Prince Fielder has looked downright kingly this year.
The 25-year old is hitting for average and power while playing top-notch defense at first base. Without a question, he is in the midst of a great season and makes a lethal one-two punch alongside slugging outfielder, Ryan Braun.
Fielder is currently on pace to set career highs in numerous statistical categories such as runs batted in (157), batting average (.295), on-base percentage (.421), hits (167) and walks (122). He is also on pace to finish with 41 homers, a number that would fall nine shy of his career high set in 2007, but would eclipse last year’s somewhat disappointing total of 34.
Despite all that, it would be in the Brewers best interest to trade Fielder now.
It may seem crazy to take a superior offensive force out of a lineup in the midst of a playoff run, but the Brewers have to look at the bigger picture when it comes to Fielder. They have been unable to lock him up long-term and with Scott Boras as his agent, there is a very good chance they won’t be able to.
This offseason they signed Fielder to a reasonable two-year, $18 million deal to buy out two years of arbitration. After the 2010 season, Fielder will still have one more year of arbitration before he is eligable for free agency. If his performance this year is any indication of what's to come, that final year of arbitration could cost the Brewers as much as both years of his current deal.
In addition to contract issues, the Brewers have to look at the team’s biggest needs in the present as well as the future.
If they are going to make the playoffs this season, pitching is the biggest need. The team is in dire need of a starter with Manny Parra’s recent exile to Triple-A and the inconsistency of everyone else in the rotation not-named Yovani Gallardo.
On paper, there is one team that seems to be an obvious match, the Los Angeles Angels.
As is always the case, the Angels are on the lookout for a power bat to anchor the middle of the lineup. With Vladimir Guerrero still on the mend—and in the final year of his contract—the Angels biggest power threat has been center fielder Torii Hunter, who leads the team with 16 long balls on the season.
Fielder—a native of nearby Ontario, California—would serve as an immediate power upgrade for a team that currently ranks 11th in the American League in home runs and eighth in runs batted in.
The Angels—at one time overstocked in young pitching—are now in bit of a tight spot with Kelvim Escobar’s return to the DL, Ervin Santana’s recent elbow issues, right-hander Shane Loux’s lengthy stay on the DL, and the untimely death of Nick Adenhart earlier this season.
The Angels have received good news in terms of Santana’s injury and he should return to the rotation after missing one start. Escobar figures to return in a week or two and will initially come out of the bullpen.
Down on the farm, the Angels have top prospects in Double-A who could ascend to the majors at any time. Right-handers Jordan Walden and Trevor Bell have both put up solid numbers this year, while 20-year-old lefty Trevor Reckling has looked stellar in stints with Rancho Cucamonga and Arkansas.
Right-hander Sean O’Sullivan—the fourth rated prospect in the Angels farm system—is making his major league debut against the Giants tonight and could very well stick in the rotation after spending time climbing the ladder in both Double and Triple-A this season.
This leaves the Angels in a position to trade one of their current starters to the Brewers in exchange for Fielder. Logically, the Brewers would probably target Santana, who is under contract through 2012 with a $13 million club option for 2013.
John Lackey is a free-agent after this season and the Angels figure to retain him if they can afford it as he is the ace of the staff. The other two rotation stalwarts, lefty Joe Saunders and right-hander Jered Weaver, are both under club control through 2012 or longer. Both are assumed to make significantly less than Santana over the same time period.
In addition to their already announced plans to resign Lackey, the Angels also have the coffers to pursue another starting pitcher in the offseason. After this season ends, the contracts of Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu, Vladimir Guerrero, Darren Oliver and Kelvin Escobar all come off the books.
As such, a package of Santana, a mid-level prospect with a high ceiling and the expiring contract of Chone Figgins, which would help cover the loss of Rickie Weeks at second base or the ineptitude of Bill Hall at third base, would seem to be a very fair deal for both sides.
This would allow the Brewers to infuse a legit speed threat and leadoff man in Figgins into their lineup, an element that has been sorely missed with Weeks out for the rest of the season.
Super prospect Mat Gamel could then take the frying-pan he calls a glove over to first base. From there, he could do less damage on the defensive side of things and could blossom into the monster offensive force he’s proven to be thus far in the minor leagues.
On the flip-side, it would give the Angels a legitimate power threat in the middle of the lineup, a very solid first baseman, and an exciting player that could become a franchise cornerstone for years to come.
On paper, the trade makes perfect sense. In reality, it is very questionable as to whether Milwaukee is ready to trade one of the faces of the franchise or whether the Angels would be willing to part with a potential ace.
As the trade deadline nears, both Milwaukee and Los Angeles figure to be looking for upgrades and it is quite possible they could be a match made in heaven.