One big difference between Mauer and Fielder could actually work in the Brewers' favor. Mauer is one of baseball's rare premium catchers, and as such he might have been the most highly sought free agent on next winter's market. Fielder, for all of his offensive might, is a first baseman, and there are simply more productive players to be had at that position.Many of them could hit the open market at the same time as Fielder, another reason that his situation is different than Mauer's. Fielder, the Cardinals' Albert Pujols, the Phillies' Ryan Howard, the Padres' Adrian Gonzalez and the Astros' Lance Berkman are all on a path to reach free agency after the 2011 season, a factor that probably works in teams' favor as they negotiate extensions. Fielder is the youngest player in that group but he could nonetheless encounter a flooded market. The list of suitors that could afford a premium free agent like Fielder would already be relatively short, and he would not be able to count on the Yankees because they are set with Mark Teixeira. Compare that to Mauer, who would have hit free agency just as the Red Sox and perhaps the Yankees needed a starting catcher. And that brings us to another important difference: Mauer was entering his contract year while Fielder is still Brewers property for two more seasons. He's already signed for 2010 at $10.5 million, and will be arbitration-eligible for one more year before hitting free agency in the winter of 2011-12. That is a huge distinction, as Melvin was quick to point out. It's the reason that Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio earlier this spring described the team's talks with Fielder as a "discussion" and not a negotiation. Braun, for his part, is not sure how the Fielder situation will play out. "I have no idea," Braun said. "I think they're just starting to talk, and who knows? It's irrelevant right now because we own his rights for two more years. We would all love to stay together, because we're friends and we hang out and we obviously help each other as baseball players. "But you also have to realize that some of the guys here now won't be here three or four years from now. We're realizing that now, because this is the first year that some of the core guys aren't here any more. Bill Hall is gone. J.J. [Hardy] is in Minnesota. Even Cam [Mike Cameron], who was here a relatively short time but was a real presence. It makes you appreciate the time you get to spend together." How much longer they stay together remains to be seen. The Twins got their answer on Monday night when Mauer sealed his deal, leaving Brewers fans to wonder, "If they can do it, why can't we?" "I'm just not going to comment on it," Melvin said. "Prince has to play baseball and we have to put a team together. That's all there is to it at this time."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.