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Howard's deal brings implications for Prince

Howard's deal brings implications for Prince

MILWAUKEE -- Another of Prince Fielder's peers was rewarded Monday with a big payday, but Brewers manager Ken Macha said he's seen no signs of Fielder's business off the field affecting his play on it.

"In the dugout, Prince has been pretty upbeat," Macha said.

Fielder's own slow start aside, he had another reason to be upbeat on Monday when the Phillies and slugger Ryan Howard agreed to a five-year contract extension that guarantees Howard $125 million through 2016.

With that, you can cross Howard off the list of top-flight first basemen on track to reach free agency after the 2011 season -- Fielder, the Cardinals' Albert Pujols and the Padres' Adrian Gonzalez are still on that list -- and you can also cross the Phillies off the list of potential big-market suitors for said first basemen. 

At the same time, representatives for the remaining free-agents-to-be will almost certainly use Howard's deal as a starting point for their own clients, who are either younger (in the cases of Fielder, 25, and Gonzalez, 27) or more accomplished (Pujols is a former National League Rookie of the Year and a three-time NL MVP) than the 30-year-old Howard.

USA Today reported late Monday that "there are no ongoing negotiations with Pujols, Gonzalez or Fielder." Asked whether he agreed with that characterization as it relates to Fielder, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin stood by his policy of not making public comments about what club officials have referred to as their "discussion" with agent Scott Boras.

Howard is due $19 million this season and $20 million in 2011 under his previous contract, and the new deal will pay $20 million in both 2012 and '13 and $25 million from 2014-16 -- with a $23 million club option for 2017 with a $10 million buyout.

Boras pointed out to USA Today that Howard's extension starts at age 32, when the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez signed his record contract.

"There's a small list of sluggers in this game who can hit 40 homers and drive in 130 annually," Boras told the newspaper. "Now, there's one less available."

Fielder has asked reporters to refrain from asking any more questions about his contract, and Melvin has been adamant about keeping his conversations with Boras a secret.

Fielder is earning $10.5 million in the final season of a two-year contract that bought out his first two arbitration years. He will be arbitration-eligible one more time, following this season, before reaching free agency during the winter of 2011-12.

"From my standpoint, he's been the same," Macha said when asked whether Fielder's looming contract situation is having an effect on him. "To ease somebody's tension or pressure or whatever, he's going to be a very wealthy person. It's just a matter of degree. So the best thing to do is, in popular terms, chill."

Fielder is off to a relatively slow start this season, but he had three hits, including an RBI single, in Monday's 17-3 rout of the Pirates. That raised his average to .268 and upped his total to eight RBIs.

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