Brewers stick with cautious Fielder approach

Brewers stick with cautious Fielder approach

Brewers stick with cautious Fielder approach
MILWAUKEE -- At some point the Prince Fielder auction will begin. The question, for now, is who will begin the bidding.

It may not be the Brewers, for whom Fielder belted all 230 of his home runs before reaching free agency for the first time last month. General manager Doug Melvin and agent Scott Boras are likely to meet this week during the General Managers Meetings at Milwaukee's Pfister Hotel, but Melvin said on Monday that he is not planning to use the venue as an opportunity to make an offer.

"We won't do that here," Melvin said.

Perhaps someone else will, but as of Monday evening, Boras characterized teams as being in "information gathering" mode. He billed Fielder as a younger version of the other top first baseman on this year's free-agent market -- Albert Pujols -- by arguing that the players' production over the past five seasons has been comparable.

Pujols batted .324 in that span with 195 home runs, 571 RBIs and a 1.025 OPS. Fielder had a lower average -- .285 -- but hit 200 home runs with 565 RBIs and a .951 OPS.

2011 awards
MLB.com takes a glance at each position entering the Hot Stove season.

SP: Plenty of mid-tier arms
RP: Closers flood market
1B: Pujols, Prince elite
2B: Thin but reliable
3B: Aramis the lone big bat
SS: Attention on Reyes
OF: Bargains available
DH: Ortiz the top target
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Hot Stove Tracker

Pujols, 31, reportedly has one offer already in hand, from the Marlins. Fielder, 27, is waiting.

"I'm sure there's crossover, because in the game there's so many teams that need a middle-of-the-lineup franchise player," Boras said. "I do think there are a lot of teams that ... look long-term with a younger player [and] that may not be in the market for a player that is four or five years older. My experience in free agency is that Prince is somebody that both a 'current'-[focused] club and a 'future' club could invest in."

Boras said that Fielder is open to offers from teams in either league.

"I think Prince wants to win," he said. "He certainly wants to get with a franchise that wants to commit to him and others."

The potential suitors are numerous, and Milwaukee's principal owner, Mark Attanasio, vowed last month that the Brewers will be "participating in the sweepstakes." But just how they will participate remains to be seen.

It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which Fielder's high price would fit into Milwaukee's budget, considering that since Melvin and Boras last engaged in serious talks, the team has moved ahead with big-money extensions for outfielders Ryan Braun and Corey Hart, second baseman Rickie Weeks and pitcher Yovani Gallardo.

The Brewers also seem reluctant to extend a hard offer that Boras could use to drive up Fielder's price for other suitors.

Should Fielder sign elsewhere, the Brewers' primary in-house option for first base is Mat Gamel, a 26-year-old who batted .310 with 28 home runs and 96 RBIs in 128 games for Triple-A Nashville last season.

"If I don't talk to Scott here, I'll talk to him prior to the Winter Meetings, and at some point we have to move on and fill the hole," Melvin said.

Melvin was expecting a relatively quiet week, though it began on Monday with the Dodgers signing center fielder Matt Kemp to an eight-year extension and infielder Mark Ellis to a two-year free-agent contract. Last year the highlight of the Meetings was the trade that sent Dan Uggla, a Type A free agent with one year remaining of club control, from the Marlins to the Braves.

The difference this year is MLB's pending labor agreement, which is expected to include changes to the way teams are compensated when ranked free agents leave to sign elsewhere. A change to those rules would change the way teams value certain trade and free-agent targets.

Under the current system, Fielder is a Type A player.

"I think some people are waiting until the labor deal goes through, if it goes through," Melvin said. "I think that's one of the keys. The other thing, it's hard to make trades at these meetings because of physicals."

Teams are instructed not to announce trades and signings until players have passed physical exams.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.