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Howard’s deal could force Brewers’ hand

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Phil Rogers
April 29, 2010

Gulp.


That was the sound emanating from Milwaukee on Tuesday, when the Phillies announced they are stinking rich. The twice-defending National League champions made that proclamation by signing first baseman Ryan Howard to a five-year, $125 million contract extension, moving quickly so Albert Pujols wouldn’t set the bar.


Brewers owner Mark Attanasio and general manager Doug Melvin must want to vomit.


That’s because the shrewd deal they put together for Prince Fielder two years ago ends after this season. He can’t go to free agency until after 2011, but the Brewers can’t wait that long to decide what they’re going to do with him.


Don’t be surprised if the homer-hitting first baseman is playing for the Red Sox or someone else by the end of July, maybe even the White Sox.


Attanasio would love to keep Fielder long term, but assuming he keeps hitting the way he did from 2007 to 2009 (an average of .286-33-123 with 95 walks), he will be in line for a bigger deal than Howard. At 26 in May, he’s 4 ½ years younger and as a five-plus arbitration guy he can compare numbers with anyone in the game next winter, including Pujols, Mark Teixeira and Howard. Then he can demand his own supersized long-term deal as a free agent.


Does it make sense for the Brewers to pay $25 million-plus a year to keep him? Probably not, considering three factors — they are 25th in the majors in revenue, according to Forbes; they have the equally productive Ryan Braun signed through 2014; and they have been only a .500 team the last couple of years thanks to a pitching shortage.


The Padres’ Adrian Gonzalez, yet another run-producing first baseman, has generated a ton of trade talk the last year, most of it coming out of Boston. But unlike Fielder, he’s signed to a team-friendly contract through 2011. It seems more likely Fielder, not Gonzalez, will be the biggest name available before the July 31 deadline.


Like the Red Sox, the White Sox have the parts to do a deal if they decide they’re not going to re-sign Paul Konerko.


What about Fielder to the White Sox for a package built around pitching and Triple-A first baseman Dayan Viciedo? John Danks certainly would get Melvin’s attention. Gavin Floyd might to a lesser degree, and both Daniel Hudson and Sergio Santos have a ton of value. Hudson gives the Sox the flexibility to deal a big-league starter, assuming he doesn’t have to be in the package himself.


It’s hard to see the Sox having the will to keep Fielder long term, however, which makes it a huge risk to give up young talent for 1 ½ seasons of his mashing. But what if the Brewers are interested in Alex Rios, who is signed through 2014 at a level just beyond what they have paid Fielder? Trading for a veteran is easier than signing a proven player through free agency.


If Rios went to the Brewers in the deal, the Sox might be able to sign Fielder to a Teixeira/Howard contract long term. After 2010, he would replace Konerko and Rios on the payroll, with Andruw Jones (if the Sox can keep him) or Jordan Danks in center.


Fielder to the White Sox is probably a long shot. But so is Fielder staying put.



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