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Sports Check

Calling all stars

July 14, 2010 | 08:34 AM
Tuesday marked another Major League Baseball All-Star Game, and the Milwaukee Brewers were well-represented during the festivities.

In Monday's home run derby, Corey Hart led all players with 13 home runs in the first round but failed to hit one in the second, causing his elimination.

Hart didn't hit in the second round until an hour and a half after his first-round performance. He seemed visibly fatigued, and he admitted that he didn't feel right in a post-derby interview.

Prince Fielder, 2009's home-run derby champ, wasn't in this year's competition. Gee, wouldn't it be nice if the defending champ could continue his reign? However, baseball only allows current all stars to compete in the derby.

Oh yeah, and the winner of the Midsummer Classic is the home league in the World Series. So a team with a better regular season record could be the away team in the World Series, a rule that will never receive much approval until it is changed.

Hart and Ryan Braun, starting in his third consecutive all-star game, represented the Brewers well. But will it be the last we see of Hart and/or Fielder? Both names have been thrown around in trade rumors, including the most recent as Hart heading to Tampa Bay for the Rays' top pitching prospect.

But Hart (.288 average, 21 home runs, 65 RBI in first half) is worth at least a No. 2 pitcher from another team. The fact that he hit 13 home runs in the first round of the home run derby Monday and finished the first half Sunday with a walk-off home run has his stock higher than ever. The Brewers probably could steal an ace pitcher for Hart right now.

Will the farm system make up for Hart or Fielder's loss? Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, sounded in a recent interview like Fielder is one of the top 10 commodities in the entire league. Therefore, Boras feels Fielder is worth Mark Teixiera money (eight years, $180 million). Milwaukee offered five years at $100 million, and Boras was insulted. Negotiation talks halted a couple weeks ago and show no signs of picking back up.

With Hart, he actually wants to stay in Milwaukee. It would be important for the Brewers to keep their core group of Hart, Fielder, Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks intact, but Hart will never have better value. Also, Fielder's slugging abilities would help a playoff contender right now. What's the downfall from receiving two or more stud young pitchers for Hart and Fielder right now? Go young, it sure is working for the Cincinnati Reds, who are in first place in Milwaukee's division, the National League Central, thanks to rookie pitchers Mike Leake and Travis Wood and second-year star Johnny Cueto. It would be nice to not have to worry about 30-somethings like Randy Wolf and Doug Davis breaking down before the end of the season.

One thing is for sure, Ken Macha loves using young pitchers. Thanks to promotions of Kameron Loe, Zach Braddock and John Axford this season, the Brewers currently are in third place (40-49) instead of last. Unfortunately, general manager Doug Melvin's last big trade before C.C. Sabathia in 2008 was Carlos Lee to the Rangers. Who did we get in return? If you don't remember, I don't blame you. While one player was Francisco Cordero, another was Kevin Mench. So Melvin doesn't necessarily have the Midas Touch when it comes to bringing in position players.

Maybe the Brewers wouldn't have to bring in an outfielder to replace Hart, though. And Fielder could also be replaced within the organization at first base. Let's look at a couple scenarios.

If Hart is traded, promote 24-year-old prospect Lorenzo Cain (hitting around .330 in Triple-A) and move him to right field. Another option is moving Weeks to right and promoting 20-year-old second baseman Brett Lawrie, who just played in his second straight MLB Futures Game. The young Canadian has led off all season for Double-A Huntsville, hitting .295 with six home runs and more than 40 RBIs, excellent numbers for a leadoff bat.

If Fielder is traded, promote Mat Gamel from Triple-A and have him play first. Fielder seems more likely to be traded because Hart wouldn't mind signing an extension with the Brewers.

Despite a sometimes pathetic, inconsistent first half of baseball, the Brewers could be poised to contend in the second half. On Thursday, the second half opens with two four-game road series at Atlanta and Pittsburgh. Then the club returns home for six games against Washington (bad) and Cincinnati (OK). Moreover, they then have six games on the road against Houston and Chicago, two bad clubs. Finally, the icing on the cake is a seven-game homestand in early August versus last-place Houston and last-place Arizona.

I don't want to be too positive, but a very realistic 18-9 record during this stretch would put the Crew at 58-58, back to .500 and well on its way back to playoff contention. But it must happen. If it does, Hart and Fielder will both stay, and Milwaukee will then test the market in the offseason. The silver lining is that an easy second-half schedule could quickly turn things around for a very talented team that has yet to realize its potential.

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