MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Fielder can leave Milwaukee with no regrets

Bauman: Fielder gave Brewers his all

When Prince Fielder signs a long and lucrative contract with a team other than the Brewers, there should not be five seconds worth of animosity directed toward him by fans of the Milwaukee nine.

Unless, of course, Fielder signs with the Chicago Cubs, in which case a longstanding rivalry will guarantee that there will be a surplus of animosity for this generation of Wisconsinites and maybe the children as well. OK, also the grandchildren.

Apart from that, no, Fielder's move to a team from a larger media market and his inevitable payday should not be held against him by the Milwaukee faithful. In the last six years, he gave the Brewers everything he had. This is one of the main reasons, as the leading free agent still on the market this offseason, he can ask for one of the game's largest contracts. The other primary reasons are all that power, and the fact that his agent is Scott Boras.

If you saw Fielder play, you saw more than the majestic home runs. You saw him run out every ground ball, you saw him run out every pop up, every fly ball. He never stopped hustling and he played practically every inning. Over his six years with the Brewers, Fielder played in an average of 160 games per year.

This was telling, because one of the initial concerns about Fielder was that his rather generous body type would lead to injuries. Not so far.

When he was a first-round Draft choice of the Brewers in 2002, in some quarters that concern was voiced. But Jack Zduriencik, then scouting director for the Brewers, was not swayed from his belief that Fielder would be a major run-producer at the Major League level.

Zduriencik was right. And perhaps this connection with Fielder leads to many reports that the Seattle Mariners are in hot pursuit of Fielder now. Zduriencik is the Mariners' general manager and the connection is apparent. But Zduriencik has been consistent in his carefully chosen remarks on this topic, saying that the Mariners have an interest in Fielder, but also have a "threshold" of how far the club can go in terms of both money and length of contract.

There is no history of Boras clients, at the time of their free-agent windfalls, taking anything other than top dollar. Prince Fielder did not hire Scott Boras so that he could re-sign in Milwaukee for far less than market value. Unless that "threshold" in Seattle is sky-high, that probably will not be Fielder's free-agent destination.

Rumors about Fielder's free-agent adventures are rampant, and many of them concern the Cubs, newly revived in the front office with the advent of the Theo Epstein administration. The Cubs could make an obvious splash by signing Fielder. But there is an opposite school of thought, that at this very early juncture in the retooling of this franchise, the signing of Fielder would be premature. If you add Fielder to the current Cubs roster do the North Siders win the NL Central in 2012? No, they don't.

The best destination for Fielder would be the American League, because there, eventually he could become a designated hitter. He has worked hard on his defense and he has improved in the field, but he still isn't up to average at first base. If he gets a contract with the kind of length he wants, how will he be as a 35-year old first baseman?

This pursuit of mega-millions is hindered by the fact that two of the biggest spenders, the Yankees and the Red Sox, are covered at first base for years to come, and they don't have openings at DH, either. But of the available suitors, the best fit looks like the Texas Rangers. They have the financial wherewithal. They play in a hitter-friendly park. They could actually use an offensive upgrade at first base. Later, in a post-Michael Young era, maybe Fielder could become their regular DH. It all makes sense.

How much is Fielder actually worth, given the fact that Albert Pujols got $254 million over 10 years from the Angels? Fielder is no Pujols as an overall player, but then, neither is anybody else. On Fielder's side of the argument, he is only 27, and all that concern about his weight has so far yielded no negative results. He is worth whatever his agent can get for him, and in that case he is in the best of hands.

In a more nearly perfect world, Fielder would remain in Milwaukee, with the organization that drafted him, nurtured him, and this year saw the payoff for its patience and diligence with its first division title in 29 years. Now, just as success has been attained, one of the core performers on this team hits the road for vast riches elsewhere.

Baseball's economic playing field has been leveled somewhat and the proof is that the Brewers, playing in baseball's smallest media market can win a division and advance in the postseason. But the economic playing field is not completely level and that is why a player of Fielder's status, typically moves onward and upward, at least in terms of finances.

There may be an occasional Cliff Lee who leaves money on the table to sign with the Phillies, or, for that matter, a Ryan Braun, who signs an under-market deal to remain in Milwaukee. But in the part of baseball that is all business, the vast majority of people become creatures of the bottom line. And why should baseball players be different than the rest of society in this regard? When Prince Fielder inevitably leaves Milwaukee, he can be missed, but he doesn't have to be blamed.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.