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Prince’s Swan Song?

Even as the Brewers have faded from playoff contention, Prince Fielder has continued to mash the baseball. He’s become more selective at the plate this season, as his next walk will match last year’s total in 150 fewer plate appearances. He’s hitting .300 for the first time since reaching the big leagues. His .419 wOBA is better than the mark he posted in 2007 when he launched 50 home runs. His UZR is -1.5, the best of his career.

At 25-years-old, Fielder is showing strong signs of improvement, and he was already a good player. His season might be so good, however, that he could be playing his way right out of Milwaukee.

Unable to come to terms on a long term contract last winter, the Brewers bought out two of his arbitration seasons with a two-season pact that paid him $7.5 million this year and will pay him $10.5 million next year. After the 2010 season, he’ll have five years of service time and be eligible for arbitration for the last time before hitting free agency after the 2011 season.

So, the Brewers essentially control his rights for two more seasons. $10.5 million is a bargain for a player of Fielder’s caliber, but that’s going to go way up in 2011 – he could easily break records for an arbitration award with another strong season as a 26-year-old next year. He’s looking at something like a $15 to $20 million payday in 2011 before he hits free agency and commands a massive contract.

$25 to $30 million for two years of Fielder is a good deal, but considering their infield depth and holes elsewhere on the roster, it might be in the Brewers best interest to field offers for their star slugger. Even without Fielder, they’d have Mat Gamel, Rickie Weeks, Alcides Escobar, J.J. Hardy, and Casey McGehee as infield options for 2010, and Felipe Lopez is certainly making a strong impression since coming over in trade.

Gamel’s defense at third has never been considered a strong point, and McGehee’s strong season plus the surplus of middle infielders gives the Brewers a lot of options at the hot corner if they shifted Gamel across the diamond. Fielder could certainly command a strong return, bringing in the kind of starting pitching help the team could use behind Yovanni Gallardo.

Trading a star player coming off a disappointing season is never an easy sell to a fan base, but given the parts that are currently in place in Milwaukee, it may very well be the best idea. Brewers fans should enjoy the rest of Fielder’s 2009 season – it might be their last chance to watch him play every day.