Who deserves a multi-year deal?

Brewers’ GM Doug Melvin is no doubt busy this week trying to work out contracts with the 6 remaining arbitration-eligible players:
1. SP Chris Capuano
2. SP Claudio Vargas
3. C Johnny Estrada
4. IF Tony Graffanino
5. OF Billy Hall
6. OF Kevin Mench
Essentially, all have been offered arbitration. Note that Melvin’s M.O. is to avoid arbitration hearings at all cost (if I recall correctly, the last one that actually went to a hearing and to the panel was back in 1992)…at this stage there are 5 possible outcomes:
1. The team and player reach a 1-year deal before exchanging figures.
2. The team and player reach a multi-year deal before exchanging figures.
3. The team and player reach a 1-year deal after exchanging figures.
4. The team and player reach a multi-year deal after exchanging figures.
5. The two sides cannot reach an agreement, and a 3-member arbitration panel hears arguements from both sides and picks one of the two figures.
The reality is that both sides have a pretty good idea, within a few hundred thousand dollars, of where the other’s submitted figure will wind up, and that having each side commit to a figure will more clearly define the negotiations. For example, say Kevin Mench’s agent submits a figure of $6.0 million, while Doug Melvin submits a figure of $3.8 million–once these are out on the table, both sides know that an arbitration hearing will result in one figure or the other. Say, then, that the Brewers’ representatives conclude that there is no way in hedes that Mench could convince the panel that he’s worth $6 million, Melvin then can shut down negotiations on Mench’s contract and just wait until the hearing.
Of course, it is rarely that easy…as players’ agents have a pretty good sense of the market and usually submit a figure that they know they have a shot at getting. Also, with 6 potential hearings, Melvin would certainly like to get most of the deals done beforehand–not only to save a bit on fees, but also to save time, get his payroll finalized, and avoid any chance of ill will caused by a hearing where he’d have to stress the limitations of a player.
The ’07 group has a new twist, however–will Melvin be more gun-shy of a multi-year deal to avoid a hearing? Recall that last year, Melvin inked Brady Clark to a 2-year, $7.0 million deal to lock up Clark…and now finds himself saddled with three unwanted contracts: Clark’s, as well as Jenkins’ and Turnbow’s.
Therefore, here are my predictions on the six pending contracts:
Capuano: Melvin’s knows that Cappy’s late season meltdown in ’06 might not have been a fluke, and that Cappy, despite being an All-Star, may be a first-half pitcher…that said, he knows that if he doesn’t lock-up Cappy for 2008 this year, he may have to pay him $7-$8 million for ’08 if he has another 18 win season. Melvin won’t go 3 years, however, but will likely push for a 2-year deal, with a club option for a third year; as Cappy, if I recall correctly, benefitted from incentive clauses in ’05, Melvin will shoot for getting some of these included to save on his base salary.
Estrada: Melvin knows that a 2-year deal would be beneficial, here, too–while its hard to know how well Estrada will do with a new ballpark, new hitting coach, and a whole new set of pitchers (well, except for Vargas and Aquino) to call, Estrada is key to the Brewers’ long-term plans…look for another 2-year deal here as well.
Hall: With the move to the OF, Hall’s value is now a bit less certain…besides being earmarked to start everyday, he’ll need to learn at least one new position this year…and possibly another OF position next year. This will be Melvin’s toughest call, but I think he wants to reward Hall for his patience and his potential and will also go for a 2-year deal with Hall, too.
Graffanino: Melvin only wants to commit to a 1-year deal here, and this one might go to arbitration…I can’t see Melvin giving away the farm on a reserve infielder, but you never know….
Vargas: Hmmm…Melvin should only be interested in a 1-year deal with Vargas, too, given his depth at starting pitching and Vargas’ inexperience.
Mench: Melvin would love to get a 2-year deal, provided the price is right…and he has a viable offer for trading either Mench and the new contract or one of the other outfielders. The reality, however, is that, until Mench proves himself, he’ll only get a 1-year deal.
David Hannes
Copyright 2007

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