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Brewers should deal power for pitching
Prince Fielder led the National League in RBIs in 2009.
Corey Hart is almost doing the same right now.
And the Brewers should try to trade both before Opening Day 2011.
Yes, a major shakeup is needed in Milwaukee. The standings tell us that much. The Brewers entered play Tuesday with 29 wins — only one more than the Mariners and Diamondbacks, for whom trade machinations are fast approaching.
Milwaukee is not going to win the National League Central. That is obvious. Even after beating the Twins on Tuesday, the Brewers’ deficit is nine games.
I know of one clueless sportswriter who did not see this coming.
Yes, I was a charter member of the Brewers’ 2010 bandwagon but have since sold my shares. I figured an improved pitching staff would propel Milwaukee to a division title. I was off, by a margin that can only be described as Suppan-esque. The Brewers’ team ERA is 5.05.
Fortunately, a heinous lack of foresight won’t prevent me from rendering an opinion on what general manager Doug Melvin should do next.
It’s obvious, really: The Brewers’ pitching is in such a sorry state — including the minor-league system — that the only proper course of action is to trade Hart and Fielder for arms, arms and more arms.
How real is the possibility of change? I asked Fielder on Tuesday if he had a gut feeling as to whether he would be a Brewer on Aug. 1 — one day post-deadline.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I have no idea. I’m just coming out every day, ready to play.”
Doesn’t sound like he’s received assurances from above, does it?
Before we go further, we must eliminate the perception that the Brewers’ lineup is a juggernaut that only a fool would take apart.
An average of 4.8 runs is good, not great. Take away two April drubbings of the doormat Pirates, and that figure drops to a middling 4.4.
The Brewers have been shut out seven times this season, tied for second-most in the National League. They are overly reliant on the home run and can struggle with situational hitting. It’s an all-or-nothing outfit.
Let’s not forget why the ’08 Brewers made the franchise’s lone postseason appearance since 1982: An average lineup complemented Ben Sheets and later CC Sabathia, not the other way around.
So, as I was saying: It’s time to trade Corey Hart.
He’s leading the NL with 18 home runs, and I’m quite confident his value will never be higher. Not long ago, there were real questions about whether Hart would have a role on this team, period. He had pedestrian numbers last year, followed by a horrible spring.
Hart started only one of the team’s first four games. Now, he’s a star again.
If this were an infomercial, ACT NOW! would be flashing on your screen.
“Funny game,” Hart said Tuesday. “(You go from) feeling like the team doesn’t believe in you to things turning around pretty good.
“It’s spring training. It’s stupid. It’s not like it matters. You’re not supposed to lose your job because of spring training. I took that as, ‘I lost my job because they thought I had a bad spring.’ So, I worked to get back to where I am.”
Hart was an All-Star in 2008 — and might be one again next month. But he’s not a franchise hitter. He’s more of a help-you-win-the-division hitter. Like Jeff Conine, without the peripatetic career.
And that sort of player is very popular in July. Contenders are about to put out the APB for One More Bat. Hart matches the description.
Imagine how much better the Braves’ lineup would be with Hart in left field, rather than the committee of Eric Hinske, Melky Cabrera and Omar Infante. (And we know Atlanta has the high-end pitching to entice the Brewers.)
The 28-year-old would also be a nice upgrade for the Red Sox, Padres, Mets or Rays — all of whom are dealing with lagging production in an outfield corner.
“I know, obviously, I could be the victim of a trade,” Hart said. “But hopefully I’m playing well enough to where they want to keep me here. I like being here. I like being part of this city. It would be tough, because I’ve been here for 10 years.”
Hart won’t be eligible for free agency until after next season. So, this isn’t Melvin’s last chance to trade him. But it is his best.
Fielder presents a very different case — albeit one that still needs to be explored in the weeks ahead.
Like Hart, Fielder is on track to be a free agent after the ’11 season. Unlike Hart, his value has declined since Opening Day.
And Prince is represented by one Scott Boras. I don't need to tell you what that means for his chances of re-upping.
Fielder has a .453 slugging percentage this season. That is the lowest mark in a major-league career that began in 2005. Not the sort of thing that stimulates interest — particularly when attached to a $10.5 million salary, with another arbitration raise to come in 2011.
Unless Fielder starts hitting soon, Melvin will have little choice but to keep him through the end of the season, because there is absolutely no reason to sell low on such a talented player. And right now, that’s what a trade would be.
Fielder entered Tuesday batting .100 (3-for-30) with runners in scoring position and two out.
In similar situations last year — farther away from speculation about free agency and trades — he hit .343.
Is he pressing?
“I don’t know,” Fielder said. “I just want to do better. I want to do well. I don’t know if it’s pressing. I just want to do well and help my team.”
When asked if talk of trades and contracts has been an issue, Prince paused for a moment.
“Not really,” he said. “I have no control over that. I’m just trying to play well for the Brewers right now.”
Fielder is hitting .260, which is some 39 points below where he finished last year. Clearly, something is not right. But let’s not forget who we’re talking about here. Fielder is capable of putting together a monster July, in which he drives in 30 runs and vaults himself to the forefront of trade discussions.
A related motivation in trading Fielder would be that it's (finally) time to determine if Mat Gamel can be an everyday corner infielder in the majors. Right now, he's at Triple-A.
For now, though, the stage belongs to Corey Hart. He will be in demand between now and July 31. In the name of pitching, Doug Melvin must listen.
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