Up until recently, there was reason for optimism when it came to Rickie Weeks signing an extension with the Brewers. Yes, the asking price has gone up following a breakout 2010 season, but the desire to remain in Milwaukee was repeatedly mentioned. Formal negotiations started at the Winter Meetings in December, and while the Brewers had a hard time getting agent Greg Genske to return their calls, it still seemed like a deal would eventually get done.
And then the two sides had to exchange arbitration figures. That’s when things got ugly.
Weeks asked for $7.2 million, which the club likely thinks is too much based on one healthy season. The Brewers offered $4.85 million, which Weeks and Genske likely see as a lowball offer. The gap was so large that the two sides agreed to table longterm extension talks in favor of avoiding a hearing with a one-year deal. While it seems like there’s a decent chance the two sides can agree on a one-year deal before going into arbitration, hopes of getting Weeks locked up for multiple years seemed to be dashed today at the On Deck event in Milwaukee:
“Once I get to spring training, I want to focus on baseball,” said Weeks. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m a Brewer this year.”
Spring Training starts in less than three weeks. Considering negotiations haven’t budged in the past month, it sounds like Weeks is content with rolling the dice on staying healthy for another season and testing free agency at the end of the year. While that certainly doesn’t mean the Brewers have no chance of keeping him, a repeat of his 2010 season could make him one of the most sought-after free agents next winter. Simply put, the list of second basemen who can hit like Weeks is very short, and very untouchable on the trade market.
In some ways, losing Weeks after this season would be a bigger blow to the Brewers than losing Prince Fielder will be. Finding first basemen who can hit for power and play poor defense is relatively easy — players like that are a dime a dozen, and it’s possible the organization is grooming Mat Gamel as Prince’s heir at first base. Replacing Weeks is more of a problem, especially after trading Brett Lawrie to Toronto. I think Eric Farris could be a serviceable utility man, but I worry about the club’s plans for the future if they think he can adequately replace Weeks as a starting second baseman. You can replace Fielder with a less productive bat and still not lose a lot in total offense. You can’t replace both Fielder and Weeks with less productive bats without the lineup taking a severe hit.
To say the least, we can only hope that Weeks has a change of heart when it comes to negotiating a longterm deal, or that something can be worked out before the arbitration hearing. Adam McCalvy reports that Weeks’ hearing will be on February 17 (if things get that far), and if players are supposed to report to camp by the February 21, there would be only three days to still work out a longterm deal following that hearing. At least Gord Ash doesn’t seem to be concerned.