MILWAUKEE -- By the end of the week, the Brewers will have declared themselves on first baseman Prince Fielder, the biggest bat available on this summer's trade market and arguably Milwaukee's most valuable commodity in franchise history.

Will they trade him or keep him? The answer will be clear by 3 p.m. CT on Saturday, Major League Baseball's deadline for making trades without first exposing players to waivers.


"If it happens, it happens," said Fielder, typically noncommittal on the topic. "There's nothing I can do about that."

But surely he must have an opinion. At stake is the next year and a half -- at least -- of his professional career and the home of his wife and two young boys.

"Whatever you're going to write, I don't care," he insisted. "I've got to go."

With that, Fielder climbs over one of the clubhouse chairs that had boxed him in with reporters and retreats to the batting cage.

He's just not going to talk about it.

Others have shown no such restraint, making Fielder one of the names mentioned most often in chatter ahead of the Trade Deadline. The reasons why are clear: He's only 26 years old but a proven commodity, with 184 home runs and 499 RBIs in 775 career games entering the Brewers' series-opener against the Reds on Monday night. After a terribly slow start that many -- including Brewers manager Ken Macha -- attributed to worry about his future, Fielder is back atop the National League leaderboard with 24 home runs.

Since the rumors will continue to fly over the next five days, here's a primer on the Brewers' three options with their slugging first baseman:

1. Keep him.

General manager Doug Melvin has pointed out all along that the Brewers don't have to trade Fielder.

Fielder is currently in the second season of the two-year, $18 million contract he signed in January 2009 and has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining after this one. He's earning $10.5 million in '10 with a chance to earn $500,000 more when he reaches 500 plate appearances. A number of analysts have taken a turn projecting Fielder's '11 salary in arbitration, and the consensus is that he'll earn something in the neighborhood of $15-$17 million.

Whatever the figure, the bottom line is this: Fielder will not reach free agency until the winter of 2011-12. Melvin thinks that point continues to be missed.

"The arbitration process happens so quickly," Melvin said. "We have a good, young nucleus and now everybody wants to trade off everybody. I don't hear other teams talking about trading players that are a year and a half from free agency."

Perhaps Fielder is in those talks because of the strong indications that the Brewers won't be able to keep him past 2011. Club officials engaged with Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, in what the sides termed "discussions" about a contract extension during Spring Training. Those talks, by all accounts, went nowhere, after Boras dismissed a five-year proposal that reportedly would have guaranteed Fielder a bit more than $100 million.

Boras subsequently offered his view of Fielder's value to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, comparing him favorably to another client, the Yankees' Mark Teixeira, who signed for eight years and $180 million before the 2009 season. A contract in excess of Teixeira's would not work for the Brewers.

Even without an extension, the Brewers could justify keeping Fielder if they believe they can get back into the NL Central race this season.

Melvin didn't rule that scenario out. The Brewers entered play Monday on a four-game winning streak, 8 1/2 games behind first-place St. Louis and eight behind Cincinnati with a chance to do some damage during a three-game series this week.

"We're six games under .500 and it's not like we're in a transition, like the Diamondbacks trading Dan Haren [on Sunday]," Melvin said.

But Melvin is always open to offers. If the right offer comes along in the next five days, the Brewers could always ...

2. Trade him.

The White Sox have been the most aggressive pursuers of Fielder, according to FoxSports.com and ESPN.com, and the Brewers have been scouting right-hander Daniel Hudson. Various reports have also linked Milwaukee to Chicago infielder Gordon Beckham and Minor League slugger Dayan Viciedo, a 21-year-old Cuban import.

The Angels and Giants have also been mentioned over the past several months as potential Fielder suitors.

By trading Fielder now, the Brewers could maximize his value. The acquiring team would face the same challenge in keeping him long-term, but they could have Fielder in their lineup for two pennant races -- this year's and next.

As a policy, Melvin doesn't discuss specific offers, but he did lay out the challenge of making in-season trades.

"Teams talk, but they don't give you legitimate offers," Melvin said. "The toughest part is that teams don't want to take anybody off their Major League club. Teams will offer prospects in A-ball."

The Brewers would want Major League-ready talent in return for Fielder, including at least one starting pitcher. Teams in pennant races are extremely reluctant to pay that kind of price.

To skirt that problem, Melvin could ...

3. Keep him, and then trade him.

It's much easier to pry Major League-ready talent away from teams in the offseason, when all 30 clubs are retooling.

"They sit down, go through their rosters and their finances and payroll projections and arbitration projections, and you can get Major League players more in the offseason," Melvin said. "You can get [all 30] teams involved."

That's what Melvin did in December 2003, when he shipped first baseman Richie Sexson to the D-backs for a package of players that included pitcher Chris Capuano, who would become a fixture of the starting rotation, starting second baseman Junior Spivey and versatile veteran infielder Craig Counsell.

And if Melvin still does not get what he views as fair value for Fielder, he could continue to hold him and, if the Brewers have another down year, try again at next year's Trade Deadline with a new group of contenders. That's how Melvin handled outfielder Carlos Lee, who was shipped along with prospect Nelson Cruz to the Rangers in July 2006 for closer Francisco Cordero and outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix.

"I'm not going to make a deal unless it helps us for the present and the future," Melvin said.

"I'm rooting for nothing happening," said Brewers outfielder Corey Hart, another fixture of trade rumors. "We all want to be together. It comes with missing expectations as a team, when that happens, it's normal for [trades] to come. We know if we stay together, we could be good."