Brewers’ arbitration figures released on Monday

While this Monday is the Dr. King holiday for all of the nation, baseball gurus will be watching ESPN and reading the web sites for another reason as well–Monday is the day that arbitration figures are revealed.

The Brewers currently have four players still arbitration-eligible and still unable to reach an agreement with the Brewers, owner Mark Attanasio, and VP-GM Doug Melvin.  As I do almost every year, here is my predictions for the four Brewers’ players (caveat: unfortunately, I don’t have as much time as I’d like to delve into other players’ comparative salaries and performances, so I am relying solely on the bits and pieces of information compiled over the last few years):

Seth McClung
’08 Salary: $750,000
Predicted Club Offer: $1.5 million
Predicted Player Request: $1.9 million
Predicted Outcome: McClung inks a 2-year, $3.5 million deal prior to an arbitration hearing.
Analysis: McClung made just $750.000 last year, his 5th year in the majors, and in his second year of arbitration.  At 28, McClung is reaching his prime and, while wanting a long-term deal, knows his value is still somewhat limited, due to his switching roles (between starter and reliever) and his so-so numbers.  McClung appears to like Milwaukee and would readily accept a two-year deal, the most the Brewers would probably offer him as this point.  There is likely to be an incentive clause or two thrown in as well, e.g. and extra $250,000 for 100 innings of work, or 10 or more starts…something to that effect.  Melvin wants to avoid risking a hearing (and big payout) in 2010, and will offer a 2-year or possibly a 3-year deal to buy out a year after arbitration.

Rickie Weeks

’08 Salary: $1.056 million
Predicted Club Offer: $2.75 million
Predicted Player Request: $3.5 million
Predicted Outcome: Weeks and Melvin agree on a 1-year deal at the midpoint of $3.125 prior to a hearing.
Analysis: Weeks knows that he hasn’t lived up to his potential yet, and, at age 26 and only in his first year of arbitration, that he’s likely to see bigger paydays once he starts hitting the ball better…and fielding better.  The Brewers’ have invested a lot in Weeks (including that $5 million signing bonus) and are not ready to give up on him just yet; still, the Brewers could offer less–more around the $2.0-$2.25 million mark–but still view him as a long-term investment; if they do offer a lower arbitration figure, they’ll quickly offer him a contract at the midpoint plus incentives; I believe Weeks has accepted contracts with incentives in the past, so look for one or two to be added if finalized prior to reaching a hearing.

Corey Hart
’08 Salary: $444,000
Predicted Club Offer: $3.5 million
Predicted Player Request: $4.5 million
Predicted Outcome: Hart wins the arbitration hearing for $4.5 million.
Analysis: Also entering his first year of arbitration at age 27 (in March), and looking for a big payday (having rejected a multi-year deal last year), Hart will parlay his first-half success and All-Star appearance into a raise of 10-fold over his ’08 rate.  Melvin will work hard for a 4-year deal, then a 3-year deal with a club option for the 4th year, but won’t be able to find common ground.  It will take a 4-year, $30 million deal to ink Hart for the long-term, and Melvin can’t swallow that right now.

Prince Fielder
’08 Salary: $670,000
Predicted Club Offer: $6.0 million
Predicted Player Request: $8.5 million
Predicted Outcome: Melvin avoids an arbitration hearing, agreeing to a $7.5 million one-year deal, with a $1.50 million as a signing bonus upfront, plus two to three incentive clauses worth $250.000 apiece.
Analysis: Fielder rejected a 5-year, $60 million offer a year ago, a move that he is probably regretting now.  Fielder, who will turn just 25 in May, is also in his first year of arbitration, and is anxiously awaiting free agency, according to most insiders.  Still, he wants (and will get) a big payday to reward him–just not the $10 million deal that Ryan Howard got last year.  Fielder’s BA dipped from .288 to .276 last year, as did his HR’s–from 50 in ’07 to just 34 last year.  Still, his agent Scott Boras will no doubt point out that Fielder’s power returned in the second half, as well as after having returned to the clean-up spot (Boras will blame former manager Ned Yost for Fielder’s mediocre first half…plus, we all know, his contract and weight were issues as well).

Once Melvin can get these issues out of the way, he’ll know how much he can spend on another starter and reserve middle infielder.

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