Hoffman, Brewers strike a deal

trevor-hoffman-by-ap-223x300.jpgThe Brewers hit the offseason ground running, agreeing on a new deal with would-be free agent closer Trevor Hoffman less than 24 hours after their 2009 finale.

The Brewers and Hoffman reached terms Monday on a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2011 that means that Hoffman, Major League Baseball’s all-time leader with 591 saves, will seek No. 600 as a Brewer. 

It also means that general manager Doug Melvin can move on to other pressing matters, like rebuilding a starting rotation that ranked worst in the National League with a 5.37 ERA during the Brewers’ 80-82 season. 

Melvin did not attend Sunday’s season finale in St. Louis, where Hoffman suffered his fourth blown save of a 37-save season but picked up the win when the Brewers rallied in the 10th inning. Melvin said he had to leave for an “assignment” related to the team’s pitching, but assistant GM Gord Ash said Monday that the trip was not related to Hoffman. 

Josh Goldberg, a spokesperson for the Beverly Hills Sports Council, said Hoffman’s agent, Rick Thurman, would not have any comment. 

Melvin and Ash will meet reporters on Wednesday afternoon to wrap-up the season. The Brewers will probably wait for that event to announce Hoffman’s new deal.
Hoffman told MLB.com and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel after Sunday’s game that he was deep into negotiations with the team about a return. He will earn $8 million in 2010 and the 2011 option could pay up to $8.5 million if Hoffman hits incentives for games finished. The buyout is $500,000 but would increase to $1 million if Hoffman finishes 40 games, a milestone he has surpassed in every season since his injury-shortened 2003.  

Back in January, Melvin wooed Hoffman away from his home in San Diego with a one-year, $6 million contract that formally ended Hoffman’s 16-year association with the Padres. Despite being 41 years old and missing most of April with an oblique strain, Hoffman still managed to finish 2009 ranked fifth in the National League with 37 saves, and his 1.83 ERA was second-best in the league among pitchers who worked at least 50 innings. 

It was Hoffman’s lowest ERA since 1998, when he led the NL with 53 saves and posted a 1.48 ERA, good for second place in NL Cy Young Award balloting. 

“Looking from the outside, you would have concerns about age. Being around him for a year, that’s a non-factor,” Ash said Monday while stopping just short of confirming that the sides had a deal.

How long might he be able to pitch?

“As long as he wants to,” Ash said.

Asked after the Brewers’ final home game to assess his first season in Milwaukee, Hoffman joked, “I feel really old. We’ve got a lot of young guys in here that are energizing to be around. It’s been fun to be part of a new organization. I have a lot of respect for what they’re doing and I’d love to come back.” 

Hoffman’s cell phone was not accepting messages on Monday. He was driving along with three other Brewers pitchers from Milwaukee to Minneapolis for the Monday Night Football showdown between the Packers and Vikings. 

Hoffman will turn 42 on Oct. 13.  Ash believes he has been effective for this long because Hoffman has thrown so many change-ups in his career, a pitch that puts less stress on the arm than, say, a slider, and because of Hoffman’s incredibly extensive training program. Fellow relievers were wowed by the steps Hoffman took to prepare to pitch.

“[My stuff] really hasn’t changed in 10 years,” Hoffman said. “For me, it’s about location, location, location and executing pitches. I give a lot of credit to ‘Kid’ and Mikey [Brewers catchers Jason Kendall and Mike Rivera] for their video work. When you develop that trust in what is being put down by your catcher, you throw with a lot of conviction.” 

Does he feel good enough to keep pitching into his mid-40s? 

“I just go one day at a time,” Hoffman said. “I was fortunate to catch some breaks when I did and was able to weather some ‘activity’ with some low pitch counts. I like it here [in Milwaukee] and I would like to be back with these guys.”

Now he will be.

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