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Cardinals close on Beltran... But could they be hoping to land Fielder instead?

The Cardinals are apparently close to an agreement with Carlos Beltran. The only hold up seems to be that the team is reluctant to leap before learning if it could add Prince Fielder to the middle of its order instead.

Fielder, according to reports, is disappointed that he's not getting offers similar to the $254-million, decade-long deal that convinced Albert Pujols to burn his St. Louis legacy. So he is believed to be considering the possibility of taking a shorter deal and and hitting the market again when times are, hopefully, more favorable.

It seems like an impossible situation that no one would be willing to bid big on a player who last season hit .299 with 37 homers and 120 RBI. So it seems almost as if it would take a  miracle for Fielder to fall to the Cardinals. But agent Scott Boras is said to have advised his 27-year-old client that he might be wise to sign a three- or four-year deal and hit the market again at 31 or 32 years old.

My question, if Fielder can't get the Pujols deal, is would he prefer to play for the Cardinals -- or would he go back to National League Central Division rival Milwaukee? I suspect the Brewers, who have recently learned that slugger Ryan Braun would be on ice for 50 games because of a violation of MLB's drug policy, would be loathe to let Fielder fall to their foe at a reduced rate. Milwaukee supposedly offered fielder a five-year deal for $100 million before he hit the market and Fielder turned the deal down. So they showed they have some money to spend. Would Fielder reconsider if the market wasn't what he thought it was going to be?

While Fielder doesn't appear to be in top physical condition, he sure seems durable with at least 157 games played in every full season he's been in the big leagues. And he'd sure look imposing nestled between Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman in the St. Louis lineup.

My humble opinion is that a healthy Beltran could be a huge addition to the Cardinals line-up. He'd give the team a great deal of balance and depth and would probably be pretty sound as a defender in right field. His switch-hitting bat would make him a valuable piece in the middle of the order. With he and Berkman both capable of batting from both sides of the plate, it would make it tough on opposing teams to play bullpen games with the middle of the St. Louis lineup.

But Fielder could be a core franchise player for years to come because of his age. He would be in an ideal position for a slugger with a pair of very accomplished hitters batting around him. And he would have a chance to win. I can't imagine if the Cardinals plugged Fielder into the lineup every day -- with the return of Adam Wainwright to the starting rotation -- that the Cardinals wouldn't be division favorites and a serious threat to defend their 2011 World Series crown.

The Cardinals really have nothing to lose if Fielder wants a short deal. Even if he wanted a one-year contract it would allow the Redbirds to bridge the gap between the loss of Pujols and the much better free agent class of 2012 that could include Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, David Wright and several other cornerstone type players.

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