Fielder unhappy contract is renewed
Brewers' deadline passes; slugger to earn $670,000 in 2008
PHOENIX -- The Brewers had one unhappy first baseman on their hands Sunday.First baseman Prince Fielder was among three young stars who were unable to come to terms with the Brewers before Sunday's team-imposed deadline and whose contracts were renewed for 2008. Fielder will earn $670,000 this season. Left fielder Ryan Braun ($455,000) and right fielder Corey Hart ($444,000) were also renewed. The team was able to agree to 2008 terms with second baseman Rickie Weeks ($1.056 million) and outfielder Gabe Gross ($414,000). "I'm not happy about it at all," said Fielder, whose day didn't get any better when he was plunked twice by pitches in a Spring Training win over the Angels. "The fact I've had to be renewed two years in a row. I'm not happy about it because there's a lot of guys who have the same amount of [Major League service] time that I do who have done a lot less and are getting paid a lot more. "But my time is going to come. It's going to come quick, too." Teams own the rights to players for their first six years of Major League service but still must negotiate contract terms. When teams and players with zero to three years of Major League service cannot agree, teams "renew" contracts at the salary of their choice. They must pay at least the Major League minimum and cannot cut a player's salary by more than 20 percent. Weeks' salary is significantly higher than the other players because he signed a multiyear Major League contract after the Brewers selected him second overall in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. Weeks earned about $1.32 million last year. Fielder earned $415,000 last year after the Brewers renewed his deal. His displeasure with the new contract was news to general manager Doug Melvin. "He didn't indicate that to us," said Melvin, who along with assistant GM Gord Ash met Sunday morning with Fielder. "We talked to all the players this morning. "I think our system is a fair system if you look at anybody else's system."
The Brewers utilize a performance-based system for compensating their "zero-to-three" players. Braun, for example, received $10,000-$15,000 built into his 2008 contract for winning the 2007 National League Rookie of the Year Award, and Fielder was compensated for placing third in NL MVP balloting.According to Ash, the system takes subjectivity out of the process and compensates each player according to his performance. That does not always sit well with players, though Ash said the Brewers ranked 12th of the 30 Major League teams last season in terms of average compensation for its pre-arbitration players. After finishing seventh in NL Rookie of the Year balloting in 2006, Fielder dramatically increased his offensive production in every category last season, leading the NL with 50 home runs and becoming the youngest player ever to reach that plateau (Willie Mays held the previous mark). Fielder finished third in MVP balloting. As Fielder hinted, a raise is right around the corner. He is represented by Scott Boras and is eligible for salary arbitration for the first time following this season. "You have to respect their scale," Fielder said. "But like I said, I'm not happy about it. But I'm going to do my job this year. Like I said, my time is going to come." Fielder would not name the comparable players he had in mind, but he has been compared a lot lately with Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, who is one year ahead of Fielder. Howard's first full season was 2006, when he hit .313 with 58 home runs and 149 RBIs and won the league MVP Award. The following season, Howard earned $900,000. He won an arbitration case last month and will make $10 million in 2008. According to Melvin, the Brewers' pay system does not account for the salaries other teams pay their zero-to-three players. He pointed out that Fielder made more last season than then-reigning Rookie of the Year Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins, and said that Fielder's 2008 salary makes him the highest-paid player in the Majors with between two and three years of service who were not arbitration-eligible. Melvin also argued that the Brewers do not penalize players for taking a renewal. Some clubs will present a final offer, then, if it's rejected, will renew a player at a lower salary. "We don't penalize players," Melvin said. Will the current animosity affect Fielder's future negotiations? "You hope it doesn't," Melvin said. "Prince is going to make a lot of money in this game." Said Fielder: "I'm not going to talk about that now. That's between me and my agent. He's handling it." Fielder stressed that his paycheck would have little effect on his on-field effort. "That's my job," he said. "I'm not going to let anything affect the way I play. I'll go about my business." That was evident in the top of the third inning Sunday, when Fielder deflected a line drive to first by Angels left fielder Nathan Haynes. Fielder's glove flew off, but he picked up the baseball barehanded and scampered to first base in time for the out. Fielder was hit by a pitch during at-bats in the fourth and fifth innings. Braun was promoted to the Majors last May and batted .324 with 34 homers and 97 RBIs to win NL Rookie of the Year honors. Hart hit .295 with 24 home runs and 81 RBIs and 23 stolen bases, becoming the fifth 20-20 player in franchise history. "It's fine either way, sign or renewal," Hart said. "Sometimes you don't agree on stuff, but I'm obviously not to the point where it matters too much. ... We all understand [the system], whether we like it or not. I don't know if anyone wants to renew, but that's how it is and it's not going to change." Now that all of their players are signed, the Brewers may consider offering multiyear extensions to some of their young players. Nothing is on the table yet, Melvin said. "They're not going to happen overnight, if they do happen," Melvin said. "We've probably been a little too open in discussing it. Most teams don't discuss it. We probably won't have any further discussions because it's not part of the day-to-day."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.