Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

Last week, Prince Fielder explicitly stated what has been implicitly known for months: this year is probably his last in Milwaukee.

And he’s certainly making the most of it (*avoids cheap fat joke*): 33 homers, 110 RBI, and a .957 OPS. Not his best year, but plenty good enough to ensure that he’ll be paid handsomely when he does indeed leave Milwaukee at the end of the season.

But where will he go? For a number of months, it seemed like the most likely destination was to our own Chicago Cubs. But, with the ever-diminishing returns on the field for the Cubs, and the front office turnover, nobody can claim with any measure of certainty that the Cubs will be in the Fielder mix. Or out of it. We just don’t know.

Setting aside the Cubs, many of the other usual suspects – the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies – are set at first base. Whether the former two would be willing to pony up nine figures for a DH remains to be seen. The Yankees, after all, have done it before.

Beyond those four teams, Tom Hadricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel discussed the possible suitors for Fielder’s services in 2012 and beyond.

You have to think the Seattle Mariners would be interested. General manager Jack Zduriencik was the Brewers’ amateur scouting director when they drafted Fielder and loves him. The Mariners also are extremely challenged offensively and probably would move young first baseman Justin Smoak to make room for Fielder.

Don’t count out the Texas Rangers, either. They love offense, play in a home-run ballpark and have Mitch Moreland at first base.

Another possibility is Washington. The Nationals already have shown they will irrationally throw money against the wall by giving free agent Jayson Werth a seven-year, $126 million deal last winter. Washington has a chance to be good in the coming years and a bat like Fielder would help them close ground on Philadelphia and Atlanta in the NL East.

Under normal circumstances, the Los Angeles Dodgers would seem to be a possible destination for Fielder. James Loney has become a disappointment at first base, but with owner Frank McCourt in financial straights and in litigation with MLB over keeping the club, it would seem the timing is not right for a big move like this.

Some folks have wondered if Florida might be intrigued by Fielder. Moving to a new ballpark next year, the renamed Miami Marlins might finally turn loose their purse strings and boost their payroll. Fielder lives in Florida, but the Marlins would have to do something with Gaby Sanchez, a good, young first baseman who isn’t making any money yet.

The San Francisco Giants have had interest in Fielder for years – remember the Matt Cain trade rumors – but probably wouldn’t be able to fit his salary into their payroll scheme at this juncture.

Wherever Fielder ends up, his team will be taking a risk that his age and his weight (27 and 280+ lbs) are still on the right side of things. Players of Fielder’s size tend not to age well, particularly where they’re counted on to play in the field, but a five-year deal for $23 to 25 million seems a fair chance to take. Adding years or dollars makes that risk calculus all the more skewed.

For the Cubs’ part, even if the team is not particularly intent on competing in 2012, signing Fielder is not out of the question. You can only sign a guy like Fielder when he’s available, and that’s this Winter. Assuming he remains productive into his early 30s, signing Fielder now is as much about being competitive in 2014 and 2015 as it is about 2012 and 2013.

Still, knowing how contracts tend to slip past even the most aggressive estimates, I would be surprised if a team is able to actually land Fielder for fewer than six years and less than $25 million per year.

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