At the start of last season the Milwaukee Brewers signed Ryan Braun to the biggest contract in franchise history. The confidence among club executives and fans was high that the team had made the right choice in offering Braun, and not anyone else, a contract of the highest caliber.
At the end of two seasons I wonder if this same group of people is willing to reconsider its position.
I don't question the fact that Braun is an outstanding player with amazing potential. He is among the best sluggers in the game and a year masked by the abysmal performance of the Brewers does nothing to disprove this premise.
However, if one player deserved a large contract at the beginning of 2008, it was Prince Fielder.
At a time when the state of Wisconsin is wondering if the Green Bay Packers might be for real this season, few people are taking notice of the showcase Prince Fielder has put up over the past few months.
At the beginning of the season this was Braun's team.
Three and a half months, 39 homeruns, and 126 RBIs later, it is clear that this is in fact Prince Fielder's team.
The Brewers have been a sinking ship this year after making the playoffs in 2008. Many people had low expectations but even they were not predicting that the Brewers pitching staff would be the worst in baseball.
Through bad and worse Prince was the lone star that stayed quiet but played every game like it was his last.
Do not get me wrong. I wish the Brewers could keep both Braun and Fielder for years, but if you are the smallest market in baseball such hopes are as unjustified as are the hopes that the Brewers could contend with their current pitching staff.
After what transpired with JJ Hardy, one has to wonder if it is only a matter of time before the current homegrown young stars of the Brewers start shutting the door in the face of the franchise one after another.
Braun went public with his discontent over the lack of enough good pitchers on the starting rotation for Milwaukee earlier this season while Prince simply continued to have fun on the field enjoying the little things, like the "bomb" celebration after his walk-off hit a few days ago.
Although the clubhouse stayed mum after Braun's remarks, one has to wonder how well his teammates accepted his comments considering he had been critical of the team's performance in the past.
It is difficult to gauge which slugger will have a better career. But one thing that is easy to see is that Braun was given a leash longer than the one Fielder received.
One year after his 50 homeruns season the expectations for the young Milwaukee first baseman were unreasonably high. Hitting 34 homeruns was viewed as a down year for Prince.
At the same time, Braun hit only three additional long balls last year and has had ten less up to date in 2009. So then why were the comments addressed at Fielder not repeated for Braun?
Is it because, like it or not, Braun has been the chosen one to be the face of this franchise for years to come and fans find it compelling to rally behind him?
If I were Doug Melvin, my biggest concern this offseason would be Fielder's future. The organization needs to put the best possible effort in extending Prince for a few more seasons.
If unsuccessful the time for trading Prince is now. The Brewers need pitching and they will receive nothing less than an ace for their first baseman. Also, fans like me will finally be at peace with the fact that the true leader of the team is not the one everyone else gives credit to.
Until Prince Fielder leaves Milwaukee, Ryan Braun will never be the sheriff in town. Melvin needs to either take the monkey off his back by trading Fielder or he needs to hand him the keys to the car by signing him to a long-term deal.
Brace yourselves Brewers fans. This offseason promises to be the most dynamic in years.
Boris Yovchev is a Milwaukee Brewers Featured Columnist for the Bleacher Report and a supporter of the children's story "A Glove of Their Own."
"A Glove of Their Own" is the award winning children's story that teaches Pay It Forward through baseball and is being supported by Louisville Slugger, International Baseball Federation, iFungo, Rawlings, Modells, as well as players and coaches including Jason Grilli, Joe Torre, Luis Tiant, Dick Drago, Ken Griffey, Craig Biggio, and Sean Casey.
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