A few years ago, the Milwaukee Brewers inked this young guy named Ryan Braun to a $45 million dollar contract. At the time, it was the largest contract awarded in Brewers history. Even though Braun wasn't going to reach free agency anytime soon, the Brewers took another step to making sure Braun stays with the Brew Crew for the duration of his career. In a new record deal handed down by the Brewers, Braun has been given a 5 year, $105 million dollar extension that will keep him in Milwaukee through the 2020 season, which is right about the time the Hebrew Hammer turns 37.
This personally comes as a surprise because, not only was Braun under contract through 2015, but the Brewers are becoming increasingly less optimistic in their ongoing negotiations to extend Prince Fielder. Because Fielder is reportedly looking for more money than Milwaukee has to offer, baseball people have reached the consensus that Fielder is walking out the door at the end of the season. To me, this is why it is a little curious they decided to announce the Braun extension when they currently have more pressing short term priorities, although to be fair if anyone in the Milwaukee organization deserves the contract it's Ryan Braun. Now 27, the 5-year pro is hitting at a career clip of .308/.367/.557 with 133 homers and 432 RBI. Braun has also been a good source of speed, as he's never failed to reach double digit stolen base totals and in 2009 even stole 20.
So for Brewers fans, it's great news that one of their most talented players since Robin Yount is locked up for the next 9 seasons. However, what does this mean for Fielder, the estranged slugger? Given the shape of Milwaukee's roster, this is a team that should by all means be in the thick of the playoff race and it is quite obviously built in a win-now mode. So given that Fielder is almost certainly leaving and that this should be a good team, what should the Brewers do? They could keep him on board for a playoff run, one last hurrah in the fan-favorite's Milwaukee career. However, if I'm GM Doug Melvin, the return from a potential Fielder trade would be too great for me to resist. Boston gave up a great deal in prospects Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, and Rey Fuentes to get a bona fide slugger in Adrian Gonzalez, and for Fielder, a career .281/.386/.536 hitter with 195 home runs and a .922 OPS to his name, the return wouldn't be very dissimilar. Furthermore, the Brewers also gave up some nice talent in Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain to get Zack Greinke, but if they traded Fielder they would more than make up for the loss.
With Escobar out of the organization, the Brewers could use a long-term upgrade at shortstop over Yuniesky Betancourt. Nyjer Morgan played well before hurting himself, but is still unproven. With Morgan and Corey Hart out of commission, the Brewers are forced to field a starting lineup with Carlos Gomez and Mark Kotsay. The return of Hart will fix part of the problem, but they can still do much better than the Gomez/Morgan combo. And obviously, since Fielder is a first baseman, the Brewers would probably like to get a first baseman back in a trade. However, the Brewers may be confident in trying Mat Gamel and Casey McGehee at the corners, so first base may not be a necessity. Randy Wolf won't be around forever, so perhaps the Brewers could still be looking for a pitcher. At the very least, with aces in Greinke, Gallardo, and Marcum, the Brewers won't have the pressure of trying to get major league ready pitching.
Could the Brewers flip Fielder at the deadline for a shortstop, outfielder, and a first baseman? If the team is doing very well, they probably won't risk trading away one of their stars, however if they were to do so it could/should lead to several playoff appearances in the next few years. I personally feel like the Los Angeles Angels could be a potential match. Even after eating Vernon Wells' contract, they're probably going to be looking to spend money on improving their team after missing out on Adrian Beltre and Carl Crawford. Given Kendrys Morales' recent injury history, would trading for Fielder and making one of the two DH be out of the question? I don't think so. And nor do I think the Brewers would be able to say no to an offer of Peter Bourjous (multi-tool center fielder), Jean Segura (excellent hitter at second base, though it has been suggested he'd be better at shortstop), and Mark Trumbo (powerful but strikeout-prone first baseman). Obviously this is just fun speculation because it's not even known whether or not the Brewers plan on trading Fielder or if the Angels plan on trying to get Fielder. But it's a dilemma that is going to burden the Brew Crew this summer and I don't think it would necessarily hurt their chances this year if they sent off Fielder for the right trade package. Strengthening my case, I think the Ryan Braun extension is the nail in the coffin for Fielder's career in Milwaukee.