Brewers accept losing Fielder in free agency

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Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
— The Milwaukee Brewers had known since the spring of 2010 that they had very little chance of keeping Prince Fielder for the long term.

Trying to stave off Fielder’s free agency two years in advance, a delegation including team owner Mark Attanasio and general manager Doug Melvin met with Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras, in Los Angeles while the club was engaged in spring training in Phoenix.

Team officials never confirmed the numbers, but the Brewers made a proposal of five years and about $100 million. Not long afterward, Attanasio told Boras he probably could stretch it to six years and $120 million if that would close the deal.

Boras rejected those terms outright and the sides never negotiated again.

“The best chance we had to sign him was a couple of years ago,” Melvin said. “I don’t think it was that close.”

When Fielder’s free agency arrived after the 2011 season, the Brewers met again with Boras—first during general managers meetings in Milwaukee in November and again during the winter meetings in Dallas. It became more evident than ever that the Brewers wouldn’t be involved in the bidding.

“Scott said from Day 1 it was going to be $200 million,” Melvin said. “When you hear those kinds of numbers, we couldn’t get involved in that. All I can say is we had the feeling it was going to be very difficult to keep him.”

Just when it appeared that Boras and Fielder had no chance of reaching that financial stratosphere, the Detroit Tigers swooped in Tuesday with a stunning nine-year, $214 million offer. It was the fourth-largest deal in major-league history, at least giving the Brewers the peace of mind of knowing Fielder was far out of their reach.

Instead, the Brewers will get two picks in the 2012 June draft as compensation for losing Fielder, a Type A free agent. Detroit forfeits the 27th pick in the first round to Milwaukee, which also gets a supplemental pick after that round. The Brewers already held the No. 28 pick.

“We knew the highest pick we could get was No. 16 (the first 15 are protected),” Melvin said. “For a player like Prince, you’d like to get a higher pick.”

Though Melvin long ago had “moved on” and made plans without Fielder, he admitted it was a “somewhat sad feeling” upon getting the official news that the 27-year-old slugger had signed with Detroit.

“Prince was a huge part of turning our organization around,” said Melvin, who had not yet been named the Brewers’ GM when Fielder was taken in the first round of the 2002 draft.

“We benefited from it, and he benefited from it by going out on the free-agent market. We always talk about players going out and getting one big bite of the apple. He got one. That’s what free agency can do for a player like Prince.”

As it turned out, both finalists in the National League playoffs lost their top sluggers. Earlier in the winter, Albert Pujols left St. Louis to sign a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels.

“St. Louis lost their guy, but he was 32,” Melvin said. “We lost ours at 27.”

When Fielder and Boras went far into the off-season without a deal, rumors began circulating that the Brewers had offered a one-year deal, allowing the slugger to go back on the market next winter. Melvin said there were no such talks.

“I don’t know where that came from,” Melvin said. “There was no truth to it. He wouldn’t have signed a one-year deal anyway.”

The Brewers plan to give prospect Mat Gamel his chance to play first base this spring but also have talked to rightfielder Corey Hart about playing some games at his former position.

“I’ll give it a shot this spring and see what happens,” Hart said. “I’ll do whatever I can to help the team. I used to be pretty good over there so we’ll see how I look. It’s been awhile.”

As for losing Fielder, Hart said, “It’s good for him and his family. We all had given up hope that Prince would be back. We knew the team was going in a different direction. But I didn’t see (the Detroit deal) coming.”

Last updated: 7:15 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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