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What's next? Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and the Yankees

PRINCE FIELDER First base, Milwaukee Brewers 2011: .299,

First base, Milwaukee Brewers
2011: .299, 38 HR, 120 RBI, 95 R
Prince Fielder's departure has long been suspected ever since he made comments to TBS that this is "probably the last year" in Milwaukee. The 27-year-old signed a one-year deal with the Brewers last January for $15.5 million. The three-time All-Star, who is represented by Scott Boras, was also the MVP of the All-Star Game after hitting a go-ahead three-run homer in the NL's 5-1 win this year. Fielder has averaged 38 homers and 108 RBIs in six full seasons with the Brewers.
Credit: MCT

The winter meetings is supposed to serve as the Hot Stove League's climax. We work our way up to that week, we have a flood of transactions during the meetings and then we ramp down for the holidays, building up toward spring training when the new year arrives.

This year? It was pretty close to that, when you consider that Albert Pujols (Angels), Jose Reyes (Miami) and C.J. Wilson (Angels) all agreed to mammoth contracts; David Ortiz and Francisco Rodriguez agreed to arbitration, thereby concluding their free agencies; and myriad smaller moves occurred _ including, locally, the Mets' restructruing of their bullpen and acquiring a new centerfielder.

So what's next? as President Bartlet used to ask Josh on "The West Wing." Here's a breezy list:

1. Free agents. Of my top 10 free agents from my October 30 rankings and predictions, three remain - Prince Fielder, Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson.

Fielder will get a nine-figure deal, joining Pujols (who signed his second such contract) and Reyes in that club. I originally picked the Blue Jays; not feeling that one at the moment, but I'll stick with it. I have no choice.

If I was given the chance to choose an alternate, however? I'd go with the Cubs. Because that's where Fielder wants to go, and because he's young, durable and excellent, and the Cubs - under new president of baseball operations Theo Epstein - could use more such players.

Oswalt and Jackson become more prominent now that Wilson and Mark Buerhle (Miami) are off the board. I pegged Jackson to sign with Washington, and that still makes a great deal of sense to me, given that the Nationals whiffed on their top choice Buehrle and that they have a very strong relationship with Jackson's agent Scott Boras.

Oswalt was eyeing the Cardinals, who have more money to spend, thanks to Pujols' departure. But St. Louis really doesn't need a starting pitcher. A pursuit of Carlos Beltran makes more sense. Which will leave Oswalt's future pretty open; Washington also has been linked with him.

Of my top 30 free agents, a total of 12 remain. In addition to Fielder, Oswalt and Jackson, there are Hiroki Kuroda, Jimmy Rollins, Beltran, Josh Willingham, Michael Cuddyer, Carlos Pena, Pat Burrell, Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Madson.

Burrell is reportedly leaning toward retirement, and most everyone continues to think that Rollins and Philadelphia will reunite, especially now that St. Louis re-signed Rafael Furcal and Milwaukee brought in Alex Gonzalez.

Madson is an interesting case. K-Rod accepted arbitration, obviously, because he was losing the game of closer musical chairs, with Jonathan Papelbon (Philadelphia), Joe Nathan (Texas)  and Heath Bell (Miami) settled and Huston Street getting dealt from Colorado to San Diego. The obvious fit for Madson would be Boston, who lost Papelbon and want to convert Daniel Bard to a starting pitcher.

It wouldn't surprise me if Madson wound up in Boston, but it'll require some changed minds among the Red Sox hierarchy.

The Yankees like Kuroda, and he's now willing to sign anywhere. But the Yankees would've been more interested in signing Kuroda a year ago, after whiffing on Cliff Lee; Kuroda already had re-upped with the Dodgers at that juncture. 

2. Ryan Braun. Here's my Braun story for today's Newsday. I'm sure drips and drabs of information will leak out between now and the final verdict, expected in February. But really, it's all noise until we get that final decision on his appeal of his failed drug test.

It'll be interesting to see whether Braun goes into hiding. He's supposed to pick up his NL MVP trophy at the Baseball Writers Association of America New York chapter's dinner on Saturday, January 21.

3. The Yankees. They were a source of humor at the meetings, with everyone not employed by the club wondering: "What exactly are they doing?"

Conservatism and patience continue to rule their thinking, as that approach last winter (with the notable exception of the Rafael Soriano signing) led to a 97-win season. But they certainly would like to upgrade their starting rotation.

I still think that a trade with the White Sox for John Danks makes the most sense. The White Sox are on their way to committing to a rebuilding season, and Danks has just one year left before free agency. If the White Sox lower their sights from Manny Banuelos-Dellin Betances-Jesus Montero, then there's a deal to be made with the Yankees.

4. The Hall of Fame. The BBWAA's selections, if any, will be announced on January 9. I'll reveal my ballot (which I haven't yet completed) later this month.

5. Contests. I'm thinking Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of this week. As long as that works for everyone else.

--Have a great day.

New York Sports