Why I’m convinced Prince Fielder will be a Cub in 2012

The 2011 Cubs have a few nice stories. Starlin Castro setting the league on fire at 21. Darwin “Natural Selection” Barney looking like a potential find at second base. Matt Garza’s shot to strike out 200 batters. Carlos Pena’s quest to earn more than $50,000 per batting average point (he’s making $10 million this year, you do the math). James Russell asserting himself as the least qualified pitcher in major league history to make starts in four consecutive turns through the rotation. April has been more fun than I expected.

Having said that (Larry David voice), I’m already looking ahead to 2012 and 2013, when I believe the Cubs can legitimately make a run at a National League pennant. The centerpiece to the Cubs once again becoming a contender? Their eventual signing of Prince Fielder this offseason. I wish I could bet on this in Vegas. If I were a bookmaker, I’d set the odds of “Fielder to the Cubs” at +110. Why am I so confident? When you look at all the factors, there’s nowhere else for Prince to play next year.

1. He’s leaving Milwaukee

Before the ink dried on Ryan Braun’s five-year, $105 million contract extension last week, the writing was on the wall for Fielder’s tenure in Milwaukee. Fielder turned down a five-year, $100 million dollar extension of his own, sealing his fate with his original organization. The Brewers are now on the hook for $131.5 million worth of Braun through 2020. Rickie Weeks will make $31 million over the next three seasons before an $11.5 million vesting option in 2015 that he’ll get as long as he stays healthy. Zach Greinke’s contract ends next season, but the Crew will likely try to extend him and he’s still making $13.5 million in 2012. Yovani Gallardo is due $24.5 million through 2014. Fielder is going to command $18 to $20 million per year on the open market, especially when he’s using Albert Pujols’ concurrent contract negotiations as a barometer. Show me where the money is in Milwaukee to keep him.

2. He’s a perfect fit on the Cubs

Not since the days of Cubs fans showering Wrigley Field with Oh Henry candy bars to salute left fielder Henry Rodriguez have the Cubs had a left-handed hitting slugger in the middle of the lineup. For those you lacking in Cubs history, Rodriguez hit 75 homers in two-and-a-half seasons with the Cubs, highlighted by a 31-bomb campaign in 1998 when the Cubs improbably won the wild card. Ever since then, a left-handed power hitter has been the Cubs white whale. Lou Piniella talked about it so much I almost thought he was going to lobby the front office to genetically engineer him the 1990 version of Eric Davis.

I’m sure the day the Cubs signed Carlos Pena, they told him he should probably rent, not buy. There’s no way that was ever going to be longer than a one-year relationship. The Cubs will be shopping for a first baseman, and when their first option becomes unavailable (we’ll get to that in a bit), all their efforts will shift to Fielder.

3. Tom Ricketts has the money and he’s determined to spend it

Aramis Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome come off the books after 2011. That’s $30 million right there. Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster, another $32 million, follow in 2012. Other than Albatross Soriano, the Cubs don’t have any long-term commitments. No one will be able to offer Fielder the money for the years the Cubs will while still letting him play first base. The Red Sox and Yankees, two teams you always have to worry about, have no need for a first baseman, and I simply don’t believe Fielder would DH. The Dodgers would have been a player before the McCourt mess, but now that Bud Selig has taken the team over, there’s no way they’re shelling out top dollar for free agents. The Cubs are easily best positioned to sign Fielder.

Tom Ricketts bought the Cubs to make them a winner. He doesn’t just want to preside of the most expensive beer garden in Chicago. He wants to be the owner who brings a World Series championship to the North Side. He’s part of the new breed of owners who think creatively and spend willingly where they can. Not only can the Cubs spend on a power-hitting first baseman like Fielder, they can’t afford not to.

4. Albert Pujols isn’t leaving St. Louis

Make no mistake, Pujols is at the top of the Cubs’ wish list this offseason. They’ll spin yarns about how they’re going to pursue him aggressively and how they think they have as legitimate a chance as anyone to sign him. The only problem is the guy is an institution in St. Louis and John Mozeliak would be run out of town if he let him get away. He’s on the Cardinals’ Mount Rushmore with Stan Musial, Bob Gibson and Lou Brock. He’s the best hitter in baseball. He’s ingrained in the community. Seriously, did you see the “60 Minutes” piece on him? Pujols puts the Saint in Saint Louis. He and his wife are two of the city’s most generous benefactors. And have I mentioned that he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer still in his prime who instantly makes his team a contender by the sheer force of his bat? I didn’t? Well there it is. The Cardinals aren’t letting him get away. When he re-signs with the Cards, something I believe will happen shortly into the offseason, the Cubs will shift their focus, and considerable assets, to Fielder.

(By the way, If I’m Fielder I’m not signing until Pujols does. First, he sets a baseline for me and my agent to use to negotiate. Second, I want teams to build themselves into a lather chasing Pujols and then to throw themselves at me when Pujols spurns them. Just my thinking.)

OK, back to our original programming.

5. The Vindictive Prince

I’ve never met Prince Fielder. I know nothing about him outside of his public persona. This is all speculation on my part. But this is my blog and I’m allowed to speculate in any way I want. Prince strikes me as the kind of guy who will want to stick it to the Brewers for deciding he was the piece they could do without. “Oh, so you’re willing to throw Braun $130 million dollars for the next 10 years, huh? How come you won’t commit that some number of years to me? You do know I’m just 27 and have 196 homers in my career to go along with a .921 OPS, right? You don’t think you need me? Fine. Get ready to play me 19 times each year and look up at my team in the standings, bitches.”

There’s nowhere better for Prince to remind the Brewers what they’re missing than at the corner of Clark and Addison in lovely Chicago. With him hitting behind Starlin Castro and the up-and-coming Brett Jackson and a rotation anchored by Matt Garza, Andrew Cashner (all Cubs fans should feel cheated that he got hurt this year), Trey McNutt and whatever other free agents Jim Hendry or his successor can sign, I’m preemptively calling the Cubs a contender beginning next season.

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