Bauman: Giants need to get Fielder
Pitching could be attractive to Brewers for slugger
SAN FRANCISCO -- There would be one way for the San Francisco Giants to dramatically change their equation, the one with fine pitching and not enough hitting. That would be a trade for Prince Fielder, currently employed as a first baseman by the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Giants would have to give up a frontline pitcher, and probably a pitching prospect of genuine potential to make this deal. But Fielder would give them the middle-of-the-order power and run production they currently lack. And the Brewers, with plenty of offense and a desperate need for more pitching, would be ideal trading partners in this endeavor.
The Giants by now are a statistical given -- admirable pitching, a shortage of offense; contenders in the National League West, but not quite postseason qualifiers. Going into their series with the rival Dodgers on Monday night, their statistical position relative to the rest of the National League was virtually unchanged from last season. They were 13th in the league in runs scored in 2009; now they are 12th. They were second in team earned run average in 2009. Now they are third.
True, this combination beats the alternative. What is more likely to happen with a combination of offensive strength and pitching shortages can be found in the distinctly sub-.500 record of the Brewers. The Giants' combination of pitching strength and offensive drawbacks has left them with a winning team, but not a postseason team. Without decimating their pitching strength, it may be time to move someone who works every fifth game for someone who could make a difference in every game.
Fielder could be that player. He had 50 home runs in 2007, but 2009 may have been his best overall season, with 46 home runs and career highs in RBIs -- a league-leading 141 -- and on-base percentage -- .412. He is only 26. He has the respect of his teammates not only for his production but for his relentless effort. He does not want days off. In the last four full seasons, he played in 636 out of 648 games. True, this year he is not hitting at his pace of last season. But it is not as though this is a career in decline.
Against a substantial plus side for Fielder, one potential set of drawbacks have dollar signs attached. Fielder is under contract with the Brewers this year and under control of the Milwaukee organization through 2011. There has been some fan pressure in Milwaukee to extend Fielder's contract, but talks between the Brewers and Fielder's agent have reportedly broken off. Fielder's agent is, of course, Scott Boras, which means that the concept of a "hometown discount" is null and void.
The small-market Brewers probably can't afford a long-term megadeal with Fielder. They don't have enough pitching now. If they tie up a large percentage of their money in a Fielder contract, they won't have enough pitching at any point during the term of that contract. Their main opportunity for making a significant improvement may rest in the kind of pitching they can get in a deal for Fielder.
And here are the Giants, a team with the kind of young pitching talent that the Brewers would dearly like to have.
Regarding Fielder as the first baseman of the future rather than a rental, the Giants would need to be able to sign Fielder to a long-term deal to make this trade plausible. That is never an inexpensive proposition when the agent involved is Boras and the client is high-profile. But Fielder is one of those rare hitters whose presence in a lineup could transform the nature of that lineup.
There is one other aspect that might diminish Fielder's worth in some eyes. That would be his considerable bulk. Fielder is officially listed at 5 feet, 11 inches and 270 pounds. For that combination of numbers he is a remarkably athletic fellow. He has worked considerably at what was his largest shortcoming, defense, and he has risen from being an inadequate defender to a serviceable defender at first base.
The Giants had Pablo Sandoval at first base Monday night. Thus, they would not be new to the concept of having a first baseman who did not lead the league in being svelte, slender, thin and/or lanky.
Monday night, the start of what needs to be a turning-point series for the Giants, they wasted yet another strong starting pitching performance, this one by Barry Zito. The result was a 4-2 loss to the Dodgers.
As good as the Giants' pitching can be, this team still needs to escape its offensive doldrums. It might have to go outside, and pay a reasonably high price, for the kind of hitting help that could make a difference.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.