The Brewers will not have an easy time trading first baseman Prince Fielder this offseason.
Plenty of clubs need a slugger such as Fielder. But plenty of free agents will be available at first base:
Left-handed hitters (like Prince): Adam Dunn, Carlos Pena, Adam LaRoche, Aubrey Huff, Lyle Overbay, Russell Branyan.
Right-handed hitters: Paul Konerko, Derrek Lee, Jorge Cantu.
Switch-hitter: Lance Berkman.
Fielder, 26, is by far the youngest of the group. Konerko and Dunn are the only ones who are outperforming him offensively, and this is a down year by Prince’s standards.
Still, it’s difficult to imagine a team giving the Brewers the pitching they crave for Fielder when it could sign any free agent on the above list. At this point, all but Dunn and Lee — the sole projected Type A’s, according to MLBtraderumors.com — could be signed without losing a high draft pick.
Perhaps the Brewers should have pushed harder to trade Fielder before the non-waiver deadline, though there was no obvious market for him.
Perhaps they will need to wait until the next deadline, when Fielder would amount to only a two-month rental.
Perhaps they will just play it out with Fielder and accept draft picks when he departs as a free agent after next season.
The problem with the latter scenario is that owner Mark Attanasio recently stated his distaste for free-agent pitching — and for good reason, considering his experiences with Randy Wolf, Doug Davis and Jeff Suppan.
Yet, if the Brewers do not trade Fielder, they will need to find other ways to get pitching.
They could trade second baseman Rickie Weeks, who has chosen Greg Genske as his new agent and — like Fielder — is eligible for free agency after next season. Weeks was more likely to sign a club-friendly extension under his previous agent, Lon Babby, who recently became team president of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.
Second baseman Brett Lawrie, who has an .814 OPS at age 20 in Double A, could replace Weeks. Mat Gamel, who has a .920 OPS at Triple A, could replace Fielder. The Brewers also could use such players — outfielder Lorenzo Cain is another — to get young pitching.
Fielder, though, remains the most logical piece to move. His salary likely will rise to the $15 million range in his final year of arbitration, a huge number for a mid-market club that already is carrying an $80 million payroll.
Maybe the White Sox will go nuts for Prince if they want to replace Konerko. Maybe the Cubs will view Fielder as a perfect addition for their young, emerging core. Maybe the Giants will trade for a big bat once and for all.
The Rockies received a strong return for another Scott Boras client, Matt Holliday, when he was a year away from free agency, getting outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, left-hander Greg Smith and closer Huston Street from the A’s.
But to trade Fielder, whose defense at first base is a significant detriment, the Brewers might need to lower expectations.
The Astros accepted that they could not make a franchise-changing deal with right-hander Roy Oswalt, sending him to the Phillies for left-hander J.A. Happ, infielder Jonathan Villar and outfielder Anthony Gose (whom they flipped to the Blue Jays for first baseman Brett Wallace). To get even those players, the Astros needed to pay $11 million of the $23 million remaining on Oswalt’s contract.
The Brewers might need to do something similar, perhaps acquiring a starting pitcher who was, say, two years away from free agency along with two mid-level prospects.
General manager Doug Melvin will need to be creative. The laws of supply-and-demand are working against him.
NOT SO UGGLA
Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla wants a five-year contract extension, major-league sources say, and his financial target is believed to be in the $55 million to $60 range.
I know what you’re thinking: WHAT?
Uggla’s more highly regarded double-play partner, shortstop Hanley Ramirez, “only” received a six-year, $70 million deal from the Marlins. But the two situations are not comparable due to differences in service time.
Ramirez’s deal covers his three arbitration and first three free-agent years. A five-year extension for Uggla would cover his final year of arbitration and four free-agent years.
Uggla, 30, is a below-average defender, compromising his value. But here’s something you probably don’t know: His 149 career homers are the most ever by a second baseman in his first five seasons.
In an era of diminished power, what is that worth?
Uggla’s home-run total ranks 17th all-time among all players in their first five seasons (Ralph Kaline was first with 215; Albert Pujols second with 201).
At his current pace, Uggla would finish the season with 158 homers, tied with Adam Dunn and Roger Maris for 11th on that list — and just two behind Prince Fielder.
UNUSUAL INNINGS JUMPS IN TEXAS
Cliff Lee is averaging nearly eight innings per start, but the Rangers are more carefully monitoring the mounting innings totals of right-hander Colby Lewis and left-hander C.J. Wilson.
Lewis, who has pitched 155 innings in 24 starts, spent the previous two seasons in Japan, working 178 innings in 26 starts and 176 1/3 innings in 29 starts. Not much of a jump, but Lewis, 31, pitches under greater strain in the American League than he did in Japan.
Wilson, 29, already has worked 158 innings, an increase of nearly 85 from the career-high he established as a reliever last season. The Rangers, though, are less worried than they would be with a younger pitcher such as Neftali Feliz.
For one thing, Wilson keeps himself in excellent shape. Also, Adam Wainwright, Ryan Dempster, Derek Lowe and the Rangers’ own Scott Feldman are examples of relievers who converted to starting without incident in their mid- to late 20s or beyond.
The Rangers, of course, could ease the burden on their starting pitchers if they build a large enough cushion in the AL West.
HEY, BOBBY, WHY DID YOU DO THAT?
Closer Billy Wagner and manager Bobby Cox had an unusual exchange when Cox, general manager Frank Wren and pitching coach Roger McDowell traveled to Wagner’s Virginia home to recruit him as a free agent last offseason.
Wagner, who grew up a Braves fan, asked Cox why he ordered Tom Glavine to hit Dale Murphy on June 19, 1991, less than a year after the Braves traded Murphy to the Phillies.
“I said, ‘I can’t believe you tried to hit the greatest Brave ever,’” Wagner recalled telling Cox. “You could tell that’s not what he was expecting me to ask him. He just kind of laughed.”
When I asked Cox about the incident, he said, “We had to hit Murphy. They had drilled one of our guys. It was so obvious. I told Tommy to drill Murphy. He barely could do it, but he did.”
Actually, he didn’t — Glavine, according to a later account on ESPN.com, threw four batting-practice fastballs inside, but merely brushed back Murphy. Umpire Bob Davidson ejected him, anyway.
Wagner said that the first time he met Glavine after they became teammates with the Mets, he told Glavine that he was “a big fan” of his for not hitting Murphy.
Here’s the best part:
The pitcher who provoked the incident by hitting the Braves’ Otis Nixon was none other than Roger McDowell.
Two other Braves’ notes I gathered while preparing for Saturday’s broadcast:
• Shortstop Alex Gonzalez was home in Miami sleeping the morning after the All-Star Game when his cell phone started ringing.
Gonzalez would not pick up, but after a while he finally glanced at his phone and noticed five missed calls from his agent, Eric Goldschmidt.
He knew right away that he had been traded.
Goldschmidt lives in San Diego. It was about 7 a.m. PT. There was no other reason for Goldschmidt to call Gonzalez at that hour.
Gonzalez had been preparing to rejoin the Blue Jays in Baltimore. Instead, he headed to Atlanta to join the Braves.
• The Braves players admire Brooks Conrad not only for his late-inning heroics, but also for the fact that he does not wear batting gloves.
Very few players hit with their bare hands — the Rangers’ Vladimir Guerrero is perhaps the most well-known.
Conrad says he likes the feel of the tar, the rosin, the dirt. He will wear gloves when it’s raining; there’s no choice. But he doesn’t like the way his hands move around in the gloves, or when they get sweaty.
ONE LAST LOU STORY
In my recent column about Lou Piniella, I wrote that Piniella drove his general managers crazy by always wanting new and better players, a 30-man roster.
Here’s what I was talking about:
In the spring of ’08, I was talking with Piniella one morning on the field at the Cubs’ spring home, HoHoKam Park in Mesa, Az.
Piniella, whom I had worked with briefly at FOX, started peppering me with questions about which players might be available in trades before Opening Day.
One by one, we went through every team. I would mention a couple of names and Piniella would stop me at the ones he liked. I specifically remember an exchange about Coco Crisp, who was then with the Red Sox.
“He available?” Piniella asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
Piniella then looked off, as if he were imagining Crisp in center field.
On and on this went, for a good 20 minutes. I felt almost guilty, knowing where our conversation would lead — to a second conversation between Piniella and GM Jim Hendry, with Lou asking for Crisp and heaven knows who else.
AROUND THE HORN
• Scary thought for the Red Sox; Right-handers Josh Beckett, 30, and John Lackey, 31, are guaranteed a combined $124 million over the next four seasons. Their combined record this season: 14-10 with a 4.57 ERA (Beckett missed more than two months with a lower back strain).
• The depth of the Rays’ rotation should only strengthen the bullpen if the team reaches the postseason. If, for example, David Price, Matt Garza and Jeff Niemann formed the front three, then James Shields, Wade Davis and possibly Jeremy Hellickson would be available to pitch in relief. The Rays’ bullpen already ranks second in the AL in ERA.
• The Angels’ interest in left fielder Carl Crawford as a free agent is no secret, but third baseman Adrian Beltre also would be an excellent fit. The team also needs to fix its bullpen, which ranks 10th in the AL in ERA and could lose closer Brian Fuentes to free agency. The rotation, too, ranks 10th in ERA, but the entire group is under contract next season.
• Just a thought: If you’re the Indians or Royals, you have to be encouraged by the Tigers’ collapse, the White Sox’s five straight series losses, even the Twins’ relative vulnerability. Yes, the Twins’ run differential is the sixth best in the majors, but they hardly resemble an AL East power. As the Indians and Royals rebuild, they might not be that far away.
• The Cubs’ No. 1 priority is a left-handed hitting slugger who can play right field or first base, knowing that rookie Tyler Colvin can fill either spot. First base will be easier to address, and the Cubs soon will be crowded in the outfield: Center fielder Marlon Byrd is signed through 2012 and left fielder Alfonso Soriano through ’14. Brett Jackson, the team’s first-round pick in 2009, is already at Double A.
• Braves manager Bobby Cox, who has been in the game for 50 years, says that Rick Ankiel has the best outfield arm he has ever seen — better than Rocky Colavito, Ellis Valentine, Bill Robinson, you name ‘em. “I hate to say that — I love Rocky Colavito,” Cox says. “But I’ve never seen anybody throw like this guy.”
• Cox also has an interesting take on the Padres. “You don’t want to run the pitch count up on the San Diego starters — you’re cutting your own throat,” he says. “You can’t touch those guys,” — meaning, of course, the Padres’ relievers.
• A scout said that the Pirates swing “out of the zone more than any club in the league,” but seven NL teams actually are worse. The Giants at the bottom, swinging at 32.4 percent of the pitches they see outside the strike zone. The Yankees and Red Sox, not surprisingly, rank 1-2 in the lowest percentage of swings outside the zone.
• The same scout offered praise for right-hander Ross Ohlendorf, who was touching 95 mph and pitching at 92-93 before exiting with a shoulder injury Monday night, and also spoke highly of left fielder Jose Tabata. “Right now, he’s a line-drive hitter,” the scout said of Tabata. “If he learns to lift the ball, he could be really good.”