DALLAS -- Welcome back to the Anatole Hotel, where the Brewers' portion of Prince Fielder's story could come full circle this week.Last time baseball's Winter Meetings were here, the Brewers traded popular first baseman Lyle Overbay to the Blue Jays for a three-player package, a move that delivered Milwaukee a useful starting pitcher in Dave Bush but was most notable for the hole it opened in the lineup. The key to the deal was Fielder, then a 21-year-old in Milwaukee's system who had belted 28 homers that season at Triple-A and appeared ready for the next level. "He'd better be ready now," general manager Doug Melvin said that night. He was ready. Six years later, Fielder is second in Brewers history with 230 home runs. At 27 he is a premium free agent, one likely to garner a contract that, considering Milwaukee's other moves since it last discussed an extension with Fielder, won't fit the Brewers budget.
Melvin is keeping contact with Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, but the real possibility exists that the market for Fielder heats up at these meetings and he finds a deal elsewhere. There would be some irony in losing Fielder at the Anatole, the same venue at which the Brewers cleared his path to the big leagues.Milwaukee has another left-handed-hitting prospect, Mat Gamel, available to play first base if Fielder departs, but Melvin and Co. will be busy this week shopping for a shortstop and filling holes at the back of the bullpen. All 30 MLB.com beat reporters will be in Dallas this week, from the moment the lobby fills on Monday morning through the final pick of Thursday's Rule 5 Draft. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke is meeting with reporters at 3 p.m. CT on Monday, and new Cubs manager Dale Sveum takes his turn at the same time on Tuesday. Brewers.com will cover both sessions, and will have a seat in Melvin's evening briefings each day. Let us know what you think the priorities should be. First base? Shortstop? The pitching staff? And if free agency isn't the answer, which Brewers would you be willing to deal to fill the team's needs? This is your hot stove, and we hope you'll fill the comment section with your ideas. Melvin said he expects a quiet Meetings, but he said the same back in '05, only to deal Overbay in a trade that had far-reaching consequences for Fielder and the Crew. It's difficult to see club officials departing Dallas this time having accomplished anything so dramatic, but that's the beauty of the Winter Meetings. You never know.