Will Mauer deal affect talks for Fielder?
GM quiet on what contract means for slugger in Milwaukee
PHOENIX -- Twins general manager Bill Smith had his photo op with Joe Mauer on Monday night, when Minnesota planned to announce Mauer's new eight-year, $184 million contract extension. Which left Brewers fans to wonder whether Doug Melvin and Prince Fielder were any closer to a public handshake of their own.Melvin's answer was the same as it's been all along: He's not answering. "You can ask me all you want, but I won't have any answers for you," the veteran GM said after news broke Sunday of Mauer's deal with his hometown Twins. Might Minnesota's outcome with Mauer affect negotiations with Fielder, Milwaukee's power-hitting first baseman? "I don't know," Melvin said. "Every player and every agent is different. I don't really have any comment on this thing." Melvin added this: "We can only do what we can do as an organization. We can't necessarily do what other teams can do. It's not always what you want to do, it's what you can do." Melvin has offered similar answers all spring about his ongoing talks with Fielder's agent, Scott Boras. Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash have had at least one in-person meeting with Boras since the start of camp, but both sides have been mum about how it went and where things have progressed since. After getting a barrage of questions about his contract early in camp, Fielder has adopted a similarly close-to-the-vest approach. He did hear about Mauer's new deal on Sunday but had little to say about it other than, "good for him." Asked whether his own talks were going well, he offered only, "Everything's going all right." Boras did not return a message left at his office. Here are some reasons why Mauer and Fielder are natural links: Both players are former first-round Draft picks who grew up in organizations in the smaller half of Major League Baseball's markets who have helped their team compete in recent seasons. Mauer was the first overall pick in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft and Fielder was No. 7 overall in 2002. Mauer turns 27 in April; Fielder turns 26 in May. Mauer debuted in the Majors in 2004, a full year before Fielder, but they have played almost the same number of games: Mauer 699 and Fielder 675. Mauer is a .327 hitter with 72 home runs and 397 RBIs, a .408 on-base percentage, an .892 OPS and a 136 OPS+, a measure that accounts for league average and ballpark factors. Fielder can't compete with Mauer in batting average (a still-respectable .284) but has the edge in home runs (160) and RBIs (453). Fielder's career .381 on-base percentage is lower than Mauer's but Fielder does have the edge with a .931 OPS. Fielder's 140 OPS+ is only slightly better than Mauer's. Here's another similarity: Both bat next to an All-Star teammate already locked up for the long term. In Minnesota, Mauer's partner is first baseman Justin Morneau, who is entering the third season of a contract that runs through 2013. Fielder's swat mate is left fielder Ryan Braun, who is under contract through 2015.
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One big difference between Mauer and Fielder could actually work in the Brewers' favor. Mauer is one of baseball's rare premium catchers, and as such he might have been the most highly sought free agent on next winter's market. Fielder, for all of his offensive might, is a first baseman, and there are simply more productive players to be had at that position.Many of them could hit the open market at the same time as Fielder, another reason that his situation is different than Mauer's. Fielder, the Cardinals' Albert Pujols, the Phillies' Ryan Howard, the Padres' Adrian Gonzalez and the Astros' Lance Berkman are all on a path to reach free agency after the 2011 season, a factor that probably works in teams' favor as they negotiate extensions. Fielder is the youngest player in that group but he could nonetheless encounter a flooded market. The list of suitors that could afford a premium free agent like Fielder would already be relatively short, and he would not be able to count on the Yankees because they are set with Mark Teixeira. Compare that to Mauer, who would have hit free agency just as the Red Sox and perhaps the Yankees needed a starting catcher. And that brings us to another important difference: Mauer was entering his contract year while Fielder is still Brewers property for two more seasons. He's already signed for 2010 at $10.5 million, and will be arbitration-eligible for one more year before hitting free agency in the winter of 2011-12. That is a huge distinction, as Melvin was quick to point out. It's the reason that Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio earlier this spring described the team's talks with Fielder as a "discussion" and not a negotiation. Braun, for his part, is not sure how the Fielder situation will play out. "I have no idea," Braun said. "I think they're just starting to talk, and who knows? It's irrelevant right now because we own his rights for two more years. We would all love to stay together, because we're friends and we hang out and we obviously help each other as baseball players. "But you also have to realize that some of the guys here now won't be here three or four years from now. We're realizing that now, because this is the first year that some of the core guys aren't here any more. Bill Hall is gone. J.J. [Hardy] is in Minnesota. Even Cam [Mike Cameron], who was here a relatively short time but was a real presence. It makes you appreciate the time you get to spend together." How much longer they stay together remains to be seen. The Twins got their answer on Monday night when Mauer sealed his deal, leaving Brewers fans to wonder, "If they can do it, why can't we?" "I'm just not going to comment on it," Melvin said. "Prince has to play baseball and we have to put a team together. That's all there is to it at this time."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.