Prince Fielder confirmed Wednesday night that this year would likely be his last with Milwaukee. It seems that no matter how much of a bump in payroll the Brewers see next year after this powerful run they’ve had in 2011 will not be enough to re-sign Fielder in 2012. Fielder will command lucrative offers from multiple sources such as the Cubs, Cardinals (if Pujols doesn’t resign), the Yankees (mostly for DH duty), and the Angels. So, the Brewers will be left with a gaping hole in their offense.
With the Brewers firmly in control of first place and the play-offs on the horizon, some may say it’s too early to examine potential replacements at first base. But I say, the sooner the better. After Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, and Mark Teixeira there is a severe drop-off in offensive talent at first base. Let’s look at what’s out there, realistic or not:
Currently not classified as a first baseman, Berkman looks to have many potential offers in the off-season including those from the Cardinals. If the Cardinals can’t resign Pujols, Berkman would be the logical, in-house, replacement. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they can’t offer Berkman a contract extension with hopes of him playing first base until they know for sure they’re going to lose Pujols. This leaves a big opening for the Brewers. Berkman is making $8 million this season and has posted one of his best years ever. They will likely have to pay Berkman a little more to land him, or give him a multi-year deal.
Berkman’s triple slash is impressive, .290/.404/.551, and his wRC+ ranks among one of his career bests at 157. His 4.1 WAR is only 0.3 less than Fielder’s, so the Brewers wouldn’t be losing much there.
As a major flop for the Chicago Cubs, Pena will likely have to take a large pay-cut in 2012. The Brewers may be able to throw a multi-year deal his way and land him at a discount. By no means should they sign Pena to a long-term deal, but a two or three year deal might be enticing enough for Pena to take $6 million a year or less.
He’s not horrible on offense, but his 2.5 WAR this season is nothing to write home about. He did post decent numbers with OBP (.358) and slugging (.472) and he can still club a home run or two (27), so the Brewers would not be making a huge mistake if they can sign him at a rate much lower than the Cubs did.
Outside of these two players, the production levels for players realistically available drops off the table. The Brewers may have to look to the farm to replace Fielder:
In 128 games at AAA this season, he hit .310/.372/.540 and clubbed 28 home runs. His wOBP was .391. Each of the previous four years, including this season, Gamel has been called up to get some Major League action. He has performed relatively well in limited action. Over the course of those four call-ups, he has had 194 plate appearances and carried a .222/.309/.374 triple-slash. His WAR shows an exactly replacement level player (0.0), but with more time, he could develop into a player the Brewers can lock-up long-term.
At league minimum, he may be worth a shot.
These are three players out of many first basemen that the Brewers can pursue. However, after Carlos Pena, there are only two first basemen who have posted a WAR above 2 this season. Slim pickins for the Brewers this off-season. But with early offers and smart offers, the Brewers may be able to land Berkman or Pena. If not, they should give Gamel a look.