The 2011 MLB season has come and gone, making way for an entirely new, more intriguing juncture: free agency.
Truth be told, we’ve never seen such a loaded MLB free-agency class such as this year. Many of the game’s top sluggers and pitchers will become available for signing and re-signing in just a few short weeks.
Of those sluggers, is [former] Milwaukee Brewers first-baseman Prince Fielder. The burly vegetarian was simply incredible in 2011, amassing MVP-caliber numbers at a minimal rate. That said, many teams will be vying for Fielder’s services in 2012 and beyond, and it’s becoming quite clear that there is no clear-cut front-runner in the sweepstakes.
Insert the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Finishing their 2011 season at a 82-79 mark, manager Don Mattingly (despite all the speculation and hatred surrounding owner and chairman Frank McCourt) does have a talented ballclub that could be just a free-agent signing away from a World Series.
Here are five reasons Los Angeles could sign Fielder this offseason.
Budding Relationship with Matt Kemp?
We see this every so often in sports, but we fail to recognize it.
Back in July, Fielder was appointed as the “captain” of the National League in the MLB Home Run Derby. His duty was to recruit players he deemed best fit to carry the NL to victory over the AL. Consequently, he turned to fellow MVP-candidate Matt Kemp, who just so happens to be a Dodger himself. From what was noticeable, the two superstars seemed to harmonize quite easily.
Could this become a potential reason for Fielder to make his way out West this offseason? You bet it does.
27-year-old first-baseman James Loney has been a hit-or-miss talent for the better part of his six seasons as a Dodger.
Alongside Matt Kemp in Los Angeles’ lineup, Loney has amassed at least 88 RBI and 25 doubles in three individual seasons, and has additionally posted a career .288 BA, to boot. However, if there’s one thing holding him back from super-stardom, it’s his unmistakably below-average power. Loney has never compiled more than 15 HR in a single season, and has witnessed a progressive drop in OPS from .919 in 2007 to .775 in 2011.
He’s arbitration eligible this offseason (for the third straight year), and I’m convinced many teams will be willing to pay him at or near the approximately $5 Million he made in 2011 if the Dodgers are willing to trade him away to help make payroll room for Fielder.
Money Will Likely Be Set Aside
The Dodgers inherited a $104 Million payroll heading into 2011, enough to be MLB’s 12th-largest team payroll at the time. This offseason, that could change — drastically.
Former closer Jonathan Broxton, who made a healthy $7 Million in 2011 for pitching just 12.2 total innings, is set to become a free-agent this offseason, meaning hit contract is also set to come off the books, as well. That will (and should) play a colossal role in how the Dodgers go about pursuing Fielder this offseason.
Other players with expiring contracts can be viewed here.
This map displays the mere 44 miles separating Ontario, California (Fielder’s hometown) from Los Angeles. Could we be in for a homecoming fit for a king?
Don’t discount it…
All the Talent Is in Place…
It’s astonishing for how dreadful a situation the Dodgers are in, yet they’re still one of the most talented teams in the league right now.
Between Kemp, Andre Ethier, Tony Gwynn and a solid batch of minor league prospects moving their way up, Los Angeles is already an offensive juggernaut. You think Ryan Braun-Prince Fielder is a lethal combination? Try Kemp-Fielder.
Likewise, Clayton Kershaw will inevitably be named NL Cy Young of 2011 (at just 23 years old, nonetheless), and he’ll only get better with age. If they can get decent starting pitching in 2012, they should cruise to the franchise’s 12th NL West title.
By Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel
If the Milwaukee Brewers are going to continue to perform like this in the clutch on the road, it’s going to be a long season away from Miller Park.
The Brewers continued to come up empty with runners in scoring position, going 0 for 9 in those situations Tuesday night in a 3-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.
The Brewers were fortunate to split the two-game series while going 2 for 23 (.087) with runners in scoring position. For the season, their road batting average in those situations dropped to .211.
With that background, it should come as no shock that the Brewers have scored a total of 14 runs in their last 11 road games, during which they have gone 2-9. Over that stretch, they have been shut out four times.
The Brewers let an opportunity to strike first slip away in the first inning against Hiroki Kuroda, who pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings. With one down, new No. 2 hitter Corey Hart singled to left and Ryan Braun drew a walk.
Prince Fielder bounced into a force at second, leaving runners on the corners, but Casey McGehee’s drive to right-center was hauled in by Matt Kemp in front of the wall.
Brewers starter Randy Wolf was not as fortunate in the bottom of the inning. After a two-out walk to Andre Ethier, Kemp smashed a 3-1 fastball the other way and over the wall in right for a two-run homer.
“That’s Matt’s strength. His strength is right-center to right field,” Wolf said. “He has kind of an inside-out swing. He’s a big, strong guy. I wanted it up; I wanted it elevated above the belt. It was probably thigh-high, right where he could do some damage.”
The Brewers missed on an even better chance to score in the third inning off Kuroda. Wolf led off with a double, sending a drive over Ethier in right and was bunted to third by Rickie Weeks.
Hart drew a walk, putting runners on the corners with one down. But Kuroda recorded a huge out by striking out Braun on a split-finger fastball, then escaped by inducing Fielder to fly out to left.
The Brewers’ inability to hit in the clutch on the road nixed another budding rally in the fourth inning. With one down, Yuniesky Betancourt and Jonathan Lucroy singled, but Carlos Gomez, moved down to the eighth spot because he couldn’t hit with men on base, bounced into a double play, only his second of the season.
Wolf was fortunate to keep it at 2-0 in the bottom of the inning. He walked Juan Uribe to open the inning and issued another walk to Jerry Sands with two down.
Kuroda hit a slow topper toward short that forced Betancourt to charge in and throw on the run but he was late and the infield hit loaded the bases. Wolf fell behind in the count, 3-1, to Jamey Carroll, who hit a smash to the left side that McGehee caught with a sliding stab to get a force at second and snuff the rally.
“My command wasn’t good; I wasn’t very sharp today,” said Wolf, who didn’t look comfortable working with catcher Lucroy. “I had a ton of 3-2 counts and wasn’t able to make the pitch to put guys away early in the count. Obviously, that first-inning mistake (to Kemp) was the ball game, really.”
Hitters know that the ball doesn’t carry well at night at Dodger Stadium and that point was driven home again to Fielder in the sixth inning. After Braun led off with a single, Fielder sent a drive to center that he thought was gone, but the ball didn’t carry in the damp air and Kemp caught it with his back against the wall at the 395-foot marker.
“You’ve really got to hit the ball here, especially the opposite way,” said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, who noted that Kemp must have really got all of his opposite-field two-run shot off Randy Wolf in the first inning.
“I thought Prince’s ball was going out. I thought Casey’s ball was going out, too. It never has (carried well) here. At night time, when it’s cold here, you’ve really got to crush it to get it out, especially to the big part of the park. If those balls go out, we score five runs.”
Braun moved up on a groundout by McGehee and stole third without a throw but was stranded when Betancourt took a called third strike that he thought was wide of the plate.
Wolf struck out Rod Barajas to open the bottom of the inning but it took him 10 pitches to do it, extending him well beyond 100 for the game. When James Loney followed with a single to left, Wolf was done at 119 pitches.
Sergio Mitre, who hadn’t pitched since last Wednesday against San Diego, took over and retired the next two hitters to keep it a 2-0 game.
The Brewers took three more swipes with a runners in scoring position in the eighth and came up empty. Weeks led off with an infield single and moved up on a balk by Kuroda. Hart lined a 3-2 pitch right at Kemp in center and Braun flied out to deep right, moving Weeks to third.
Right-hander Kenly Jansen took over for Kuroda and walked Fielder on four pitches, then fell behind, 3-0, in the count to McGehee. Jansen got it back to 3-2, however, before McGehee fouled out to first.