MILWAUKEE -- It's been far too long since we emptied the Inbox, so without further ado, here are some of your thoughts as the Brewers begin building a team for 2010:What are the Brewers' chances of signing Prince Fielder long term, like Ryan Braun? Prince is obviously the biggest and brightest part of our offense, and although we could potentially do well without him, we could do even better with him. Is there any way to keep our core players -- like Braun, Fielder, younger players like Casey McGehee and Alcides Escobar -- and still get at least one decent starting pitcher? I think if we had an ace (like we had with CC Sabathia when he was here, except for an entire season) while keeping our offense together, we could make a legitimate run at a title.
-- Matt, Sauk Prairie, Wis.
I'll make one important point before we begin this discussion, because it seems that many people feel that Fielder is already on his way out the door: He's already under contract for 2010, and the Brewers also own his rights for 2011, though he'll probably be expensive in arbitration. Fielder is not eligible for free agency until following the 2011 season.
That said, the Brewers say they will explore locking up Fielder to an extension after they fill some of their more immediate holes (read: starting pitching) first, and general manager Doug Melvin has already made a series of moves to create some payroll flexibility. But here's why the Fielder/Braun comparison doesn't work:
Braun had less than one year of Major League service when he signed his seven-year, $45 million contract extension in 2008 (really, it was a new eight-year contract). The deal was unprecedented for a player with Braun's level of big league experience, but it made sense because it offered him some security while offering the Brewers at least cost certainty and perhaps also some savings. And despite the contract's length, it only covered two of Braun's free-agency years, leaving him plenty of opportunity to hit the jackpot (as if $45 million isn't a jackpot) later.
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Fielder, meanwhile, has more than four years of big league service under his belt and is already well-established as one of the best hitters in baseball. The promise of security is nowhere near as enticing because he's two seasons away from cashing in via free agency. I haven't seen the list of 2012 free agents yet, but I'll go out on a limb and say that Fielder will be one of the top hitters. Oh yeah, Fielder is also a Scott Boras client, and Boras is not exactly known for doling out hometown discounts.
Boras also represents Mark Teixeira, a fellow first baseman who was 28 years old when he inked an eight-year, $180 million deal with the Yankees last winter. Fielder will be 27 when he reaches free agency after the 2011 season. Teixeira was a .282 hitter in his first four years with the Rangers, with 140 home runs and 450 RBIs. In his first four full seasons -- we're taking away Fielder's cup of coffee in 2005 -- Fielder is a .283 hitter with 158 home runs and 443 RBIs. Teixeira finished fifth in American League Rookie of the Year balloting in 2003, won a Silver Slugger Award in his second season and made the All-Star team in his third. Fielder ran seventh in National League Rookie of the Year balloting in 2006, won a Silver Slugger Award in his second season and made the All-Star team and finished third in the NL MVP vote that year.
All I'm saying is that if the Brewers are indeed going to make a run at locking Fielder into a long-term deal, it's going to be expensive. If you empty the Brinks truck at Fielder's doorstep, where do you find the cash for established starting pitchers? The Brewers have had little luck developing their own in recent years.
So, talks with Boras could be challenging for Melvin & Co. Brewers fans, though, should be exceedingly happy that Melvin and principal owner Mark Attanasio will at least give it a try.
Adam, any more information on Santo Aybar, the 16-year-old shortstop the Brewers signed out of the Dominican Republic? Keep up the good work on the Brew Beat blog.
-- Tom, Fond du Lac, Wis.
I called Brewers amateur scouting director Bruce Seid on the heels of his trip to the Dominican. Here's some of what he had to say about Aybar, who turns 17 on Saturday and signed for slightly less than $100,000:
"He's a tall, lanky kid. If you looked at Alfonso Soriano way back when, [Aybar] has some of the same characteristics. I don't want anyone to take that the wrong way and think he's going to be the same player, because he's not. He doesn't have [Soriano's] power or bat speed. But he's got the leg lift and he's got some bat whip and he'll show you some power.
"He doesn't run very well, and he's not going to play shortstop. His more likely position if the power develops is probably third base or second base, because he does have some instincts to field. Like many 16-year-old kids in the Dominican, they're a long way from the Majors. He has some 'feel' to hit, but he has to learn the aspects of hitting. There are some nice things about him, and the really nice thing is that we have been watching him for over a year."
Aybar's deal won't be official until Major League Baseball completes an investigation into his age, standard practice for international signings. The process can take three to five weeks, but Aybar can participate in the Brewers' instructional league in the Dominican Republic in the interim.
Speaking of that program, on Nov. 1, the Brewers opened their own training facility north of the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo, the first time since 2003 that Milwaukee has a standalone presence in Latin America. The Brewers had ceased operating an academy soon after Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash were hired and put that money toward higher-profile signings, but resumed a presence this year in a co-venture with the Orioles. The new facility is an existing complex previously owned by the Phillies, complete with two baseball fields, batting cages, housing and mess facilities and classroom space where players are instructed in English, among other topics. The idea is to prepare these 16-19-year-olds to eventually move to affiliates in the U.S.
Seid was impressed with what he saw and praised Brewers special assistants Reid Nichols and Dan O'Brien for their work in setting it up. Outfielders Jose Pena (who received a $400,000 signing bonus when he signed with the Brewers in July) and Juan Berini show the most promise, said Seid, who was also impressed by another shortstop named Andres Martinez, who signed in November 2008, reportedly for $225,000. The pitcher who most caught Seid's eye was Adrian Rosario, a right-hander who has been in the organization since 2006. Rosario, who turned 20 in September, pitched 14 games for the Brewers' advanced rookie affiliate in Helena, Mont., in 2009 and had a 5.06 ERA.
How does the addition of Carlos Gomez affect Lorenzo Cain's future with the organization?
-- Michael Holyoke, Thiensville, Wis.
It slows Cain's progress to the Majors, though injuries in 2009 probably took care of that already. Cain missed time with a left knee injury and then struggled to trust the knee when he returned, according to Nichols. Cain will begin the year at Double-A Huntsville or perhaps Triple-A Nashville while Gomez gets a chance to dig a foothold in Milwaukee. Remember, Gomez is raw himself (at least offensively) so there remains plenty of opportunity for guys like Cain or Logan Schafer or Caleb Gindl.
Why no love for Gindl in the top 30 prospects list? I know you don't make the list, but any idea why the guy who hit for good average and power in a very pitcher-friendly park was only ranked No. 17? Also, any word on if there will be another Bob Uecker's Winter Warm-up this offseason? I really enjoyed it last year.
-- Heather S., Muskego, Wis.
Too much is made of those rankings, in my humble opinion. It's not like that ranking has any bearing on the team's decisions about placement, promotion, playing time or anything else. It's just for fun. I'll also say that being No. 17 of however many hundred players in a system is not all that bad. The Brewers like Gindl a lot.
As for the Uecker event, it's not planned for this year. That was a special event to commemorate the team's postseason appearance, and my understanding is that club officials have not closed the door on revisiting it in future years. The "Brewers On Deck" event remains an annual affair, and you can buy your tickets in advance.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.