’t had a winning season since 1992; since he entered the heart of the order, they have made the playoffs twice—something that seemed in possible when he was drafted in the middle of a 106-loss season.
At just 27 years old, Prince Fielder has done pretty much everything imaginable to secure himself a long-term, nine-figure deal. The Milwaukee Brewers, however, should thank Prince for his hard work and dedication to the team, and pursue another star this offseason: former Mets All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes. Here’s why:
Prince Fielder is an odds-on favorite to out-perform Jose Reyes in terms of offensive production in upcoming years.
But when building a roster, placement in the MVP voting is hardly relevant.
Going off of the 2011 roster, Jose Reyes wouldn’t replace Prince Fielder so much as he would replace former Brewers shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt. And Fielder wouldn’t be replaced by Reyes, but rather long-time prospect Mat Gamel.
Mat Gamel won’t come close to matching Prince’s production, but he is coming off of back-to-back solid years at Triple-A, hitting .309/.387/.511 for the Nashville Sounds in 2010 and .310/.372/.540 in 2011. An inability to field the hot corner kept him in the minors, but with Prince out of the picture, he can finally bring his bat to the big leagues, full-time.
Jose Reyes, meanwhile, would represent an enormous upgrade over Yuniesky Betancourt who put up a pathetic .271 on-base percentage last year and is widely accepted as one of the very worst players in baseball. Reyes won the batting crown in 2011 (albeit through questionable means), has stolen 30 or more bases six times, and is known for solid defense up the middle. In short, he’s everything Yuni isn’t.
Neither Gamel nor Reyes will replace the production of Fielder—but combined, they should replace and even exceed the aggregate production of Fielder and Betancourt.
Projections have Prince Fielder making at least $20-25 million per year on whatever his new contract ends up becoming. A small-market team, the Brewers must be weary of committing too much of their payroll to a single player.
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin knows this, having seen his former owner in Texas, Tom Hicks, unilaterally commit well over a quarter of the Rangers payroll to one player, Alex Rodriguez. Jose Reyes—who made $4.5 million less than Prince Fielder in 2011—will probably be looking at a new contract in the range of 15-18 million dollars per year, limited somewhat by his injury past (an issue Prince Fielder doesn’t have, missing just 12 games in six seasons).
While this certainly isn’t cheap, it’s certainly manageable for the Brewers.
In 2011, the Brewers spent $15.5 million on Fielder, and $4 million on shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt. In theory, that means that $19.5 million can be spent on those two positions; with Fielder’s heir apparent, Mat Gamel, set to make the league minimum salary in 2011, this means that the Brewers have around $19 million per year to theoretically spend on Jose Reyes (assuming no major additions elsewhere).
Prince Fielder is looking at up to an eight-year deal this offseason. If he gets it, wonderful—he’s done absolutely everything to earn it.
With the big money set to kick in on MVP candidate Ryan Braun in 2016, the Brewers need to be thinking about shorter term deals while their superstar is still a bargain.
Jose Reyes’s injury issues certainly make him a huge potential risk, but they also reduce his likely contract length to around four or five years, a far less overwhelming commitment than what Prince Fielder will command—and a doable arrangement for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Ever since the departure of Paul “The Ignitor” Molitor, the Brewers have been searching for a true leadoff man, who can reach base at a decent clip and utilize his speed ahead of the big boppers. They’ve gotten solid individual seasons out of Fernando Vina (1998) and Scott Podsednik (2003), but for the most part, a conventional leadoff man has been missing.
Jose Reyes not only solves that problem, but he enables Ron Roenicke to move the two power hitters who set the table in 2011—Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks—down to a more natural spot at the heart of the order to protect Ryan Braun—and make pitchers pay for pitching around the Brewers sluggers slugger without fear of Fielder-esque retribution.
Despite winning the National League Central crown in 2011, the Brewers infield featured minus fielders at all four infield positions. Prince Fielder did a lot for the team, but no one was going to mistake him for Keith Hernandez with the glove. Meanwhile, Betancourt demonstrated lackluster range and made a pair of costly errors in the NLCS against the Cardinals.
Jose Reyes represents a significant upgrade at the most important infield position, and while Mat Gamel has had his defensive struggles at third, he has greater mobility than Fielder and will likely represent an upgrade as well, once he has gained experience at first base.