Prince focuses on playing, not contract
Brewers begin extension talks with star slugger's agent
MILWAUKEE -- Prince Fielder isn't sweating his contract situation, unlike so many of the fans who asked for his autograph at Brewers On Deck on Sunday.Fielder is two seasons shy of free agency, and the Brewers are already engaging his agent, Scott Boras, in some casual conversations about a long-term extension. Trouble is, there is little or no precedent for a Boras client of Fielder's star caliber accepting such a deal over the riches available on the open market, and many Milwaukee fans are already counting down the days to Fielder's inevitable departure. Not so fast, he said. "In the end, it's my decision," Fielder said. "But as my agent, he's going to make sure that I have the most information possible about what's going to benefit me and my family. That's what it's about first. My family has to be happy, and then I go from there. "There's no urgency right now as far as that." Asked whether he was worried about the fact that fellow star first basemen Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard and Adrian Gonzalez are all lined up to reach free agency at the same time as Fielder, he responded with a smile, "I'm younger than all of them, and I'm pretty good." Fielder said he won't set a deadline for talks, though he said he "could tell [Boras], 'Beat it,'" at some point if he doesn't want to talk business any more. If the negotiations don't progress, Fielder would earn his $10.5 million in 2010 and be eligible for salary arbitration one more time this winter. If he has a season like the one he enjoyed in '09, when Fielder belted 46 homers and tied for the Major League lead with 141 RBIs, it could be a record-breaking case. The Brewers took a chance on Fielder in 2002, when they made him the seventh overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft and were skewered by some Draft analysts who were already expressing concern about Fielder's weight. Instead, Fielder charged through Milwaukee's Minor League system and took over first base at Miller Park for good in '06. He set a franchise record 50 home runs in '07, teamed with left fielder Ryan Braun to lead the Brewers to their first postseason appearance in a generation in '08, then set club marks for RBIs and walks in '09. That history matters, according to Fielder. "I came up here and I love it here," he said. "My thing is I want to stay here as long as possible. For now, I'm here for two more years anyway. All that other stuff, hopefully, will work out." His middle-of-the order partner is certainly rooting for a deal. But Braun, who is under club control through 2015, is also a realist.
"He's close enough to free agency that it really doesn't make a lot of sense for him to sign a deal at this point," Braun said. "You have to be [realistic]."
Fielder moved into a new house this winter in Windermere, Fla., the upscale hamlet near Orlando made infamous in recent months because it's also the home of Tiger Woods. With all of the commotion, Fielder has mostly stayed in, playing with young sons Jaden and Haven and staying in shape. Fielder's new home is outfitted with a pool, a gym -- "A little miniature Ballys," he said -- and an indoor batting cage. He's working to maintain his playing weight from last season, "or maybe to get a little better."
|"I came up here and I love it here. My thing is I want to stay here as long as possible. For now, I'm here for two more years anyway. All that other stuff, hopefully, will work out."|
|-- Prince Fielder|
"I have to work out or I'd be huge," Fielder said. "That's not an option for me. ... I don't want to turn into an obese person, because I can."He likes the Brewers' offseason moves so far, and Sunday's On Deck event gave Fielder a chance to catch up with newcomers like Randy Wolf, LaTroy Hawkins and Gregg Zaun. His contract could be a major issue swirling around the Brewers as they gather at Maryvale Baseball Park for Spring Training, but Fielder is much more interested to focus on baseball. "I'm just looking forward to having a better year as far as the team," he said. "Whatever happens after that is cool. As long as we improve, I'm happy."
By the end of the day, the Brewers had drawn 10,638 fans to the all-day event, something of an achievement considering that 237 fewer passed through the turnstiles last year, when the team was coming off a postseason appearance. Proceeds from autographs went to Brewers Charities.
All but three Brewers attended -- Craig Counsell already had a commitment for Sunday before he re-signed with the team, Todd Coffey was stuck in North Carolina by a snowstorm and Carlos Gomez has the flu. The event featured autograph and photo sessions with players and coaches, memorabilia sales, interactive games and a large corner stage that was busy all day. Fans joined the media pool for question and answer sessions with Melvin, assistant general manager Gord Ash, manager Ken Macha, pitching coach Rick Peterson, lefty Doug Davis and alumni Robin Yount, Jim Gantner, Gorman Thomas, Jeff Cirillo and Greg Vaughn.
Not surprisingly given the Brewers' struggles in 2009, pitching was a hot topic among fans. Macha didn't mince words.
"It will all come down to the pitching," Macha said.
Before he met them in person Sunday, Peterson had already reached out to many of the team's pitchers via telephone. Those conversations were mostly about building relationships, Peterson said, though he's also spent time breaking down video and data and jotting down ideas about improvements.
The nuts and bolts discussions will begin in Arizona.
"I want them to understand first that I'm an asset for them," Peterson said. "Right now, I'm doing my homework."
So far, he likes what he sees.
"I think this could be a really special year," Peterson said. "You think about winning 80 games last year and having the worst starting pitching in baseball. If we can make some incremental differences ... I think that we can go into Spring Training with the hope of playing in October."
To the thousands of fans who packed into On Deck, that hope was running strong.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.